Here’s my best karaoke advice: Have a repertoire at the ready. Learn the lyrics and melody, practice the bridge, and memorize the variations between the verses. No one will mind if you always sing the same few songs as long as you perform the hell out of them. And unless you’re a Beyoncé-in-waiting, you don’t need to resort to anything virtuosic to impress. Which is why I love dragging Skeeter Davis’s 1962 hit “The End of the World” into the 21st century during my private-room times. It’s easy to croon, and the seemingly simple ballad is a masterful paradox of acute heartbreak and egomaniacal brattiness: “Why does the sun go on shining? / Why does the sea rush to shore? / Don't they know it's the end of the world / ’Cause you don't love me any more?”
Patty Duke’s rendition of “The End of the World” fades out an episode in The Leftovers’ third season, which premiered last night (Sunday). If the series intends the song’s dual meanings, there’s no sign of it. The HBO
dirge remains oblivious to the line between philosophical desolation and nihilistic self-pity. Season 1 thoughtfully constructed a new American religious landscape following an unexplained supernatural event, but the centering of Justin Theroux’s law-and-order protagonist, police chief Kevin Garvey, made it feel like the writers staged an apocalyptic cataclysm so an unhappy, middle-aged white guy unsure of his place in society would realize he did love his family after all. Kevin died, killed a bunch of people in his visions/purgatory/wherever-the-fuck, and was resurrected to learn that same lesson in Season 2.
The Leftovers is narratively and thematically scattered enough that most viewers will find something that holds their interest through the relentless garment-rending. Because the disastrous effects of the fracturing of a people’s sense of reality have never been clearer (or more devastating) in real life, the show is most resonant, at least to me, when it explores how an existential trauma can tear apart the social fabric. The "seriously, fuck everything" impulses of the Guilty Remnant, the cult whose self-destruction pageantry ranges from chain-smoking to bombings and mass suicide, are so fascinating because they reflect so many of the violently anti-civilizational death wishes that we see in the news — in mass shootings, in murder-suicides, in people who want to see the world burn and force us to witness their enjoyment thereof. The Guilty Remnant’s expression of aggressive nihilism makes the non-Kevin characters’ attempts at social cohesion over their own instincts of despair all the more poignant. Too bad The Leftovers won’t let them move on.
The show’s third season, which will also be its last, begins with a three-year jump. Accordingly, Kevin and his girlfriend Nora (Carrie Coon), as well as his ex-wife Laurie (Amy Brenneman) and her new partner John (Kevin Carroll), whose daughter Evie (Jasmin Savoy Brown) went missing in the second season, find their days occupied by different activities. But The Leftovers keeps denying its characters that fifth stage of grief. Instead of acceptance, they keep getting mired in new woes, depressions, delusions, and self-mutilations. Not since that time Ross and Joey freaked out because they took a nap on the same couch have I wanted to scream so much at the screen, “JUST GET OVER IT!”
The Leftovers has always looked great, and the show regularly features visual repasts in distinctive episodes devoted to the idiosyncratic world of a single character. But it’s not a good sign when some of the most engaging scenes — including a fantastic opening sequence aboard a French nuclear submarine in the fifth episode — have nothing to do with the characters we’ve gotten to know for three years. Instead, we watch Kevin struggle again with his commitment to his family, Nora mourn once more for her departed children, Reverend Matt (Christopher Eccleston) piss everyone off afresh by indulging in zealotry, and Laurie coach the psychically wounded anew with a different man. That cast probably got a kick out of yelling at one another about the terrible things their characters have done. It should feel like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? It actually feels like The Real Housewives of New Jersey.
The seventh anniversary of The Departure looms ahead — a milestone that the characters have inexplicably decided means something — but the countdown doesn’t feel anywhere near as urgent as it should, as Kevin & Co. relocate to Australia to prevent the apocalypse through another magical person of color. Or something. Ask Kevin’s interminable reveries.
After watching seven of Season 3’s eight installments, I found myself wondering less about what would become of the characters and becoming increasingly interested in whether creators Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta could pull out a satisfying conclusion — and what that would even look like. Under that jumble of story lines about all the issues and emotions we’ve already gone through, as well as about a Newer Testament and alt-dimensional transporters and a girl who may or may not be dead, lies a knot that will hopefully straighten all those plot threads out. Misery is a weed; it exists to persist. The Leftovers understands the melancholy of survival — but it seldom acknowledges that we also tend to carry on.