Damon Lindelof Talks ‘Leftovers’ Season 2 Finale, Show’s Future: ‘We Want There to Be More’

'The Leftovers' Season 2 Finale, Season
Courtesy HBO

Spoiler warning: Do not read on unless you’ve seen “I Live Here Now,” the season 2 finale of “The Leftovers.”

The final installment of “The Leftovers” season two was all about awakenings: Mary (Janel Moloney), Matt’s wife, finally woke up from her comatose state. The town of Jarden — and the enclave of seekers just outside its gates — realized that the Guilty Remnant had been hanging around for some time, planning a secretive and scary operation. The Guilty Remnant leader, Meg (Liv Tyler), unleashed hell on Jarden, giving lie to the idea that the small Texas town had been spared the fallout of the Departure; perhaps in her mind, she was rousing its citizens to reality. And once again, Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux) woke up in that purgatorial hotel, where he had to do some abjectly emotional karaoke before being allowed to awaken and return to the land of the living. (It’s amusing, in a weird way, that Kevin’s not really all that mad at John Murphy for shooting him. As neighborly feedback goes, Kevin seems to think it was tough but fair.)

As for John (Kevin Carroll), he’s become the new Kevin: John struggles to comprehend what feels like the loss of his entire family. Everything he thought he knew was wrong. His teenage daughter, now under the sway of Meg, seems to hate him and their entire town; he and his wife are further apart than ever emotionally; and his son, Michael, is as lost and confused as any of the Garveys. The town itself is trashed as well, and his attempts to keep it safe and protected from the rest of America have clearly failed. 

As for Kevin, the reception he got from his family and friends once he returned home indicates that there is hope, even in this challenging version of our world. If his shaky rendition of “Homeward Bound” or Erika’s frantic pleading on the bridge didn’t make you a little teary, the look on his face when he finally saw everyone waiting for him might have done the trick. Life is hard, but Kevin has woken up to all that he has to be grateful for.

Given the full-circle nature of that final scene, it’s reasonable to ask whether that means the story of “The Leftovers” is over. HBO has not yet made a decision on whether to bring back the show, but, like critic Alan Sepinwall, I very much hope the drama, like Kevin, finds itself renewed. And in an interview, co-creator Damon Lindelof admits that he certainly hopes this is not the end.

Here, he addresses some of the pressing questions fans might have as this year’s widely acclaimed season came to a close. (By the way, Lindelof addressed other aspects of “The Leftovers” and TV in general in Part 1 and Part 2 of this interview with Variety.)

What do you think fans will want to know when the season finale ends? What questions will they have?

If I were watching “The Leftovers” as a fan, the question that I would most want to know in the wake of the finale is this: Is there going to be more “Leftovers”? Aside from whether or not HBO’s going to pick up the show for more episodes, [the audience question will be,] “Did you design this episode so that it would be the end? Am I looking at this as a potential end of the series?”

I’ll be honest with you, I do not like it when showrunners say, “Well, we didn’t know what the future of the show was going to be, so we kind of designed it so it could be the end if there wasn’t anymore.” This is me saying there are forces greater than me, market forces, that are going to determine what the fate of “The Leftovers” is. We executed the end of the season as we always planned. We knew exactly how the season was going to end, and that’s exactly what we did. And I would like there to be more “Leftovers.” So it certainly isn’t a cliffhanger. I think that our best episodes very rarely are. We usually try to end the episodes with some degree of completeness.

My hope is that the finale feels like [a wrap-up] for the entire season. We executed exactly the plan that we wanted to execute. There is a feeling of completeness and circularity, but also as storytellers and writers, we want there to be more “Leftovers.”

Moving the show to Jarden and adding the new characters changed up the show in a lot of great ways. Do you foresee it moving again next season and having a different setting because that injection of new elements was so successful?

There’s a part of me that’s like, “Well, it worked once. Let’s do it again! Let’s go to Australia.” There’s another part of me that’s basically like, “You can’t do the same trick twice.” A magician never does the same trick again, because you’ll be much less amazed, and because when you know the outcome of the trick, you watch to see how they did it.

But most importantly, we now have a bona fide emotional investment in a lot of characters. I mean, season two of “The Wire” was told from the point of view of the dock guys, and when that season ended, several of them end up dead, but regardless, I was like, “All right, I’ve had enough of these guys.” I don’t feel that way about the Murphys. I feel like there’s more story to be told in Jarden. I wouldn’t say we’ve only just scratched the surface, but I really loved working in Austin. I really loved the new characters, and I feel like there’s a way to [stay there but] do the same thing that we did in the second season in terms of subverting expectations somewhat and introducing a new story — because that’s really the key. What would be the thing that happens in the third season that begins the arc of the third season? I think that there is still fuel there. That’s my instinct.

The way that we generated this season of television is, all the writers got together for an entire month, and all we did was basically design the season. Then we pitched it to HBO and they were like, “Yeah, that sounds good.” We need to do that again before we know what the season [is going to be].

If the show comes back, how many times will you kill Kevin in Season 3? No, but seriously, is that revival-from-death a card you can’t play too many more times, for Kevin or for any other characters?

Not to be cutesy (God, I hate cutesy), but there’s an argument to be made that we haven’t killed Kevin at all yet. I mean… he’s alive, isn’t he?  That said, were there to be a third season, we’ll be attempting to break the record set by “South Park” re: repeatedly killing a character. Watch your back, Kenny!

Do you think the show might really journey to Australia, which has come up a few times in the show and which you mentioned in our conversation? I’m just wondering if you’re leaning toward broadening the show out from Jarden somewhat while still having a lot of the story and a bunch of major characters based there.

This is a very insightful question. I hear Australia is awesome.

Can we assume that if there is a third season, Mary will remain awake for it?

Don’t really want to talk about a season three creative plan until there is a season three, but I think it would be incredibly cruel to both the audience and Janel Moloney to put Mary back to sleep.  In fact, I think she’ll just stop sleeping all together so that she can binge watch all the excellent TV shows she missed while she was unconscious. Fun fact: [In the world of the show,] Matthew Weiner departed on October 14, which resulted in “Mad Men’s” abrupt conclusion after its third season. So sad.

Do the violent actions of the Guilty Remnant in the finale provide any kind of social commentary on where this country is at right now given all the mass murders always in the headlines?

It was impossible to write the Meg episode without being aware of current events… but “The Leftovers” has never been a “ripped from the headlines” show and while we’re deeply affected by the senseless and confusing violence both here and abroad, the story we’re telling is more interested in how our characters’ psychological and spiritual confusion often leads to very bad choices. 

You’ve talked about the emotional regions you and the writers want to explore with this show. Will that array of ideas and themes — grief, love, pain, family, loss, connection, spirituality and religion — remain quite similar in a third season, or are there some other ideas or emotions you want to dig into?

I think the array of emotions you listed will continue to be the ones we’re most interested in. At this point, we’re more interested into digging deeper into the containers of ice cream we’ve already opened than in opening new ones. That’s one of the more s—y metaphors I’ve ever attempted, but I am really craving ice cream right now. 

For more on “The Leftovers,” check out the latest edition of the Talking TV podcast, which is here and on iTunes.

What did you think of “The Leftovers” season two finale? Share your thoughts and predictions for a potential season three below.