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Series Mania: Damon Lindelof on ‘The Leftovers,’ Australia and Donald Trump

Plus Justin Theroux, also in Paris, on how, shooting ‘The Leftovers’ made him feel like a happy dog

PARIS — The third and final season of “The Leftovers” kicks off tonight on HBO. Anticipating its debut, Paris’ Series Mania TV festival opened Thursday with “The Leftovers’” first two episodes playing to an enraptured general public at its Grand Rex 2,800-seater art deco cinema theater. The show’s co-creator, Damon Lindelof (“Lost”), stars Justin Theroux and Christopher Ecclestone and composer Max Richter were in tow. Lindelof also delivered a masterclass Q & A Saturday night at Series Mania. Semi-impressionistic non-spoiler reviews of Season 3 have already been published. Here are eight pointers about the show from Paris at the beginning of the end.


If “The Leftovers” had been in competition in Paris, Carrie Coon, playing Nora – who lost her husband and two children in Season 1’s Departure, which saw 2% of the earth’s population inexplicably disappear – would surely be in the running for best actress. Here, she plays a woman of fierce intelligence still trying to find a way out of her grief, battling back skepticism at a tech-fangled scheme proposed to her in a hotel in St. Louis which might just allow her to see her departed family again.


Lindelof, talking at his masterclass in Paris (and instancing his remarkable ability to reel of five reasons of varying seriousness for one fact, or that he’s already been asked this question a lot of times): a) “My first exposure to Australian cinema was really ‘Mad Max’ and it’s post-Apocalyptic; b) a couple of Peter Weir films – ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’ and ‘The Last Wave’ – really inspired the storytelling on ‘The Leftovers’; c) if the show is about moving away from something and towards something else, Australia was the furthest you could possibly get away from New York, which is where the show started; d) Australia is referred to as ‘Down Under,’ although if you are in Australia you’re not ‘Down Under,’ but it felt like you were talking about the underworld, and I’ve always been fascinated by Dante and that sort of thing; e) the real answer: I’ve never been to Australia and I wanted to get HBO to pay.”


In movies, American auteurs always have Paris and Cannes. Scorsese and Tarantino, who won a Cannes Palme d’Or with “Pulp Fiction,” are among box office heavyweights in France. Cannes consecrated the Coen brothers. Lindelof has received a rapturous reception at Series Mania, one of Europe’s most prestigious TV festivals where “The Leftovers”’s Season 3 opened the festival and he serves as its competition jury president. As TV drama consolidates its status as art, even high art in the case of “The Leftovers,” French TV festivals look like one of the main international bastions of its most artistically ambitious creators.


Season 3 jumps ahead three years but returns to Miracle, Texas, now in the run-up to the Sudden Departure’s seventh anniversary, where Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux), the show’s central character, has finally found some sort of peace. It doesn’t last, of course. “What did you feel when you read the scripts?” Theroux was asked in Paris on stage at the Grand Rex. Theroux answered saying that he received the scripts as Lindelof wrote them. “I was always shocked and surprised every time I got a script. I never knew where I was going to go,” he said. “It was great. It was kind of like being a dog. You only think by the minute. Then the next episode and Damon would be throwing another ball for me.”


Season 2 of “The Leftovers” kicked off, famously, with a prehistoric woman giving birth. “I thought that the idea of giving birth in an entirely primal, non-verbal space would be incredibly innovative. But it also pointed to the fundamental idea of ‘The Leftovers,’” Lindelof said in Paris.

So what do we make of Season Three? its trailer suggests, it’s about the end of the world, an idea Lindelof reiterated in Paris. But it starts in 1844 in what looks like a Mennonite or Amish community where a pastor predicts a series of dates for Raptures. But the Raptures never happen.

“‘The Leftovers’ is essential viewing because it understands that popular culture and organized religion are both collections of attempts to find meaning, patterns, community, and coherence in a frighteningly random universe,” Maureen Ryan wrote in her non-spoiling review of Season 3. Rather than highlighting events in the show so far, Lindelof looks to have begun Season 3 by jogging viewers’ memories about its core theme.


It’s one thing for Season 3 to be about the end of the world, another for the world to end in it. Lindelof was skillfully ambivalent about this when presenting the show on Thursday. “For thousands of years every generation alive has the narcissism to believe that the world is going to end while they’re alive. Our show is populated by incredible narcissists, including myself,” he joked, adding: “We thought it was only fitting to end the world on the show.”


Lindelof has of course answered this question dozens of times before. For those just getting into “The Leftovers,” however, here’s his answer in Paris: “I think a big part was that Tom was unapologetic about not resolving the most fundamental mystery of the show’s premise. That was important,” he said adding that “I also felt it was describing this amazingly resilient part of the human condition which is: There is a way out of grief. I wanted to write about grief and ‘Lost’ didn’t really feel like a show about grief in the way ‘The Leftovers’ was.” It is grief which still forms the emotional groundswell of parts of Season 3, and explains how Nora and Kevin end up in Melbourne.


Questioned at his masterclass on the inspiration for “The Leftovers,” Lindelof recognized that its Departure is inspired by the evangelical idea of Rapture; which sparked interesting, if unexpected, tangential musing. “With all apocalyptic thinking, if it’s not happening fast enough we are going to bring it about, which I think explains the election in America,” Lindelof reflected. He went on: “If you are unhappy with the way things are going, you may want to elect an agent of destruction. I think it’s very interesting that Trump doesn’t identify as particularly religious [but] so many evangelicals got behind him.”

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