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Series / The Leftovers

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"You understand."

The Leftovers is an HBO series created by Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta (based on the latter's novel of the same name) which debuted in 2014.

A mass disappearance of people totaling two percent of the world's population has wreaked havoc among the disappeared people's family and friends. After three years, the world's religious and scientific communities have no concrete answers as to what happened.

The story revolves around residents of a town called Mapleton (which itself lost 100 people), and amid the ordinary residents trying to live out their lives in the aftermath of the mass disappearances, others have not dealt so well with what has happened.

The first season of the show loosely follows the plot of the book; it was picked up for a second and then a third season; at the same time the third season was announced, it was also said it would be the show's last.


The last episode of season 3 (and the series) aired on June 4, 2017.

Provides examples of:

  • Adaptation Expansion: The first season covers the entirety of the book, so anything going forward (including the second season and beyond) is unique to the TV series.
  • Apocalypse Cult: Several are known to have formed.
    • The Guilty Remnant, people who wear all white, chain-smoke and never speak aloud. They dedicate their lives to reminding people of the Great Departure, specifically targeting those that were personally affected by it.
    • Wayne's cult, led by Holy Wayne. He can supposedly take away the pain of others by hugging them. These guys are so fanatically loyal that they'll fire on the cops to protect him.
    • The Barefoot People, people who paint targets on their heads and never wear shoes. Apparently, it's to help God target them for the next Great Departure.
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  • Apocalypse How: A Class 1 — Societal Disruption. Two percent of the world's population vanish but humanity survives, albeit with disruptions.
  • Apocalypse Wow: Pointedly subverted in the real world, but in Kevin's hotel world, his visions end with Patti, Kevin, and the Guilty Remnant ending the world via nuclear bomb.
  • Arc Words:
    • "Are you a good man?" or variants, directed at Kevin Garvey.
    • "What now?" / "What's next?" or variants.
    • "I don't understand" and the reply "You understand".
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: Played with and deconstructed all over the place. Constantly teased to be what happened to the Departed, which causes Matt's denial. While Kevin visits Patti, Holy Wayne, Evie, and Meg in another world, it seems neither better or worse, but also different. The finale implies that Nora has come to view their world as the higher plane.
  • Babies Ever After: The ending of Season 1 has Nora finding Lily on Kevin's doorstep. This saves her from leaving Mapleton and probably committing suicide, and allows her to stay very happy (by Nora's standards) throughout Season 2. Brutally subverted at the beginning of Season 3, as we find out she gave custody back to Christine, but the principle is still played straight in that this leads to the dissolution of Kevin and Nora's relationship and Nora's Despair Event Horizon.
  • Babies Make Everything Better: Nora is able to function again after she and Kevin adopt Lily. Then, when she loses her to Christine in Season 3, she goes off at the deep end.
  • Bizarro Apocalypse: Downplayed. The Sudden Departure happens, instantly disappearing a small percentage of the world's population...and they are never seen again and no answers come as to what happened. The world then appears to go on as normal, but as time passes, more and more strange things begin to happen: Nora is apparently healed from her intense grief by a single hug; a man who may be God gets mauled by a lion on a sex boat; Kevin Garvey comes back from the dead (multiple times); and numerous other very strange things happen. The series as a whole is mostly focused on trying to live a "normal" enough life in the face of a totally inexplicable apocalypse.
  • Bookends:
    • The first season starts and ends on days to remember people, starting on the day to remember those taken, and ending on Memorial Day.
    • One of the first and last things that Garvey does in the first season is approach a dog in the street.
    • The first two seasons end with a once peaceful town (Mapleton in Season 1, Jarden in Season 2) falling into anarchy and flames. And in both cases, the Guilty Remnant are the cause.
    • Quite literally in the season 3 titles: episode 1 is "The Book of Kevin", episode 8 is "The Book of Nora".
  • Brick Joke: One of the Series 1 gags was that the entire cast of Perfect Strangers vanished in the Departure. In the Season 2 opener, "Axis Mundi," it's revealed that Mark Linn-Baker faked his disappearance, and has been found alive in South America. In Season 3, he makes an appearance as a messenger for the group purporting to send people to the destination of the Departures.
  • The Bus Came Back: While characters are commonly Put on a Bus and do not return (when the Garvey-Jamisons move from location to location particularly), several characters come back and have at least a great impact on the plot. Christine abandons her child with Tom in S1, then returns sometime between S2 and 3 to take her back from Nora and Kevin, breaking their hearts.
  • Caught Up in the Rapture: The exact nature of the disappearance is unclear, but many people straight away jump to the conclusion that it is indeed the Biblical Rapture. Not everyone is sold on the idea, however, and there are constant televised debates. Matt Jamison runs a newsletter that is dedicated to proving that many of those taken certainly would not have qualified under Rapture logic.
  • Celebrity Casualty: Gary Busey, and the entire main cast of Perfect Strangers, are among the 1% of the population who Departed. Except Mark Linn-Baker, who survived, but faked his own Departure due to the experience of all his castmates disappearing. If we believe Nora at the end, they actually didn't die, but were mysteriously transported to another world or dimension. This is left ambiguous, though, and the whole world mourns them as if they died.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The "Departure dolls" are advertised and shown in a few Season 1 episodes, before having a major role in the season finale.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Several characters are referenced and then reappear in others' stories. For example, Mark Linn Baker fakes his Departure, then reappears in Season 3 to tell Nora that she can go to the other place. Wayne leads the cult that Tom joins in the beginning, but also counsels Nora and provides herewith her only consolation, and possibly grants Kevin's wish for him.
  • Daydream Surprise: Predominantly in the first season. Kevin's dreams start out like real scenes but then a surreal element comes in at which point we know it's another of his nightmares.
  • A Day in the Limelight:
    • "Two Boats and a Helicopter", "No Room at the Inn", and "It's a Matt, Matt, Matt, Matt World" focus on Matt Jamison.
    • "Guest", "Don't Be Ridiculous", and "The Book of Nora" focus on Nora Durst.
    • "International Assassin" and "The Most Powerful Man in the World (and His Identical Twin Brother)" are focused on Kevin Garvey.
    • "Axis Mundi" introduces and focuses on the Murphys, with the Garveys appearing in more of a background role.
    • "Ten Thirteen" is focused on Meg Abbott.
    • "Crazy Whitefella Thinking" follows Kevin Garvey Sr's travels in Australia.
    • "Certified" and "off-Ramp" center on Laurie (and, in the latter, Chris).
  • Death Is Cheap: Somewhat. Kevin always comes Back from the Dead (unless you believe that he never died in the first place, but this seems unlikely by Season 3), no matter what happens to him. Laurie attempts suicide twice but it doesn't stick either time. On the flip side, Patti, Evie, and Meg are all Killed Off for Real. While all stay dead, Kevin often sees them in a hallucination or visits them in the world of the dead. A lot of people think that the Departed died, but if Nora is right, they didn't.
  • Dream Sequence: Lots of them, adding to the surreality of the show.
  • The End of the World as We Know It: A heavily deconstructed trope: played straight in some ways and not in others. The events of the 14th - the day of the Departure - destroy the world in many ways and it never quite functions the same afterwards.
  • "Everyone Is Gone" Episode: Various episodes show flashbacks to the inciting incident, where a small but significant percentage of the world's population simply disappeared, and deal with the trauma of people literally disappearing in front of others' eyes.
  • Fanservice: The series hardly runs on this, but there is both male and female nudity - Kevin in particular shows several times that Aimee (Jill's best friend) is correct about him being ripped.
  • Feedback Rule: Whenever a character grabs a microphone of megaphone, it will produce a feedback. Could have made for a Drinking Game, if those situations would have arisen more frequently.
  • Government Agency of Fiction: The ATF has become ATFEC; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, Explosives and Cults. Post-Departure, their primary focus is on wiping out cults with extreme prejudice.
    • There's also the Department of Sudden Departures, which Nora works for. Their main focus seems to be paying out benefits to the family of people who departed and investigating Departure related fraud.
  • Jigsaw Puzzle Plot: Subverted somewhat. The show's plot has the majority of characters trying to figure out why the Departure happened and potentially how to reverse it, uncovering other new mysteries along the way, but the show's theming heavily implies that searching for answers to these questions is a painful and pointless endeavor.
  • Kick the Son of a Bitch: Instances of the Guilty Remnant being abused are often interspersed with them being creepy or vicious.
    • When one of the members is murdered, the scene immediately follows a sequence of her and her partner being assholes, such as ignoring an old man who has fallen down right in front of them.
    • The ATF implies that it wipes out chapters of the GR for towns that are tired of dealing with their crap. Their authority has been expanded to include cults, apparently with the purpose of harshly cracking down.
  • Lonely Piano Piece: Many, but The Departure and Departure (Home) are the most notorious ones.
  • Mayan Doomsday: One of the major inspirations behind the book was Tom Perrotta asking himself if this really happened — and if some people were left behind.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: The show often teases people or circumstances to be supernatural. Sometimes it's later revealed that they are not while other circumstances are never resolved completely.
    • No one knows why people were disappeared, so no one knows whether it has a scientific or supernatural/religious explanation. It's telling that the song over the season two opening titles is Iris DeMent's "Let The Mystery Be."
    • Garvey's clinically-insane father hears voices that seem to be prophetic. It's not clear whether they have a supernatural origin or if he just has hallucinations (he's in a mental institution when first seen).
    • Holy Wayne's ability to hug a person's pain away. Is it a real supernatural gift or just a hug? On the brink of death, he admits that even he doesn't know whether he's a fraud. Tellingly, Tom copies Wayne's techniques and seems to get the same results while knowing that he's just pulling a con.
    • The Dog Killer was initially teased as being a figment of Kevin's imagination. Although he's later established to be a real person (known to the people of Mapleton as "Dean"), no one has managed to find any identifying information on him. He says that he thinks of himself as a "guardian angel." Season 3 reveals that he's a mundane, paranoid psychopath, and he gets gunned down while trying to murder Kevin for laughing at his delusions.
    • "The Garveys at Their Best" shows several strange events happening in the days prior to the Great Departure. A random woman drives up to Garvey on the day of the Departure and asks if he's ready, only to say she had the wrong person. Patti is shown to have had premonitions of "something terrible" happening, and sensed that "something wrong inside" Laurie. Kevin spots a deer with a shining light on its head; this is later revealed to be the reflective side of a party balloon that says "It's a Girl!" It's revealed that Laurie is pregnant, but the child disappears in the departure in utero.
    • In the second season, the town of Jarden, Texas, had no Departures. Something divine, or just a statistical anomaly? For what it's worth, the town has wasted no time earning sweet tourism bucks off it, even being declared a national park.
    • Is the hotel that Kevin finds himself in really some sort of afterlife, or is it just a near-death hallucination? While a hallucination would be the simpler answer, there are a number of hints that it might be real, such as the fact that Kevin finds Virgil in the hotel despite being unconscious when Virgil shoots himself (doing it explicitly so he could guide Kevin there as well).
    • Kevin's repeated instances of coming back from the dead. Is he special or just lucky?
    • Matt meets an Australian man on a ferry who claims to be God. In spite of watching the man murder someone and apprehending him, Matt starts to believe the man's claims... until he stops believing him, and the man is killed by a lion at the end of the episode.
  • Messiah Creep: The story as a whole, which begins without any real mention of religion before introducing devoted Christian characters to the fold and playing it up even more in Season 3, which possibly reveals Kevin as some sort of God figure.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The trailers often play up certain shots which have a supernatural air to them, only for the actual scenes to end up far more mundane.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: None of the Departures are ever shown, and ultimately it isn't made clear if this is because a condition of Departure is that nobody is looking at them, or if it's just some creative licence to get this point across.
  • Numerological Motif: Season three focuses on 7 and multiples thereof, mainly a prediction that the seventh anniversary of the Departure will see something like it happen again.
  • Out of Focus: Tom and Jill are barely present in Season 3.
  • Quirky Town: The town of Jarden, Texas, is the only place where there were no departures. As such, the people there tolerate a bunch of weird behavior (such as the guy who regularly slaughters goats in front of people) because they believe this weirdness protected them.
  • Replaced the Theme Tune:
    • Season two has completely different opening sequence and song from season one.
    • Episodes 2 through 7 of season three have a piece of music relevant to the episode playing over season two's intro sequence, including, in a twist on this trope, the original theme music.
  • Riddle for the Ages: Why did the Departures happen? Where did the people go? The series finale has Nora claim that she visited an alternate dimension of the Earth where only the Departed people are still there. Whether this is true or just a story she tells herself is left ambiguous.
    • On a more local level, it's never confirmed what Kevin's wish was that Wayne granted, or tried to grant. As a result, it's never confirmed if it came true or not.
  • Sequel Goes Foreign: The second season has the Garveys move from Mapelton (NY) to Jarden (Texas). The third season moves the conflict to Australia.
  • Shoo Out the Clowns: The Frost twins, often used to provide some comic relief, are absent from the last few episodes of the first season. Aimee, too, after a fight with Jill. They never appear again or are mentioned again.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: Just about everybody is potty-mouthed (Patti to Kevin Garvey in "Cairo": "Am I still a 'fat, heartless cunt'?"), but the mayor in particular seems unable to utter a sentence without an f-bomb.
  • So What Do We Do Now?: A continuous problem, thoroughly deconstructed. Laurie and Nora both wake up to the fact that Kevin feels like this about his supposed magic (and experience in the other world) in Season 3, as he's been goaded on by Matt and his father. Kevin also accuses Nora of feeling like this about her intense grief for her family, but it's more deconstructed.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Meg, who kills herself in the novel.
  • Stepford Smiler:
    • "The Garveys at Their Best" reveals that Mapleton was full of them before the Departure.
      • Kevin seems to have a perfect life, but he's dissatisfied and his marriage has no communication. He takes jogs to smoke cigarettes and brood. Laurie, meanwhile, is hiding her pregnancy from her husband and considering an abortion.
      • Matt is a charismatic and casual figure in public, but he's plagued by health concerns that he cannot share with his wife. Laurie comments that they are very good at covering up their worries.
    • In season two, the Murphys are introduced as a wholesome and loving family. It soon becomes clear that they have serious and unacknowledged dysfunction.
  • A Storm Is Coming: Kevin Snr. repeatedly insists this throughout S3. It comes, but it's not the apocalypse.
  • Surprisingly Happy Ending: Every season has had one to a greater or lesser extent.
    • Season 1 builds up to Nora either disappearing or committing suicide, which nearly happens when she finds the dolls of her family inside her house. Then she finds Lilly on Kevin's doorstep, and greets her joyously, having discovered a reason to go on living.
    • Season 2 splits up all the Garveys and sends them on separate adventures - before they're all unexpectedly reunited in Miracle at the end.
    • Season 3 is more of a Bittersweet Ending, as Matt is dead and the extent of Nora's honesty is unknown, but Kevin and Nora are back together and everyone ended up happily, more or less, including Tom and Jill, Kevin Snr. is still alive, and Laurie is happy and still alive.
  • Survivor Guilt: Naturally, slews of people who lost loved ones are wracked with this. It's also what drives the Guilty Remnant.
  • Symbolic Baptism: There are tons. Water appears to be some kind of conduit to the other world / the world of the dead that Kevin periodically visits, and he always goes there via water (when John and Michael dump his body in the lake, he wakes up in the bathtub of the hotel). When Grace kills the wrong Kevin Garvey, she ties him down and forcefully drowns him. When Kevin chooses to go back to the hotel world, despite not knowing if he'll come back, he lets Grace drown him. When he does come back, he chooses to drown himself to continue passing messages along in the other world.
  • Symbolic Wings: The season 3 cover.
  • There Are No Therapists: Seriously, you'd think the profession would be experiencing a major boom in the wake of the Departure. Instead, the only instance of this trope being averted is Garvey being forced to visit the police therapist after he shot all those dogs in the pilot, and the mayor actively encourages him to just tell the therapist what he wants to hear. For an added bit of irony, "The Garveys at Their Best" shows that Laurie was a therapist before joining the Guilty Remnant, and Patti was one of her clients. "Heal thyself," indeed.
  • Time Skip: The series frequently skips ahead in time, from months to years.
    • "B.J. and the A.C." has Christine barely a month along in her pregnancy, only for her to give birth in "Solace for Tired Feet", three episodes later. The season finale is set on Memorial Day, about seven months after the pilot.
    • Season 3 picks up almost in the same week as the last episode of season 2... then after the drone strike on the visitor's center jumps ahead three years.
    • The series has a Distant Finale.
  • Title Drop: Several season two episodes have the episode title mentioned in them, like "A Most Powerful Adversary" and "I Live Here Now."
  • Theme Music Withholding: Every episode of Season 3 has a different song playing over the credits, until the finale uses the show's de facto theme song, Iris DeMent's "Let The Mystery Be".
  • Town with a Dark Secret: Jarden, Texas, is a town that had zero departures. It presents itself as a holy community to become a pilgrimage destination and get fat on tourism money. In reality, it's just as dysfunctional as any other town. Perhaps more so.
  • Two Lines, No Waiting: Unless it's a A Day in the Limelight episode, the story will usually involve two or more plotlines competing with another.
  • Uncanny Valley: Done deliberately to creepily devastating effect. The dolls of the Departed, particularly the ones deposited in Nora's house, with their wide glass eyes.
  • Vagueness Is Coming:
    • The elder Garvey is not exactly descriptive when explaining what is going on to Kevin. Neither is Patti in the next episode. "The Garveys at Their Best" shows that Patti had this trait prior to the Great Departure as well.
    • Season Three kicks off 2 weeks before the 7th anniversary of the Great Departure. Matt Jamison, his congregation, and many others believe something monumental is going to happen this time around, but no one knows or says what it will be. As it turns out, nothing happens whatsoever, aside from a brief storm.
  • Wandering Walk of Madness:
    • Running is clearly a hobby for Kevin both pre- and post-Departure, but after Laurie leaves him, and even later, during his strange experiences in Miracle, Texas, he becomes more fanatical. He also walks in the morning and night, including walking around and losing his memory of where he was on the night Evie and her friends went missing, and eventually waking up near her deserted car. Season 2 "resolves" this by having Nora handcuff him to her while he sleeps so he can't wander off.
    • Kevin Snr. follows "voices" that tell him where to go and what to do. He keeps insisting that they have a grander vision, although he isn't sure what it is, although it still looks like this trope to everyone else.
  • What Did I Do Last Night?: An ongoing problem for Kevin. In "Solace for Tired Feet", Garvey waits in his living room by the radio listening for news of his father, who has escaped from the psych ward. He nods off, has a strange dream with Dean and a dog in a mailbox, then wakes up in bed to find he managed to catch and leash a wild dog in his back yard, apparently with the intent to domesticate it. He also got bit for his trouble, which Aimee helped him bandage. Though he tries to deny it, Aimee figures out pretty quickly that he doesn't remember any of it. What's more concerning is the fact that he was sober at the time, so he ends up blaming it on the pills he was taking. It happens again in "Cairo", with the implication that it's happened several times before, only this time he kidnapped Patti and took her to another city.
  • Where the Hell Is Springfield?: Mapleton, New York is fictional, but we learn it's within a few hours drive of Cairo, New York, which does exist.
  • World of Mysteries: There's obviously the main mystery of the disappearance, but so many bizarre and possibly magical things happen throughout the show: automatic scanners stop being able to recognise Nora. A single town was one of few places on earth not to suffer the Sudden Departure. People claim that their loved ones departed when they actually murdered them. Etc. Etc.
  • You Can't Go Home Again: Appears regularly. All the main characters, except Laurie, Kevin Snr., and Chris, move from Mapleton to Jarden, Texas in Season 2. Eventually Laurie and Chris also move and settle there during Season 2 and 3. Nobody refers to Mapleton again. Nora experiences this in a huge way in the finale, as she views 'home' to be with her husband and children, but comes to believe that she can't do this in either reality when she visits the alternate Mapleton, as her family has moved on without her and Kevin left her, so she lives out her life in Australia under an assumed name.