'The Leftovers' Postmortem: Hang in There, It's About to Get Amazing

It was relentlessly dark, with frustratingly few answers provided regarding the mysterious disappearance of two percent of the world's population three years earlier. Many characters were introduced, and though they were compelling, few significant details about them were revealed, beyond the fact that they all reside in the (fictitious) town of Mapleton, New York.

There's no glossing over it: The Leftovers series premiere was not a feel-good way to end a week and gear up for the one ahead.

[Related: 'The Leftovers': The Familiar Faces You'll See in HBO's New Drama]

But the good news, if you're willing to lean in and accept that this show may be more about a journey than a destination, is that there is satisfying viewing ahead. HBO provided several episodes to critics for review, and the first pair of entries are all about set up and character introductions. The network may have been better off combining the two for a two-hour premiere, because that's a TV event viewers have come to expect as an exposition-heavy offering.

And because Episode 3 — don't worry, we're not about to drop any major spoilers on you — is fantastic, one of the best episodes of any TV drama this year.

Justin Theroux and Christopher Eccleston in 'The Leftovers'

Titled "Two Boats and a Helicopter," the story plays pinball with your heart and your head, and most definitely your nerves. Focusing on Christopher Eccleston's Reverend Matt Jamison, who was introduced in the premiere, Episode 3 whipsaws between hope and dejection, perfectly meshing heartbreaking backstory and current day events with a big reveal on character connections.

Christopher Eccleston in 'The Leftovers'

It's almost a standalone episode, in fact, award-worthy for Eccleston's performance, and for a story that draws you in and makes you forget you might have been thinking about breaking up with the series after the somber beginning.

[Photos: 'The Leftovers' Premiere Red Carpet]

"Two Boats and a Helicopter" sells the idea of a show that may never tell us exactly why all those people vanished without a trace. Like Rectify with the lingering question of Daniel's guilt or innocence and The Walking Dead with the mysteries that still surround the scope of the zombie outbreak, The Leftovers might ultimately tell us nothing about what sparked the disappearances, but everything about how those left behind deal with their losses and their continuing existence.

This is not to suggest Episode 3 abandons the overall tone of the series. It does not. Two moments in particular left me so dejected I vowed to call it quits with The Leftovers then and there, but the story unfolds so frenetically and ties together so beautifully that I decided to stick around for more. This is to urge you to do the same.

[Related: 'The Leftovers' Premiere Recap: Seconds, Anyone?]

Also worth noting for those underwhelmed by the pilot: A lackluster debut is not necessarily an indication the show won't find its way. Do you have fond memories of the Seinfeld premiere, or any of the other four episodes that made up the comedy's first season? No? Because they're clunkers, episodes that might now elicit a chuckle only because of how beloved Jerry, Elaine, George, and Kramer came to be.

Christopher Eccleston and Carrie Coon in 'The Leftovers'

Ditto the premieres of The Office, Ray Donovan, and even The Wire, none of which promised just how good, and in the case of The Wire, classic, those series would become.

But like those shows, The Leftovers has a top-notch cast and a diverse group of characters, as well as an intriguing premise that polarizes its characters and should pay off with explosive interactions.

And what else do you look for in a Sunday night TV drama?

The Leftovers airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on HBO.