Just a few minutes ago I finished season one of HBO’s lauded “The Leftovers.”
Easily one of my favorite shows ever. Already. And apparently it gets better. The final season, season 3, wrapped up earlier this year.
Like a lot of great shows, in this modern age of TV amazement, you wouldn’t know about it if you only look in the normal places. It’s not on the old networks, like NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox or whatever. Almost none of the best shows in this great golden age are. Only “This is Us,” which I haven’t seen, seems to poke its head out into the realm of the deep, fresh, character-driven and artistic moving film fan. For TV is just moving film on the small screen.
I haven’t seen “This is Us.” Maybe someday. Lots to keep up with though.
Free tip: if you are a fan of deep, fresh, character-driven and artistic television, keep an eye on the goldmine that is metacritic.com. It uses an average of all legit critic scores of TV, film, videogames and movies to give a snapshot, with links for depth, of the best stuff out there now, and well into the past. So if you value how you spend your precious time and money and know that “whatever you happen to hear about or see commercials for” isn’t gonna be the best stuff out there, it’s a treasure.
The Americans, Fargo, Mr. Robot, BoJack Horseman, Catastrophe, Halt and Catch Fire, Master of None, The Handmaid’s Tale, Insecure, American Crime….
And yes Game of Thrones gets raves. Although TV shows often get their score based on only the pilot of a season, unless the show get’s released all at once, so sometimes the score doesn’t give the whole picture. Or the score for a season retroactively reflects the quality of much of the previous season.
Anyway. I got sidetracked.
It’s a TV show based on a book released maybe 6 years ago.
It tells the story of essentially our current World, through the eyes of Mapleton, NY, and primarily it’s tortured, unsatisfied, hunting-starved (though sheriff’s hunt crooked prey), quietly desperate sheriff Kevin Garvey played by Justin Theroux. And apart from flashbacks (No surprise there, as Damon Lindelof, one of the show’s creators, also helped create the show Lost), it all happens in the wake of the seemingly random but definitely simultaneous disappearance of about 2% of the planet’s population.
No warning. No explanation. No bodies. No proof of death. No closure.
And it shakes everyone to their core.
Some people lose no one. Some people, by long, long odds, lose everyone. But, as with many great cultural shocks, it creates amazing coping mechanisms in people. Or collapsing mechanisms. In such situations, historically, there have always been many more “prophets” appear. People who step up to explain. Who hear the voice of “God.”
And, seemingly opposing the Christian church in Mapleton, a Christian church led by the faithful Matt Jamison played by Christopher Eccleston, is the heart of this resistance: the Guilty Remnant. A group wearing all white, under a vow of silence, and always smoking. At first they seem vile, like a nihilistic white flag surrender brigade bent on proving the pointlessness of it all with their “Stop Wasting Your Breath” protests at public gatherings and their tobacco embrace of lung cancer and emphysema.
But there’s more to it, of course.
The balance is what it points to. When struck with tragedy and loss, especially the inexplicable, where do you aim between moving on and holding on?
In a way it reminds me of the great recent horror movie The Babadook.
When, in trying to ignore the past so as to move on from the past, are you allowing monsters, or the wild dogs of The Leftovers, to flourish and devour you from behind? Are you starving parts of your soul for attention, and thereby turning them into demons through the pain of abandonment?
Pain turning goodness into monstrosities reminds me, of course, in my it’s-all-interconnected and applied-knowledge-loving mind, of Princess Mononoke. The great Japanese anime movie by the legendary animator Hayao Miyazaki.
In the last five months I’ve faced a trial that’s brought this message home, alternately bringing me great peace and clarity… and to the point of being a Destroyer of Worlds.
A breakup, of course.
Not my choice.
And in some ways inexplicable.
So it fits well with the deep, brilliant symbolic versatility of the show. Just like Sheriff Garvey, I got a man’s complacency and itch after falling asleep in the relationship. I forgot the love, pretended in ways, and in others wanted out.
And if I’d left? As Sheriff Garvey was about to do, before October 14th, I might’ve been fine. But she left me, and the age old psychological traps came down on me like a sledgehammer, every day, to this day. It was a tragedy not of my choosing, and so one in synch with the kind of… inexplicable “by the will of the gods” tragedies that no doubt have… reinforced bonds since the dawn of time. Because, like Sheriff Garvey, who wanted out of his family before October 14th, he almost immediately wanted nothing more than to be as close as he could be to all his family once the terror of forces beyond his power reminded him (and everyone) that they still existed and that… every single fucking second of life was to be treasured.
Peace and quiet lulls us to sleep. It reminds me of how America and Americans have always sort of suffered when stripped of “an enemy” to turn our unity out at.
Like this one:
Or this one:
I think it has a lot to do with Evolution and our hardwired need for cultural identity. Which of course has a lot to do with the “us and them” thrill of sports.
And how, lacking a true and unifying enemy, we are now, more and more, turning on ourselves in America, as if politics were a sport, with Democrats and Republicans seeing each other as the enemy.
It also reminds me of… Agent Smith in the movie The Matrix, with his amazing monologue to the drugged Morpheus about the failure of the first Matrix and the success of the second Matrix.
“Did you know that the first Matrix was designed to be a perfect human world? Where none suffered, where everyone would be happy. It was a disaster. No one would accept the program. Entire crops were lost. Some believed we lacked the programming language to describe your perfect world. But I believe that, as a species, human beings define their reality through suffering and misery. The perfect world was a dream that your primitive cerebrum kept trying to wake up from. Which is why the Matrix was redesigned to this: the peak of your civilization.”
It also reminds me of one of the very best movies of the last decade, to critics at the time, and to me, as of the breakup. Because finally I had excruciating heartbreak to help me understand.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Easily Jim Carrey’s best film. In it, a business sells people… targeted brain damage, to eliminate memories of people (and more) that they’ve lost, because the memories cause them more pain than they choose to bear.
And there are ample stories of people plunged into awful war, like in the former Yugoslavia, brought together by conflict. And when peace returned? They admit that, as bad as it was… they miss it. The complete unity and utter need for bonding.
So I find myself feeling as if my love woke fully, in the wake of the breakup. I can’t help it. Her refusal “to be cruel to be kind” contributed. She could have made me hate her by being mean, forcing me into rage and hate, but instead she gave me what my friend John called “The Cadillac of Breakups,” otherwise knowns as full explanations, kindness, support and love. Warm hugs and tears.
Which caused in me stronger feelings of love (too late) than I’ve ever felt in my life, given that she granted it all during the most vulnerable period of my life. Feelings far out of synch, at times, with reality and practicality. But capable of making me defend my clan. Were it in support of one, because she acted to remove herself from that category.
And then those raging feelings buried themselves deep in my heart. Like bedrock. Maybe forever. For good or ill.
Often, no matter the warning signs, I feel I’d walk through a pit of hungry wild dogs if a complete stranger told me she waited on the other side. And that there was a one in ten chance she’d “take me back” if I survived the indefensible journey.
Often the death of a loved one washes away all flaws in the eyes of those he or she departed from. Have you ever felt that transformation of emotion and memory, standing over a grave while a pastor sermonized to a crowd in black? Turning the remembered person into something superhuman. Or just the human’s soul no one could truly see with the clay still in the way. And then godly feelings crystalize into bedrock.
As with Sheriff Garvey, caused by his loss and imagination. Throwing him hard and fast into a dream. Or waking him up.
Sometimes I still can’t stop the dreams. Nightmares about her pushing me away. Or, yes, jealous ones of her with another man, hiding just around the corner. And the panic attacks, with the cold sweat wake ups and the rapid heart beating my ribs. The relentless imaginings of “what I could’ve done differently,” at all points of the relationship, or even after the breakup, and even… way back in time, if I’d met her when each of us were fresh out of college, undamaged by the heartbreaks the last 17 years have brought us and broken us into pieces with.
Left fragmented, and a difficult fit for love.
I worry that my heart won’t let me move on. Now or ever. That “long term relationship” is only a way to harm myself or others.
So do I wear white, stop talking, and take up smoking?
Forbid myself from forgetting the day the World ended?
Do I struggle to forget? Push away the dogs, gone feral, that are “no longer ours,” and the Babadooks that can drive a soul mad?
What’s the healthy way?
And what’s the way that respects what’s more important than me, which is the community, and the continuum of the Human Race? What’s selfish and what’s productive?
Besides love, I mean. Which, clearly, is both.
Maybe those two halves of the heart are enemies, granting each of them tribal purpose….
And lastly, I say again, if you like this, don’t just say so to yourself, or even click “like.” Feed more than my ego. Share it with others, by email or social media, and feed my career. Anything else is for the dogs.