Starring – Justin Theroux, Amy Brenneman, Christopher Eccleston, Chris Zylka, Carrie Coon, Liv Tyler, Margaret Qualley, Ann Dowd, Scott Glenn, Regina King, Kevin Carroll
Created by Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta
The Leftovers is an amazing and thoroughly compelling, yet completely incomprehensible and weird TV series about an entire planet of people suffering from severe PTSD thanks to a small percentage of the Earth’s population that literally just vanished into thin air all at once one day, and now no one knows what in the hell happened to them, where they went to and if it will happen again. And you thought you were having a bad day??!
Unfortunately, I understand the fears and anger and tears and cries of “what the fuck?!” that each and every character in this series is going through, because I got me that severe PTSD crap too. And let me tell you, the people who wrote and created this show must have that severe PTSD too or watched someone they love go through it because they got it sooooooo right that it is almost too frightening for me to watch this show. Yet, I watch The Leftovers anyway because it’s one of the few places I can go to when my PTSD has taken over my poor, tired brain and there seems to be no end to the terrors in my head, so I turn on this series to remind me that I’m not going through this alone. Even if that not alone part is just watching fictional characters on TV, at least I don’t feel like the only person in the world screaming for the madness of the traumas from my past to please stop ruling me in my present. Carrie Fisher once said that if you are over 40, you are dealing with some kind of PTSD, and she was right, unfortunately. I figure no matter what age, if you are alive, you are walking around with some kind of trauma. And everyone in The Leftovers is walking around with the exact same trauma.
There are two characters in the series that mirror my own PTSD the most, Kevin (wonderfully and brilliantly played by Justin Theroux) and Nora (played by Carrie Coon, who should have gotten every award there is to give to actresses in a TV series, because this very talented lady gave the performance of a lifetime in this show).
Kevin’s PTSD involves a lot of yelling and saying “FUCK!!!!!” a lot and attacking inanimate objects like bagel toaster thingies. He is desperately trying to keep his head above water as he slowly loses his mind. I do a lot of these things too, except attacking a bagel toaster thingy because we don’t have one of those. Instead, I’ve broken more remote controls than I want to remember, and damn that great pitching arm of mine that I still have, apparently, because it’s great at breaking remote controls when the trauma from my past kicks in with full force and the only way out sometimes is screaming “FUCK!!!!” and then throwing a remote control. These behaviors always make me feel like a horrible, terrible, “God what is wrong with me?!!” kind of person after the terrors of the traumas die down, usually after I have broken said remote control, because that small amount of violence is what usually snaps me out of it. And then I collapse and cry and try to figure out how in the hell my life has gotten to this place, where I lose control suddenly and find myself once again back on Amazon to order yet another remote control. I imagine Kevin has broken a lot of remote controls too, that is when he’s not banging bagel toaster thingies on his knees and then going back with a drill to take it apart to figure out what in the hell happened to his bagel. Did it disappear like the other people too? Motherfucking triggers do it to me and Kevin every time.
Hang on, Kevin. Don’t break the dresser. You’ll just regret it later. Great tattoos, though. Although, my wife would like to know why you have a pair of scissors tattooed on your wrist. I got lots of tattoos too, but no scissors for me, thanks. Many of my tattoos are on my body as reminders of the good I have in my life, because visuals are important to me when I’m going through one of those awful traumatic spells. Many times it is my tattoos that have helped me to survive to another day, instead of ending it all. So see, some of us don’t just get tattoos to be cool or because we are bored. All of mine are quite spiritual to me, actually.
And then there is Nora, who lost her husband and her two young children to that mysterious disappearing act all those millions of people did all at once in the series. Everyone tiptoes around Nora because they feel so sorry for her because she lost her whole family all at once. Nora is angry too. Very, very, very fucking angry. She wants to die. But she can’t quite do it, so instead she hires prostitutes and puts on a bullet proof vest and then has the prostitutes shoot her. Now, I’ve never done this, but it is always quite frightening, and oddly, quite cathartic for me to watch this scene, because, quite frankly, I completely understand why she feels the need to die and not die and all at the same time, because I feel like that too sometimes, way too many times in my life. There are times when things have gotten so horrific in my head with the voices screaming at me nonstop to just die already you worthless piece of shit, that I wouldn’t mind putting on a bullet proof vest and having a prostitute shoot me and see if I die or not. I used to from time to time take the pills that my highly incompetent psychiatrists would give me for a diagnosis that I found out later I never had and throw a bunch of these mountains of pills they insisted I needed in my mouth and swallow them, saying to myself, “Well, if I live, I live. And if I don’t, I don’t.” And then I would find myself in an ambulance, which would take me to an emergency room, which would sometimes then take me to a mental hospital. Not quite as violent as getting shot by a prostitute, but it’s still scary that I both understand Nora’s need and reasoning behind that act and finding that act somewhat appealing myself. And like Nora, it never killed me. And like Nora, I never tried to take my life in a more active way, because that is what those incompetent psychiatrists would tell me every time I ended up back in the hospital, that I was passively suicidal. Well, a passive suicide attempt (or in mine and Nora’s cases, many passive suicide attempts) is one hell of a motherfucker to walk around with as memories swimming in your head. And the reason why Nora and me have never chosen the active suicide option is because we both have hope swimming around in our heads amongst the terrors as well, and that hope is always telling us to just keep living, it will get better. Eventually, Nora spends thousands of dollars to have a holy man hug away her pain, because she has gotten so lost and so desperate for any way to end the sadness and the madness that has taken over her life. And it is what that holy man says to her that I keep playing over and over again in my head and sometimes even on my TV when the terrors strike me and that passive suicide option begins to look way too appealing once again…
“You’ve lost someone, yes? Someones. And you believe that you will always feel that pain. And if it starts to slip away, you seek it out again, don’t you? You won’t let it kill you, but you won’t kill yourself. For whoever is joined with all of the living, there is hope. Surely, a live dog is better than a dead lion. Hope. It’s your weakness. You want it gone because you don’t deserve it. Nora, you do deserve hope. I’ve seen my own death, and it’s coming upon me very soon, so this is your one chance, your only chance, and the question remains the same. Do you want to feel this way?”
Nora says no, and so the holy man hugs her. And every time, I can’t help but wish for a holy man to hug away my pain too, but I don’t live in the world of The Leftovers. I live in the real world. And in this real world, I have an amazing wife who I turn to now instead of passive suicide attempts to hug away my pain too. It’s always a temporary release from the madness consuming my thoughts, but it’s a hell of a lot better than going back into a hospital because I’ve tried in a round-about attempt to take my own life, once again.
And so, why am I writing about a show that is about PTSD for this website when normally I choose shows that have something LGBT in them? Well, because The Leftovers also has several very subtle LGBT characters/situations in the series that blew me away simply because they were so subtly and seamlessly put into the series, like it’s no big deal that hey, there are gay people too. In the first season, Nora, who works for a government agency to determine if people really disappeared or not, asks a man about his spouse who disappeared. For the first several questions we hear Nora ask the man, we never get a pronoun on the person she is asking about, until the man hesitates to answer a question and Nora replies, “I understand that you want to protect your husband’s privacy, but the more questions you answer honestly, the better chance your claim will be processed.” And just as simple as that, we find out that the man is gay and had a husband. See, that’s progress right there. Quiet and simple progress, but still louder and more accepting of us (to me) than any shouting could ever do. The series does it again in the third season when we find out that two female physicists are in fact lovers. But it is shown to us so casually and quietly, that it made me want to stand up and cheer because this is all I have ever wanted out of my entertainment when it comes to having LGBT characters, that we are just a part of the story too and our sexuality isn’t really relevant, just like the straight characters. And then there is the opening credits for season one, which is of a painting that is very reminiscent of the Sistine Chapel. The painting is of parents losing their children and lovers losing their other halves, and there is a gay and lesbian couple in this credit sequence losing their partners too. So see, we are just like everyone else and The Leftovers is badass in my book for showing the audience just that.
Gay couples losing their other half, or at least that’s how I see this painting and since it’s art, I can see it any damn way I want because that’s the beauty of art, it’s always in the eye of the beholder, and my eyes be really, really gay. 😉
And so I hope I haven’t scared you away from The Leftovers, but if I have, it’s not too surprising because this is not a show for the faint of heart. This show gets to the nitty gritty of how life can beat you down over and over and over again, but if you just hang on, there is always, always light after the darkness. So I just keep reaching for the light, because I figure with all the many, many, too many years of work that I have put in to overcome my debilitating depression and severe PTSD, that the light is out there somewhere waiting for me to grab it and be a part of the living once again. So I keep breathing, and shows like The Leftovers keeps that breathing thing possible. Who knew that TV could save a life?! But it does and has been saving me since the very first moment I knew that TV existed, which I’m pretty sure happened within the first few days of my existence, because Lord knows, I love me some TV and have so very much since I can remember. 🙂