The Leftovers Season Three: Paradisio

By Lukas Wilhelmi

Paradise is a cup of tea. Not too hot and not yet cold. Fleeting, precious. With someone on the other side of the table who you choose to believe.

 After 28 hours of television that was, just like its characters, always on the brink of madness itself, The Leftovers still found a new card up its sleeve: it became literal. Just two people (the holy couple, but still), a cup of tea, a few, soft close-ups and words. Everyone earned this sober ending--characters, writers and audiences alike.

First, the show needed to mourn. Maybe, as Emily Nussbaum wrote, sobbing was the point in the first place. Acceptance is the only productive place. A soul-cleansing. Without loved-ones and meaning we moved to Texas, where The Leftovers poked at Christianity for its contradictions & arrogances & mysteries. But, the show was always able to distinguish between religion and faith, between the institutional and the personal. Companies aren’t people. People are people. And they are all we've got.

And with that we flee to Australia. Nora guides us into a world of duplicity. Kevin exists as multiple selves, pigeons and doves argue over their narrative status and more double-layered analogies form the old book of Nora. And the show says goodbye to its memorable sidekicks in the International Assassin Theme Park. We hear Ann Dowd's Patti Levin say "Kevin" for the last time, and we mourn Justin Theroux (Photo: Ben King/HBO)the end of the world. 

In the Down Under everything is the same but different. It is the uncanny valley of a stable society. A country that has found (some) ways to deal with their genocidal past, while enjoying the wealth it has built on these crimes. Australia as what America could’ve been: known for its friendliness, not it’s guns. Remember the Olympics in 2000? That was the last time the West was doing fine. But looking back is a trap.

We need to go forward. Nora has lived for too long in the dark to enjoy the sun we share. She needs to leave this solar-system. Does she need to see her kids at this point? Maybe. Is she suicidal? In her situation, who wouldn’t be? But mostly she needs to be on the move, towards something, anything. Because settling down hasn’t worked. The politics of the nuclear family have stripped away her kid. The narrow vision of the American value system have downgraded her maternal status. Everything is measured based on obviousness. Biology over parenting. Everything is measured on the surface. Pay-grade, uniforms, titles. As we all have learned: it takes a pandemic for most to see who really keeps things running.

Oh, the irony, that our lives are depended on those who don’t earn a living wage. Celebrities are overwhelmed by their irrelevance and the president, it turns out, can only be useful when he/she surrounds him/herself with experts. Remember those? We chased them off the yard, with pitchforks made of false freedom and anti-intellectualism.  America is no place for the skeptics, who’s spokesperson Nora Durst always has been. The moment she (wants to) believe something, she becomes cynical, loses some of her warmth. The show risks her losing her soul. The show always has been about Nora’s soul. It will end up defending it over a cup of tea.

The means of choice? Narratives. Beliefs. Meaning. The Paradigm of Hugs. First, The Leftovers asked if the hugs are real. Why and how do we want to be hugged? Then, it talked about those who hug and why. And in the end, the show realizes its meta role as a hugger, as creator of meaning, as art, and the question becomes: Do facts even matter? Instead: What can I do to help? Should I support your narrative or should I call bullshit on your lies?

Is God real? Was he killed by that lion? How many universes are there? Did Nora visit them all? Who knows. It doesn’t matter if we are right. What matters is if our beliefs help us get along. And! If our beliefs hurt others. Are we killing each other over truths in your book? If so, it doesn’t matter what’s in it.   

Are we prepared for not being right? What are we doing if the apocalypse doesn’t happen? Will we be telling each other the same stories? Will we just change the math and give out a new doomsday date? Or will we say: the old days, the old ideas, the old narratives – they didn’t work. We need to adjust. Not by asking for better stories but by changing our relationship to them.

The president will lie, he probably will shoot someone on 5th avenue. Will we care? Will we believe women? Will we seek revenge or redemption? Will we pay attention to the narrative of material wealth or immaterial wealth? Because in a social-democratic universe they are mutually exclusive. Everybody can buy their own book, some can afford to own more. Or we build a library together.

Kevin Garvey made his decision. Does he really believe Nora? Who knows. What he knows goes deeper than that. He chooses peace. For Nora, and for him. And they hold hands. The doves come back home and bless the virtue of patience. And all we can do in this one shared universe is act out of love and hope that the tea isn’t cold yet. 


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