The Leftovers director says not to look for answers in the drama series

The Leftovers is about a group of people who are left behind after a mysterious event where 2 per cent of the population suddenly disappear.
The Leftovers is about a group of people who are left behind after a mysterious event where 2 per cent of the population suddenly disappear.PHOTO: HBO

Series creator Damon Lindelof wants viewers to realise that they will never be told what happens to the people who disappear in the show

Damon Lindelof, creator of the hit television series Lost (2004 - 2010), got in hot water with fans when the final season failed to satisfactorily answer all the questions they had about the mysterious island a group of plane-crash survivors were stranded on.

But the backlash that followed the finale of the Emmy-winning show has clearly taught the 42-year-old - one of Hollywood's most successful screenwriters - a thing or two about managing expectations.

This is why he is careful to warn viewers of his new TV show, The Leftovers, that the central mystery of the plot will never be solved. And rather than worrying if this will annoy anyone, he is banking on what he says is the modern audience's increased willingness to embrace unconventional narratives, noting that many viewers today actually "like the anxiety of not knowing where it's going to go".

The Leftovers - which today returns for a second season on HBO Asia (StarHub TV Channel 601, 9am and 9pm) - imagines a world where 2 per cent of the population, or some 140 million people, suddenly and inexplicably vanish.

Based on the best-selling Tom Perrotta novel of the same name, the first season explored the psychological impact on those who survived, following the residents of a small town as they struggled to make sense of The Departure, as it is known.

But neither the book nor the series - which stars Justin Theroux and Carrie Coon - sets out to explain why or how people disappeared, Lindelof tells Life at a press event in Los Angeles.

"Tom Perrotta has been dealing with this a lot longer than I have, and I've always embraced Tom saying, 'We're not going to tell you where everybody disappeared to.' The book was just unabashed in its ownership of that idea."

That is why Lindelof has welcomed "any opportunity we have, press-wise, to say that's not what the show is about".

"And The Leftovers has to be very careful about presenting itself as a mystery show or a whodunnit. If it was True Detective or The Killing, those shows kind of guarantee you a resolution - we're going to tell you who killed Ben Casper, we're going to tell you who killed Rosie Larsen," he says, referring to two recent popular crime dramas.

"But our show isn't like that - it's about this existential vanishing. And I can honestly say that any version of our attempt to crack that case - like, in the final episode of The Leftovers, if we were going to tell you where everybody went and why - I think that the fans would feel betrayed.''

This uncertainty is more true to life, says Lindelof, who has co-written science-fiction blockbusters such as the recent film Tomorrowland, Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013) and Prometheus (2012).

"Like, I'm not going to tell you what happens when you die, I'm not going to tell you which religion is right. You won't know, you just have to take a leap of faith."

The show's writers do not have the future of the characters and the plot all mapped out either, especially starting with the second season, which departs from the book and sees the main characters moving to a new town where, unlike everywhere else on earth, no one vanished in The Departure.

Lindelof says this was a deliberate choice inspired by Vince Gilligan, the creator of the acclaimed crime series Breaking Bad (2008 - 2013).

"I was listening to him talk about Breaking Bad and one of the things he said was, all due respect to people who have a plan or a bible or some system, but he didn't do Breaking Bad that way.

"And he felt like if he had, it would've closed him off to the collaboration. He used the example that he was going to kill off Jesse Pinkman, played by Aaron Paul, in the first season. And he was like, 'If I had just decided that was the right thing to happen, then I would've ignored what the show and Aaron and the character were all telling me. This show which I thought was: Jesse's going to teach Walt how to cook and distribute meth, and then he's going to get killed and Walt's going to get vengeance from the people who killed Jesse. But oh my god, this is a show about these two guys.'

"And the fact that he didn't know that as he was writing the first season, and discovered it, was so immensely exciting."

Lindelof also feels like this approach is something modern audiences are more accepting of, referring to the breakout success of the new hacker drama Mr Robot, which has become one of the most talked-about shows in the United States in recent months largely because of how it plays with convention by introducing an unreliable narrator.

"Particularly with watching television shows, I think there's a certain level of people liking the anxiety of not knowing where it's going to go. I'm into the show Mr Robot right now, and several other writers on The Leftovers staff are. It's so exciting - like, what are they going to do tonight?

"I don't know what the format of this show is, it doesn't seem to marry itself to a conventional structure, and this is exciting - what they're doing is so risky."

For The Leftovers, he and his writing staff have things planned out till only the end of Season 2, he reveals.

"We kind of know where the second season is heading, and if we are so blessed and people want there to be a third season, and if we are inspired to make one, we have some preliminary ideas of where the show could move next.

"But we're just driving to the location that we have plotted out for the end of the second season and we'll kind of figure out what happens after that - if the need arises."


The Leftovers kicks off its 10-episode second season at the same time as the US, today at 9am on HBO (StarHub TV Channel 601), with a same day encore at 9pm. Watch new episodes every Monday at the same time on HBO or both seasons back to back with HBO GO or HBO On Demand on StarHub Go.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 05, 2015, with the headline 'No answers in The Leftovers'. Print Edition | Subscribe