Welcome to “Remote Controlled,” a podcast from Variety featuring the best and brightest in television, both in front and behind the camera.
In this week’s episode, Variety’s executive editor of TV Debra Birnbaum and chief TV critic Maureen Ryan talk with Damon Lindelof, showrunner and executive producer of “The Leftovers,” the acclaimed HBO drama which begins its third and final season Sunday.
The fact that the show was ending did change the writing process this time around, Lindelof said.
“We had to pace the show differently because we didn’t want [it] to feel rushed,” he noted, adding that the show didn’t add too many new characters, which would have been difficult when it was “moving into a modality of ending things.”
We will see more of Scott Glenn, who plays Kevin Garvey’s dad, Kevin Garvey Sr; Glenn is a series regular in the third year. And much of the action in Season 3 shifts to Australia.
“Australia just feels weird,” Lindelof said. “It feels very mythic and ancient but also very modern. It’s kind of stuck in a time warp in many ways.”
As Lindelof told Variety last year, the films of Peter Weir, most notably “Picnic at Hanging Rock” and “The Last Wave,” are particular touchstones for the HBO drama. “Thematically and literally,” Weir’s work inspired aspects of the second and third seasons, and their influence was just one of a number of reasons “The Leftovers” moved to Australia for a good chunk of season three.
Lindelof adds that characters do not move Down Under — they’re just visiting.
“We wanted it to feel like one of those four episode runs of the ‘Brady Bunch’ like when they go to the Grand Canyon,” Lindelof joked.
(Nothing in the mesmerizing third season, which is reviewed here, reminded Variety’s critic of the “Brady Bunch,” but to be fair, HBO did not send out the series finale for review.)
Lindelof noted that some time had passed between the end of season two and the start of season three, and that, despite the length of time they’ve been together, Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux) and Nora Durst (Carrie Coon) still have their share of issues, as a couple and as individuals. Though some critics observed that the season two finale could have served as a series finale, Lindelof said he is glad to have a third season, which he and the writers used “to find a resolution for the characters that feels earned” — Kevin and Nora included.
“I’ve never felt like, Kevin walking into the house at the end of season two is — ‘He’s OK now!’” Lindelof observed. “There are some things that have happened to him that need to be dealt with, particularly in the realm of Kevin and Nora’s relationship, which is the focal point of the final season.”
This season, other characters begin regarding Kevin in a different light, and putting more meaning on his miraculous adventures at the end of season two than he would like.
“I love the idea of the reluctant prophet,” Lindelof said. He’s especially interested in the idea of a character being told again and again that he or she is “the chosen one.”
“It would be really interesting to have a character say, ‘No, I’m not — no, I’m not,’” he observed.
As it gets ready to end, “The Leftovers” addresses the large and complicated issues at its core — faith, loss, grief, community and connection — but Lindelof said that the final season was much more about emotional conclusions than paying off a mythology. As he notes, the book by executive producer Tom Perrotta that the show is based on never said it would answer the question of where The Departed went, and the HBO show isn’t all that interested in providing a detailed answer to that mystery either.
“The show is not about answering the question where did all the people go. …it’s much more about existing in this world” that has been so deeply affected by The Sudden Departure, Lindelof said.
It wouldn’t be “The Leftovers” if the drama didn’t take some big chances, and without giving too much away, Lindelof alluded to the fact that those who liked the cavewoman sequence that began season two are likely to find things to like in the third season.
Speaking of the ways in which “The Leftovers” might go to that well again, so to speak, Lindelof said, “I love the idea of ‘What was that, and how is it going to connect to everything else that I have seen and am going to see?’” he said. “To that end, we tried to do that again, in an entirely different construct.”
You can listen to this week’s podcast below:
New episodes of “Remote Controlled” are available every Friday.