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When I criticized the conclusion of “The Leftovers” TV show I relied on my own alternate theory and on the fact that the official explanation was instead brittle to the point of being objectively unacceptable.

So, in my mind I groped around to explain this concept. I knew what I meant, but I struggled to manifest it. Today, I found out that there’s a scientific concept that is built exactly on that idea. So I can finally explain concretely what I meant with a more universal evidence.

For me the show already went past a threshold and reached a breaking point with episode three of the very first season. There was something in that episode that was like a statement, a line being drawn on the ground that wouldn’t have allowed going back anymore. No matter how many more episodes and seasons there were going to be. Now I know that breaking point isn’t just an abstract, subjective idea, but a well known scientific concept that is instead quite concrete.

The thesis the finale completely relies on is that what is being shown has to remain “ambiguous”. That means that even the weirdest events that you see always have a “scientific” explanation and a more magical one. The whole show thrives on that ambiguity, keeping both paths open and never explicitly choosing one.

But as I said, I think instead that the show made a crucial mistake already at episode three. That means that instead of remaining ambiguous, the show actually made a “statement”, by showing something that I consider unambiguously impossible. That is: episode three shows something that can ONLY have a magical explanation. Hence, that episode codifies the rest of the show as something that only appears as ambiguous, but that has instead one solution only. Like a collapse of the wave function: those two superpositions collapsed into one, already with episode three.

What’s this breaking point about? It’s all about reverend Matt winning at the casino after following the will of the god. The show simply wants us to accept that outcome as a statistical but still plausible anomaly. But it is not. In my head this event was already way past the threshold of ambiguity because it was a lot more than an anomaly.

One thing is to consider the “anomaly” of red three times in a row related to the totality of the games happening in that casino. In this case “three times red” is going to happen relatively often. It’s far from impossible. But if a specific person “decides” at a specific moment that red is coming out three times in a row, and this does indeed happen right at that moment, then in my mind this statistical event is shot way beyond what can be considered plausible, and right into a magical realm. Because we aren’t more seeing an anomaly that is made possible by a large sample, it’s instead an anomaly right when it’s “desired”. That’s the threshold.

Today I found out there’s a scientific concepts to determine exactly that: a way to scientifically decide when en event just cannot have a rational explanation (to simplify):

I’m not an expert of that stuff, so I don’t know if my thesis is actually right. But now I know that it is possible to study that episode to determine if it’s actually true that Matt winning three time at that precise moment constitutes something that goes under the p-value. It can be objectively measured.

The concept of p-value works even in reverse: if we know the system isn’t rigged, and the result goes below the p-value, then it means that something “magical” happened (a relationship between the god and the winning). That there was an interference. That in this case is obvious: the writers of the show intruded in the fabric of that dimension. So, either you consider that as a “writing mistake”, or, as I did, a statement that “collapses the wave function”. That makes The Leftovers come out of its ambiguity and take one path explicitly.

I might be right, I might be wrong. But it can be calculated.

(p-value also needs more contextual evidence, if you read carefully, and the show provides plenty of it, even if you could ideally write that out as “poetic license”. The contextual evidence is that the number “3” is echoed explicitly through the whole episode. Providing more and more statistical anomalies that would contribute lowering the p-value.)

This was the first time for me, with Twin Peaks.

When it premiered over here it was like a huge wave. I didn’t watch it but the day after at school *everyone* was talking about it, so I was only caught in that hype and wave of interest that followed. For me it was more interesting because how everyone seemed enthralled by it, more than the murder story itself. No one was speaking of the more mysterious parts, probably because those were relatively hidden at the beginning.

But I had missed that train and of course I didn’t want to start watching it without the first episode. Some time later, probably even a year, the first episode was broadcasted again, and I was ready in front of the television. But for some reason I got interrupted after half an hour and missed the rest, so even this second train was missed.

Only many, many years later I caught it once again on television, deep in the night. But I think it was already somewhere in the middle of the story, maybe even the second season. It was pretty much impossible to follow what was going on, especially because I have already problems recognizing and remembering faces and names, and trying to understand Twin Peaks through some random episode is quite impossible. But I caught some sequences in the Black Lodge, enough to realize this had a broader vision than a straightforward murder drama. It had a haunted, dreamy atmosphere that set it apart. And at that time I already knew David Lynch quite well anyway.

Last June instead I went through both season 1 & 2, and it was essentially a fresh experience since my knowledge of the series still had been fairly limited. This means that for me Twin Peaks was an experience that followed LOST and X-Files, and, in some way, it was diminished because of that.

I absolutely loved the whole series and I haven’t really perceived that sharp dip of quality that people say is supposed to happen after episode 9 of the second season. And yet I watched carefully with my attention also focused on these aspects. My personal impression was that there was some kind of parabolic decline, a smoother downward curve, and whose seeds were planted already within the first season. I didn’t notice any sharp turns.

The major surprise for me was that I went in expecting something dense with its own mythology and mystery, instead I found a story that was surprisingly simple and straightforward. There wasn’t that much to speculate about, and those elements that were there seemed to have their own function in a relatively simple way. The whole thing was somewhat “transparent” to me. And actually it’s the second season that tries at least to toy around with the mystery, sometimes in a really clumsy way but at least more explicitly.

This is why my interpretation of the classic Twin Peaks, its concept, seems also different from how everyone else would probably describe it. For me Twin Peaks is firstly a blatant parody of an established genre, a parody of soap operas. Filled with improbable but still charming characters, doing quite silly things. Yet it elevates itself from a simple parody because it takes itself seriously, there are moments that are genuine and dramatic. But all the mystery is only an undertone, a vein of inspiration that runs through the whole thing, but that is never really the point. It’s still a joke, and the joke is about us, who are watching it and take it very seriously.

I’m not going to dissect the details, but what I noticed is that already early in the first season there were lots of implausible elements that simply couldn’t have a logical explanation. Some dead ends. These become more prominent as the show goes on, and especially with the second season, but this second season doesn’t introduce or twist anything that wasn’t already there and meant to go that way. For example one of the most ridiculous sub-lots is Nadine’s super-strength, and it’s all already there in the first season, it only gets exasperated in the second but the trajectory was already there, already defined. The second season is clumsy, but “correct”. For a show that relies so much on atmosphere and visceral reaction the execution matters a lot, and so this second season can still be seen as a failure, but it’s still Twin Peaks and still within what I perceive as its canon and its design.

Twin Peaks is parody, from my point of view. It plays directly on the audience’s expectations, it’s full of jokes and meta-fiction meant not for who’s watching, but for who’s behind the scenes. The audience is mainly the butt of the joke, the object of the parody itself. It’s David Lynch making fun of that type of seriality, bending it to his own purposes and internal dialogue.

Lynch said he never wanted to reveal who killed Laura Palmer, and he thought that the revelation is one of the reasons why the public abandoned the show. I’m actually glad instead the producers forced that reveal because I don’t think there was much to hide behind that mystery. It wasn’t worth it, and I also believe the public abandoned the show for other reasons. It moved away from the visceral and relatable story to explore its own quirks. That sense of realism that held it together was progressively lost.

For me, that’s one more concrete thing and one less vague mystery to distract from the rest. So what is that characterizes Twin Peaks and its concept, when it comes to its mystery? Coming from LOST and X-files, as I said, there isn’t much to work with. All the stuff about Major Briggs is itself just a parody that would then be taken seriously and developed in X-files, but the point is that in Twin Peaks it’s all a surface, all about going through the motions but without meaning deep down. The same for the other mythical elements, the ring, the Black Lodge, the obscure references, the Log Lady. It’s all infused by dream logic but I cannot see anything truly symbolic and meaningful. What you see is what there is. A silly story of magical possessions, military conspiracies and esoteric FBI. It’s well done and fun, but it’s still a surface that I can’t take seriously, and I don’t think it’s meant to be.

And then there’s the movie (Fire Walk with Me). I started watching it right after the second season, but after I saw the first hour I got sidetracked, then watched another 10 minutes in October, and the last part only in December… It took me half a year. The movie is much different. It adds a lot more substance to the mythological elements. It takes itself more seriously but without contradicting anything of the silly and parodist style that came before. It improved it and played competently on both sides of its own game. The movie puts even more emphasis on the dreamy atmosphere and it has some truly haunting sequences that push it to another level. But stylistically it’s still something that appears fairly simple to me. For example the movie uses heavily fade-outs and cross-fades. The idea I get is that dream overlaps with reality, the two worlds and planes of reality that blur together. Images are often superimposed, two different places that seem to merge, or share the same space even if they aren’t compatible. Mystery is an undertone, a pervasive, ethereal touch that can reach everywhere. The dream is present during daylight, it doesn’t retreat to the cover of the dark. And of course Laura Palmer. I know the movie got some mixed reactions and I suppose it’s because there are scenes that are really weird and absurd. Laura constantly overreacts to things seemingly quite normal, and yet she’s there screaming and making freaking faces and the people around her don’t even seem to notice. She’s disconnected from the fabric of reality. That’s again to me a sort of symbolic introspection pushed out. These aren’t “real” sequences, but scenes that are distorted by a dream. They are played externally as they happen internally, and so the “melodrama”, the excesses of the reactions. It’s an exasperation that I see as deliberate and meant to show Laura’s own internal landscape. Reality upside down. What is inside is pushed out, and reality itself submits to those emotions. Reality comes after.

There are also symbols and mysteries that I only caught by looking at the wiki, like corn/Garmonbozia. But that’s all stuff so vague that I don’t like to use energies to speculate about because I just cannot expect to obtain something of value and that is not simply subjectively imagined. The movie seems to close pretty much all the loose ends in the plot and from my point of view the whole Twin Peaks story can be closed there. It makes sense and doesn’t seem to have any missing part or unfinished businesses.

But there’s this third season now, and the third season changes the approach. It’s a third season that comes after the stuff that took inspiration from Twin Peaks, and Twin Peaks itself becomes more mature and deep. If all the mystery in the first two seasons and movie can be waved away without leaving a meaningful trace, the new Twin Peaks instead goes deep and makes the mystery its vehicle. Yet it doesn’t truly transform its own nature and is still faithful to the original “design”. It’s both a sharp turn as it is not.

I’ve rambled enough, I’ll write about the “new” Twin Peaks in a separate post and I’ll explain more in detail what’s my interpretation of it. After watching the 10th episode I thought there needed to be another six seasons to make sense of everything that was thrown at my face up to that point. I had very little hopes that it would make any sense by the time it was over, or even that Lynch would be generous enough to offer a “conclusion”. But I was surprised. In my opinion those last few episodes seem to close everything quite neatly and elegantly. I do believe I retain a fairly simplistic and limited vision of it, as it was for what came before and that I described here, but I continue to be persuaded that what I see is at least close to Lynch own genuine vision. I’ll write about all this later.

I was skimming a Tor article on this latest Cloverfield, skimming because I haven’t seen the actual thing yet:

There’s a line at the bottom that caught my attention.

populated by cardboard characters who are merely the victims of greater forces

…You mean as it happens in reality?

But no one seems to have liked this movie, so maybe the article still has a point.

EDIT: I’ve seen the movie now, it’s awful. But I still can’t see how “characters victims of greater forces” is a valid criticism. The cardboard part is true, but the totality of the movie is cardboard. The concept itself has a few small aspects that are interesting, but it’s all savagely sacrificed to the altar of Hollywood machine writing. At its best the movie is a truly bad and clumsy imitation of old sci-fi movies that do everything much better, including special effects.

I was really hoping to see “greater forces” at play, but there’s nothing of that sort. Even that aspect was disappointing.

I was keeping editing the previous entry, so I decided to keep it separated without cluttering that messy post written across a few days and so already kind of inconsistent in its flow.

What I wanted to add is that the strong statement the show makes, as I explained there, is to crown uncertainty by using that ultimate mystery, and the story Nora tells, as the principal way to deliver that symbolic ambiguity. One ambiguity to rule them all.

The big problem here is that this statement and this type of ambiguity are FALSE. And we are even outside of the dichotomy between fiction and reality I used in my mythological explanation. The message here is directly ludicrous and wrong (and it’s a mistake specific to the TV show since the book doesn’t make it).

It takes the first 20 pages of John Fowles’ “The Aristos” to make a much better statement, without even the need to conjure any “character”. But the nature of our reality isn’t ambiguity or uncertainty. That’s human condition, that’s the observer, not the observed. It’s not reality, it’s us. Whereas in The Leftovers it’s the world itself that declares itself ambiguous. It’s a world embodied into Nora’s story. A world fashioned. Because we receive that ambiguity, but that ambiguity isn’t factual, since Nora knows the answer about whether or not she lied, and Nora is just another human being. So we aren’t facing an ultimate mystery as the nature of our existence. We’re facing a man made one. It’s such a basic epistemic mistake, to confuse a limit we have with a limit of the world.

Here’s a quote from LessWrong, that reads as an answer to The Leftovers, and pertinently titled “Mysterious Answers to Mysterious Questions”:

ignorance exists in the map, not in the territory. If I am ignorant about a phenomenon, that is a fact about my own state of mind, not a fact about the phenomenon itself. A phenomenon can seem mysterious to some particular person. There are no phenomena which are mysterious of themselves. To worship a phenomenon because it seems so wonderfully mysterious, is to worship your own ignorance.

The Leftovers (the show) made that ignorance into an idol to worship. I can’t see this as a positive message.

Well, that was 100% unexpected.

While I was watching the season 2 finale I was thinking it was really good. Then I checked and noticed there was a whole chunk left to see, the whole final part. I was satisfied even without that one. So this time I made sure to never check how much was left. And when it was over my reaction was… What? …That’s it?

I’m not a completely cold-hearted guy, there are stories that move me. But even the emotional side of this one felt flat to me. Analyzing, it’s probably because it didn’t ring true for most of it, so there wasn’t enough time for me to connect. Like Nora, I couldn’t believe Kevin arrived in that place at random. But unlike Nora I couldn’t trust the narrative either. I didn’t know if it was just bad writing or if there was an explanation within the story.

So in the end for me it was mostly honest curiosity driving my experience, more than emotional connection. But anyway, that emotional side of the story doesn’t look particularly meaningful to me. Kind of banal? But not in a genuine way either. Too coated in rhetoric even when it tries to be raw and honest. That’s the feeling I have about this whole season. It was interesting and with plenty of good ideas, but it lost most of the genuine emotional side that fueled season 1. It lost authenticity.

I thought I was going to be writing about mythology here, but is there anything to say? I was expecting the finale to make some very wrong move, and be enraged by that, or it to make a brilliant, inspired one, and be awed by it. It was neither. The mythology and mystery just fell off. The finale was not a finale. Well, I’ll be cynical after all. It was sentimental banality. Too gamed to be true, needlessly convoluted too.

But it wasn’t absence of mythology either. There’s the rest of the season to account for, and it’s a gaping hole. Really. This went back to The OA levels of missing footholds. It’s completely arbitrary and pointless, nothing to work with and leading nowhere meaningful. (in fact the always enlightened Jeff Jensen calls it “anti-theology”, it works the same as “anti-mythology” and it’s exactly what we have here, more or less deliberately, where for “deliberate” I mean the intention of not giving anything solid to speculate about, a deliberate absence being built)

What was the point of Kevin’s resurrection powers? Everything else? The theme vanished from the finale. We got one big “answer” as a way to check that one box about what most people wanted to know. But only to show how what most people want to know is utterly pointless. You got your answer. It obviously leads to a complete lack of satisfaction. It’s the most underwhelming revelation ever. And that’s fine, because that really wasn’t the point. It correctly shows that what most people attention is on, is pointless. It’s a good, correct message.

But the rest? It’s all put aside and gone unaddressed. The finale has no suggestive suggestion, no statement either. It just moved on and everything fell away. The OA at least was inspired. This one was carved empty.

Well, it cannot compare to LOST. Despite its mistakes LOST tried to soar high. The Leftovers has lots that is good in it, but most of it is contained in season 1. This was a finale where the stakes are massively lowered instead of raised, maybe for the fear to disappoint, or to stay on what is familiar and proven. Season 2/3 were fun rides with good ideas, but in the end leading to nothing meaningful. Sidetracks. The parts being better than the sum, because the sum disperses what was being built. There’s no arriving place, and, retrospectively, no meaningful journey.

The ambiguity in Nora’s story

Reading now other people’s reactions I notice that some think the finale (and it’s bogus answer) is ambivalent: Nora might be lying. All her story is just a story we/Kevin are supposed to believe, or not. This is seen by people as a way to answer this final question in a kind of open way, because maybe this is just a story she tells us. It’s not ultimately verified. But well, okay? I fail to understand why this ambiguity can be seen as relevant. It doesn’t seem to make any difference to me. It doesn’t seem a meaningful dilemma to think about?

And thinking about it more, I also cannot find any good reason why Nora would lie. Lies and truths are meaningful because of their implication, but it seems nothing is implied here. We have a finale where Nora and Kevin are back together, a starting point, ending on a positive note. It would seem quite pointless if this reunion begins with a big lie, especially because Kevin and Nora’s relationship started on the basis of hiding nothing. So, to me it seems that the overall narrative leads me to “believe” Nora, exactly as Kevin does. In a way, the whole journey has the purpose to lead to trust that story without the need to question it, because of what we’ve been through. We arrived at a point where we don’t need a proof. Then nope, this aspect of the finale isn’t ambiguous. The story the way I received it tells me Nora wasn’t lying, because she couldn’t be lying at this point in the story.

The only good reason to motivate that Nora lied is that her story doesn’t make a whole lot of sense (why wouldn’t anyone else come back, then? That they all live happier is kind of silly, even if it seems to be validated by the fact that when Nora returns she decides to live in a “technologically light” kind of town, supposedly similar to how those people live on the other side. Aka: technology is bad, you feel better living the good olde ways, yeah). Heh, might be just the best story the writers came up with and whatever implausibility has to be ascribed to that. The problem isn’t whether or not *I* believe the story, the problem is that the choice of making her tell that kind of story that way feels contrived. The whole thing of these two possibilities to preserve and reinforce this ambiguity is contrived.

She could still be lying, it remains a possibility even if it doesn’t make a narrative sense to me. But the important aspect is that it really makes no difference. Either she found out the world was split, or she doesn’t. Neither case has any explanatory power, or is compelling to consider. It’s dry speculation without consequence.

So why again? No images being shown, as a writing choice. Faithful to the ambiguity that runs through the whole show and that instead of being solved is made into a foundation. THIS is the statement. It rings a bit hollow and artificial, but that’s how I read it. The purpose driving it is the choice the writers made: to crown ambiguity. To keep it open ended. To leave that doubt not as a thing to solve, not as a complex mystery encoded in the story and hard to unveil, but as the ultimate statement. To leave human beings uprooted, ungrounded, nowhere to go beside doubt. Lacking information to be able to choose. But while this is praiseworthy as an ultimate goal, I think this specific theme was handled badly, and it’s one of the weaker parts of the whole show. So making it as the theme that connects and builds the whole thing, well, it’s weak.

Let’s at least discuss what little mythology is there. In the case Nora’s lying, well, we don’t have much. As I said we aren’t juggling real alternatives, so if Nora’s lying we just have nothing in our hands. No theory is offered in the show beside the hidden and unfathomable hand of god. If Nora’s lying it’s because she’s ashamed that she couldn’t go all the way. She’d feel a coward and so she’d close herself from the rest of the world, as we’ve seen. We’re left with nothing in the way of answers to what happened. But if Nora’s saying the truth, then we have a little something, at least indirectly.

In my own schematics I always analyzed this in terms of the boundary of fiction. The threshold. The “event” being seen like a gap that opens and then closes. This is all in accord with the transcendental theme. I imply an inside and an outside. The hand of the god comes in from outside, and the departures go to this outside. But Nora’s story changes all this radically. If that story is *true* then it means the departures only went to some kind of parallel world, not an outside. This perspective changes everything because the parallel world, conceived in this way, is still part of an “inside”. It just became more complex, more differentiated, but still “inside”. It’s a scientific possibility. The event itself becomes normalized. A new event for science, but not outside science. We didn’t break through the “dome”, we just found out another place, still within it. The story is still encapsulated and not breached. Ideally, as in Nora’s story, we can build machines that let us walk between one place and the other. We didn’t move into spirituality or into an afterlife. We just moved into an parallel universe, and that’s well within the potential of science.

In this case the idea that the hand of god comes in, takes some people and moves them to a parallel universe, well, it is kind of silly and far-fetched. Far more plausible would be some rare physical event that created a fracture on the timeline. Something spontaneous but with an ultimate scientific explanation. The god of this world would be identical to ours. An hidden hand, not an explicit one. The idea that god permeates reality, but doesn’t intervenes directly, or tampers with it. It’s the occluded god of Kabbalistic tradition.

It opens a problem, though, and it’s where the whole show has to be questioned. This finale wants to make a statement about ambiguity and uncertainty, as I said, but that ambiguity is what the original book was about, the main theme. And that story was already fully contained and really well adapted through the whole first season. I have commented how season 2 and 3 expanded that story and introduced a new layer. The magic and mystery were featured more prominently, it seemed that the show was leading somewhere else, that it wanted to make a jump. That’s why the finale was a disappointment. In the end season 2/3 didn’t really add anything. The mystery and magic fell off, the theme disappeared and for the finale we simply went back to restate what season 1 already delivered with much more precision, meaningfulness and depth. We got a very long, very interesting sidetrack that ultimately lead nowhere if not backwards. A detour that was fun, but pointless in the Grand Scheme of Things.

In the end The Leftovers denied its own statements. The conflict was solved without producing something new. What worked well was the tension between two writers. In Season 2 we saw Lindelof seizing control, to push the story toward this new place, to embrace more fully its mystery. Season 3 is even more liberating, in the sense that we move further onward into Lindelof territory. But then comes the finale. It’s like there’s a missing piece. It’s like there’s a world between episode 7 and 8, and it’s like during that implied war between Perrotta and Lindelof, the latter lost (LOST). Or better, he surrendered.

This hypothesis is directly validated here:

Lindelof actually pitched early on that they should show the mirror world – which received support, except from book author Perrotta.

“He made it so f**king compelling,” says Perrotta, “and everybody in the room is going, ‘Yeah!’ And I’m sitting there going, ‘No!’ ” Lindelof, comparing his writers’ room to 12 Angry Men, says that “Perrotta became Juror No. 8” — the lone dissenter who brings the room around. Perrotta gave a version of his Leftovers stump speech: “It was always just a given for me that there is this mystery, the same mystery of where do we go when we die, and the idea that there’s one authoritative answer seems palpably ridiculous to me.”

Lindelof was seducing the writing room. The same as season 2 and 3 were seducing the public with its mysterious, magical and crazier elements. Boiling and bubbling up as the seasons progressed. He was winning the war until Perrotta claimed control again.

Lindelof clearly lost. He left while still trying to make a dent, throughout season 2 and 3, but ultimately the finale restates Perrotta’s book without even a little change or addition. It still backpedaled. And I tend to think that Lindelof lost simply because he once again was chasing a trail that he didn’t know what was actually about, and that meant he couldn’t produce good arguments to win that war. That trail lead nowhere, and the show ultimately led nowhere if not back to what was known: the beginning. Restating something that is only superficially convincing and that more than give a closure, it DISTRACTS from closure.

This is my opinion on The Leftovers. A show that was a tension between two writers. Two different perspectives. That is creatively fueled and enlightened by that conflict but that ultimately fails to produce a synthesis or something new. An imperfect work that tries to arrive to a balance, but failing. It’s still immensely interesting, of course, or I wouldn’t write about it here. Maybe third time’s a charm.

My explanation of The Leftovers’ mythology remains valid. The finale didn’t prove it wrong, but it made it pointless. What was the premise for a mythology, even if weak, became a statement for an anti-mythology. The finale not only didn’t produce answers, but ultimately made the questions themselves irrelevant. The answer to mystery is pure doubt. Theories and systems, that are the premise to build a mythology, were made impossible.

Of course you should check out Jeff Jensen’s take, because he always makes things better than they are.

I’m now catching up with the show, with episode 8 ready to go. But first I wanted to write down some notes about the mess that was episode 7. In fact I wrote down some obscure notes so I wouldn’t forget them while being carried by the rest of the story:

Once you master a level you awake, all you’ve learned is lost. New level, new problems. Surf the trajectory. Every new level resets the importance, relevance is contextual.

With only the finale left, I’m peering at the possibilities. For me, right now, the show could go either way. Polar opposites. It could be the best or worst thing ever. I hope it does something clever and consistent, but I have zero faith on this. It could as well be a total clusterfuck that retrospectively ruins everything up to this point. And this episode 7 fits this mold.

It’s not a bad episode, it’s not good either. This whole third season has been pretty much useless, but at the same time it can still be great if they pull off something. It can potentially be great even if these seven episodes didn’t have substance.

So I see the episode and of course the reaction was WTF. Purely that. Nothing makes sense here, nothing is understood. So I go to read those recap that journalists write.–256008

It’s a show with an elaborate, layered mythology for those interested in delving into it

WHAT?! Are you fucking kidding me? That’s why I have to write this down, because it seems I’m the only one who’s interested in delving into it. BUT THERE’S NOTHING TO DELVE INTO.

Where is this elaborate, layered mythology? Because of course none of those articles that mention it actually delve into it or even know what it is. They only mention it. It’s no one business.

But first, I’ll point out to the total lack of coherence.

The Leftovers is still, at its core, what it’s always been: a story about wrenching, deeply personal grief.

To then continue with:

in all of the craziness, we’ve missed something important: The real tragedy is Kevin and Nora’s breakup.

(an aside, I noticed on reddit a comment that correctly said: they didn’t break up, they just were on different pages.)

So, nope, it’s not about any convoluted mythology or fantasy elements. It’s about the characters. Only to then say that “in all of the craziness” we actually lost those same characters. Duh.

And that’s actually correct. The Leftovers has become a mess of a show that in the end does nothing “properly”. It thrives on contradiction. There’s too much mystery and absurdity that get in the way of actual character development, yet that mystery is too all over the place to even begin making sense, or being consistent and generous enough that it makes delving into it a rewarding activity. So BOTH are poorly done.

But as I said at the beginning, it’s extremely wobbly, yet it works. It manages to achieve some form of clumsy balance. Do its own worthwhile thing because it’s at least different from most TV shows. It plays with stuff, might get burnt badly, but it’s still kind of fun and interesting to watch. But it is ALSO a clusterfuck.

Even in the Flood of Nonsense that was this episode, I was able to bring some clarity to myself. It makes sense to me, and that’s why I went to read various recap, to see if other people parsed things in the same way. And they didn’t. They call for that elaborate mythology that everyone points at, but generically and without saying what it is about. Like a looming yet evanescent presence.

So here I am, once again, to explain how it works. Or the way I personally parsed it.

The cardinal point this time is that THERE’S NO MYTHOLOGY. Yes, this is important not as a simple statement, but because it brings actual clarity. And it’s funny that it’s the opposite of what everyone else notices.

What I observe, comparing this episode to season 2’s 8th (International Assassin), is that there are no actual, objective rules. There’s no overarching mythology that has been established, in fact. Where for mythology we imply “systems”. There’s no actual consistency between these two episodes. What instead there’s plenty of is: arbitrary symbolism. It’s very obviously a dreamworld. One example for all, only in this episode we have the seemingly important mechanic of the character transition through reflective surfaces. Yet there were mirrors in the other episode too, they just didn’t have this use.

It’s one element only, but an important one. It says to me that in this world there’s no consistency. It’s not a mythological afterlife with strong rules established and consistent throughout. It’s instead a dreamworld that follows dream logic. Transitions happen by just blinking eyes. Like in dreams.

So where are we? The answer is that we get nothing of an “afterlife”. We are in an afterlife, because Kervin does keep dying and resurrecting, but the nature of this afterlife, its actual mythology, is occluded. We just don’t get to see what it is. Instead we get a simulacrum. The place where Kevin ends up is his mind, obviously. BUT. I also just said he keeps dying, so he is inside an afterlife. The mythology of the show DOES command an afterlife. But it doesn’t reveal it to us.

So where are we, again? We are in an afterlife seen but occluded through Kevin’s mind. We aren’t in that place directly. We are in that place as symbolized by a mind. A place fashioned by a human brain, and so a representation of a place through a mind. A dreamworld again.

That’s why there’s no mythology. A mythology is the sense of structure, of rules. But because this afterlife is entirely occluded, even if it does exists, we can only infer meaning. We can only observe it indirectly the way Kevin’s mind fashions it. And so, because it’s a dreamworld, it follows dream logic.

All this leading to my interpretation of the whole episode, its meaning. The important line for me is:

“You just do what they tell you to do…. What do you want?”

That’s Evie to Kevin. Evie keeps herself in character all the way through. She doesn’t “awake” inside the dream. She doesn’t “wink” at Kevin the same way Patti does. Kevin tries to shake her out of her reverie, in order to deliver the message. But she stays in character. The delivery of the message is a failure because the message cannot breach her character. The message doesn’t reach her.

Yet, what she says works anyway, the same as the speech with god worked in the episode on the boat. Layers. Evie describes Kevin the way he is. He’s doing stuff he doesn’t understand just because he has faith on the fact it works. It still makes no sense. It’s still absurd that he accepts of going through this insane ordeal. But he does, blindly.

That’s why it all does make sense to me. What we’ve seen in this episode is a total failure. Kevin wasn’t able to deliver the message to Evie, because Evie wasn’t awake. And he also wasn’t able to figure out the mystery of the kids without shoes, he got no answer. And he also didn’t get the song from the guy. All three of these missions he had were a complete failure.

Yet it makes perfect sense. It’s a dreamworld. It’s personal even if it’s connected to an afterlife. The only one who can benefits from facing those “demons” is Kevin himself. The owner of the dreamworld. You don’t get to fix someone else problem by telling them what you dreamed the last night. Dreams are personal affairs. What’s deeply meaningful to you is useless to someone else, and that’s exactly what we’ve seen here: Kevin learning something about himself, but powerless to fulfill others’ “tasks”. It’s his dreamworld, it has power on himself. For everyone else it’s useless. The afterlife is completely occluded and you cannot take away anything that wasn’t already buried on this side of the threshold. This afterlife/outside exists within the show’s mythology, but it cannot “speak” or reveal itself, if not through what is already manifest: Kevin’s own demons.

That’s how it makes sense to me: Kevin comes back empty handed. The message is clear: you have to fix your own shit without any divine intervention. No magic tricks. You tried going through, but you just hit your head against an hard wall. Rejected.

The show’s central mystery stays unsolved, because that threshold did open once. We now know, simply, that the afterlife delivers no answers or solutions. It’s just an echo chamber.

Lots of people hate cliffhangers, especially in TV shows since you have to wait a week, or a whole year for the next season to find out what happens. It’s just a natural expression of irritation. Because it works on the premise of baiting: you withdraw something in order to produce a desire.

The Leftovers does something, and does it systematically, that is far worse from my point of view. After a good first episode that was well contextualized and grounded what is supposed to come next in the season, we got a second episode that summarizes everything that is bad in this show. A number of plot points and vague hints that ultimately lead to nothing at all. You get away with your hands empty and a sense of frustration since you put some effort watching and trying to understand an hour of television, but nothing of value came out of it, if not the remote hope it will make sense later on. That it is building up to something hopefully worthwhile. But that, and this is the point, right now isn’t worthwhile at all.

But that’s not the worst offender. What’s worse than a cliffhanger is to end the episode with a decontextualized scene with new characters doing “mysterious” things. Or rather characters that you’ve never seen before, in a place you’ve never seen before, doing stuff that none of them cares to explain (in this specific case we know “what” and its immediate reason, but we don’t know why and how). In the case of cliffhangers at least you do get what happens, you just want to know how it *continues*. Instead in this “worst case scenario” you end up watching scenes with no context, no explanations, not even true hints, and often fueled just by trolling. Just to provide dumb misdirection so that the show can keep its air of fake mystery and surprise.

Add to this the fact that the screenplay now jumps in time, but of course without telling you when. Purposefully so you understand LESS.

It’s not that they are telling a complex story or going for some ambitious construction that requires the various layers. They are simply using every artificial device they can just to make it as opaque as possible.

Six episodes are left.