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Why Damon Lindelof’s The Leftovers Doesn’t Have to Stick the Landing



Almost seven years ago on May 23rd, 2010, the series Lost aired it’s two part finale, titled “The End Part 1” and “The End Part 2”. Like most episodes of the hugely successful show, plenty of people watched it (about 13.5 million) and plenty of people enjoyed it (the episode’s Metacritic score is a solid 74 out of 100). But if you think back to the ending of Lost, one of the most popular and influential television shows of its time, that’s not really what comes to mind, is it? Instead, thinking about the end of Lost now is more like remembering the time the golden goose of TV laid one really stinky, rotten egg. That finale sucked, didn’t it?



Otherwise, how did it end up on so many lists of the worst TV series finales of all time, or inspire reviews with titles like, “Lame ending proves Lost was a long con” and “The Lost Finale was Incredibly Dumb” The truth is that, years later, I can’t recall in much detail way all the different ways the Lost finale crushed my spirit (I do know a polar bear was left unaccounted for – not cool! (get it?), but, man, does that disappointment still sting.

Now all that unrest and butthurtness that Lost fans (myself included) felt had to go somewhere (thank god it was before attacking people on Twitter really became a sport), and most of it got directed at Lindelof. In what I chalk up to a testament to his storytelling powers, those fans had become so obsessed the show’s characters and their trajectories, with its mysteries and their answers, that no 104 minute wrap up would have ever made them happy. And Lindelof has been very public about how getting blamed for ruining the show has weighed on him, to the point where he finally decided to just stop talking about it, even though he knows there are corners of the internet where the inconsolable never will.

It might have seemed like Lindelof’s name would forever and foremost be linked to that feeling of great promise and then failure, except that three years ago he did something unexpected (I know I wasn’t sitting around thinking about what he’d do next) – he created one of the most ambitious and important television shows ever made, HBO’s The Leftovers.

If you’re not watching it (standard incredulousness here – go, watch it, what are you doing with your life etc), The Leftovers is a show based on Tom Perrotta’s book of the same name, both about an event called “The Sudden Departure” in which 2% of the world’s population (140 million people) vanish simultaneously for no apparent reason. The show deals with the aftermath for those left behind – the grief, anger, confusion and powerlessness felt by everyone left to deal with the loss of family and friends, spouses and children, with no answers or explanations offered to them by the universe, their leaders or their gods.

We’re already deep in Lost territory here, with huge mysteries and the lives up-ended by them, except in The Leftovers, the stakes are even higher – this isn’t one planeful of people, but the entire planet that was shaken by a horrific, anomalous event, and oh yeah by the way, the world may be coming to an end soon too, so there’s that. With so much riding on the final four episodes, should Leftovers fans be nervous about a repeat blunder from Lindelof? As strange as it sounds, I’m not a bit worried about getting to that finale in a few weeks and feeling that “WTF, but what ABOUT THE POLAR BEARS” feeling again.

With The Leftovers, the ending could answer every question it ever posed or not – maybe just give us the finger with an hour long episode where everyone’s really sane and happy – and it just wouldn’t matter like it did with Lost. Some important features set this show apart from Lindelof’s earlier creation, and as Robert Frost might say, those things make all the difference :

  • It’s about so much more

I feel like one of the big mistakes Lindelof and ABC made early on with Lost was to play up how everything hinged on unraveling the mysteries that were planted in the first few episodes. It was all about finding clues and following leads and repeating that string of meaningless numbers till you just couldn’t do it anymore (poor Hurley). And some great storylines and themes that got sacrificed and pushed aside of all for the sake of pursuing the how and whys of the island. Setting up a show like that means the ending is bound to disappoint, unless Damon Lindelof had actually tapped in to some secret meaning of the universe. The Leftovers is a course correct for that overreach – the characters, their turbulent inner lives, take center stage, with the inexplicable event of The Sudden Departure only a backdrop (albeit an extremely important one) that works to magnify what is a ultimately a story of loss universal to every human on the planet.

  • It’s been short and sweet

Lost clocked in at 121 episodes, compared to The Leftovers eventual 28. Keeping the seasons short and the series down to three seasons shows an amazing degree of restraint that most American shows just don’t have (learn from the British!) One factor that contributed to the Lost finale being a dud, was that, so were those last few seasons, in comparison to the first few novel ones. Dragging out the secrets and riddles of the plot made it feel like the magician you hired for your kid’s birthday party was stalling cause he couldn’t find the card he knows he put up his sleeve. A big part of ending things is right, is ending them when it’s time, and this way, if anything, The Leftovers will leave us wanting more, not wishing to got to the damn point already.

Nothing says it better than the sweet little song that plays over the gorgeous credits for Season 2. Over the course of it’s run, The Leftovers has asked why we’re here, why some of us stick around when others don’t and why we even try to bear the pain of it all. But it’s never promised us an easy answer, and so I won’t need one when the series finally comes to a close. As Iris Dement puts it (so much more beautifully than I ever could):

“Everybody’s wonderin’ what and where they they all came from
Everybody’s worryin’ ’bout where they’re gonna go
When the whole thing’s done
But no one knows for certain
And so it’s all the same to me
I think I’ll just let the mystery be”


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Midnight Mass: The Blood of Life



The isolated island community of Crockett receives a mysterious new head priest, full of secrets and a brand new testament under a very unusual Messenger of God. 

Meet poor Riley Flynn (Zach Gilford), freshly released from prison and wracked with guilt over what got him there, a stupid drinking accident that caused the death of his ex-girlfriend. The last thing he wants to do is go back to Crockett and the judgment of the mostly religious community there, his disappointed family, and the nightmares of his ex’s death that plague him. But where else would have him? Resignedly on the ferry, he goes. 

Riley’s dad Ed (Henry Thomas) isn’t the kind of man who talks very much at all, much less about his feelings, or his very real disappointment in his elder son. Riley’s teen brother Warren (Igby Rigney) has no idea what to say to him either, and just generally keeps mum. Riley’s mom Annie (Kristin Lehman) is accepting and loving, hesitant in how to help her eldest son but never wavering in her faith in the help of our lord Jesus. Mom seems to think a good heaping dose of the Church would set Riley right but is surprised to learn that the old priest of the Parish, Pruitt, has taken an extended leave of absence from the island, and his newcomer replacement Father Paul (Hamish Linklater) is young, charismatic, and bursting at the seams to tell the whole island about the gifts he brought them, most especially what he claims as a new testament under a messenger of God. 

We’ll get back to that whole ball of issues in a moment, the other interesting characters of Crockett Island. Bev Keane (Samantha Sloyan) is the nightmarish overly polite and gently, almost lovingly condescending neighbor Christian woman you’ve ever loathed, the kind of person who explains away every last thing her Church may do wrong or contradictory because, after all, God works in mysterious ways. Pfft. Of course, Bev immediately ingratiates herself as the second to the new Father Paul in their services and is the first to start covering up his transgressions as they become more rampant. 

Newcomers to Crockett Sheriff Hassan (Rahul Kohli) and his son Ali (Rahul Abburi) present a burgeoning problem to the plans of Father Paul and his shadowy companion, for they are both practicing Muslims. The practical side of investigating these so-called ‘miracles’ and strange happenings falls on Hassan’s shoulders, as he already struggles with barely-concealed racism and suspicion from his fellow islanders, and of course his son is being wooed away from him by the promise of actual, tangible miracles, but from a different whole faith and God. Father Paul definitely does not practice a traditional Christian faith and relies far too much on making use of the eucharist, the ceremony of the blood and flesh of Jesus Christ turning into bread and wine and, well, consumed. 

Wade (Michael Trucco) and his wife Dolly (Crystal Balint) are lifers of the island and both in general interested in one thing, the advancement of their own family, specifically their daughter Leeza (Annarah Cymone), who happens to be in a wheelchair. And that happens to be the canny Father Paul’s first real miracle-with-a-cost that he demonstrates to the astonishment of the parishioners, after a heartfelt and rousing sermon, Father Paul commands Leeza to rise, to stand, and to walk. And lo, she does. What parents wouldn’t wholly dedicate themselves to a cause after seeing this happen to their beloved precious daughter? The fringe benefits of healing, and power, the ones that come at a mighty, currently unnamed, cost, are simply a nice bonus. 

Joe Collie (Robert Longstreet) is the town drunk, and while his reasons for drowning his sorrows in the sauce might be understandable, absolution wears a very different face when it comes from Father Paul. While Leeza might be willing to forgive Joe, and even as Joe begins attending the newly-formed Al-Anon meetings on the island of course hosted by Father Paul, redemption might’ve been better sought from medical professionals, and not this newfound method of religious worship. 

Dr. Sarah Gunning (Annabeth Gish) is the islands’ kind of all-around medic, and this is how she and Riley’s old friend Erin (Kate Siegel), also newly returned to the island, a few months pregnant but traveling quietly alone, met when Erin comes to the Doc for obstetrics. Sarah’s older mother Mildred Gunning (Alexandra Essoe) has many medical and mental issues, and Sarah struggles in their shared home, to take care of her addled mom and balance her own life. Then Father Paul takes it upon himself to visit one of his oldest parishioners, bringing the sacred host and wine with him to give directly to Mildred, who starts looking and acting so much better under his loving care. 

The show is very much a slow slow burn, with a lot of the actual action taking place in the last two episodes. Much of the beginning and middle episodes feature two people just sitting alone, having quiet and seriously in-depth conversations about heavy subjects – grief and repentance, what happens when we die, the disasters that come as a result of addictions, how our actions’ consequences reverberate to those we love around us, faith and the foibles of man, and of course, the giving of oneself over to a higher power, for strength, and guidance, and love. 

Except, for the higher power that Father Paul brought back with him, to share with his beloved flock of Crockett Island, while it may be extremely powerful and full of what could be considered miraculous magic, everything comes at some kind of a cost. And when the Messenger of God is finally revealed to the shocked denizens of Crockett at Easter Mass, with Father Paul rapturing on about rebirth as the bloody massacre begins in earnest, it’s faith, not in any kind of God or religion, but faith in each other, that may save a few hardy souls. 

Question the wisdom of your religious leaders along with the rest of us in a fine slow-burn addition to the Flanaverse, Midnight Mass is on Netflix now! 

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Saw X: It ain’t brain surgery!



Legendary executioner Jigsaw returns to exact revenge on a cadre of scam artists who promised him a bogus cure for his cancer! 

First off, be aware, that this is what I call an interleaved sequel, a movie set between previous films in the franchise. In this case, Saw X occurs after the events of the very first Saw film, and before Saw II. Everybody got where we are? Good! Into the madness, we dive! 

So, as we all know, John Kramer’s been diagnosed with cancer, very aggressive brain cancer, and likely doesn’t have much time left. And he’s tried everything under the sun, doing a ton of meticulous research, we’d expect nothing less from our master of the art of murder, and not one thing has worked. Yet one man from the support group for cancer sufferers, Henry (Michael Beach), offers an off-the-books supposed miracle cure, and John jumps at the chance. 

Why does this nonsense always sound too good to be true? Because it is. Deleted scenes from the first Deadpool movie already told us why traveling to Mexico for any kind of medical cure is a sublimely stupid move, but Kramer is desperate. And while he might be sick and dying, John Kramer has never been what anyone could call stupid. So the villa out in the Mexican countryside, the affable cab driver Diego (Joshua Okamoto) professes surprise at Kramer being highjacked for his good, the nervous muttering from assistant Valentina (Paulette Hernandez), the side-eyeing from little housekeep Gabriela (Renata Vaca) and her tequila, and most especially the smooth and smarming reassurances of head “doctor” Cecilia Pederson (Synnove Macody Lund), all leave a kind of sour taste in John’s mouth. 

The whole cluex4 scene is done in the style that the Saw films are known for, where we the audience are treated to cut-together explanatory scenes in a flip-flash fashion of usually about two minutes, for poor John when he realizes he’s been hoodwinked and just how badly, seems a little contrived. But then it’s entirely possible that we the audience truly expected our genius mastermind of the infamous Jigsaw murders to have realized what was happening sooner, and got enraged along with Kramer. And cheered as he prepared to take his bloody and ultra-violent revenge! 

First up in our grand guignol of executions is the return of Jigsaw’s first protégé, Amanda (Shawnee Smith). And despite her avowed reverence for Jigsaw and his proven “therapy”, Amanda does waver a bit when the scammers are put through the paces of their specially-made Saw traps, and they shriek and blubber and bleed out. The appearance of the ringer of the bunch, Parker (Steven Brand), doesn’t even slow our beloved engineer of the damned down, because we knew Jigsaw would have his other apprentice waiting just off stage, the deliciously vicious Detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor). Even the monkeywrench of involving little-boy soccer fan Carlos (Jorge Briseno) in the traps, is just another cog in the machine that is the brilliantly plotting mind of John Kramer. 

A fine addition to the Saw legends, showcasing a return to the beloved style and panache of the original Tobin Bell-starring Jigsaw films, Saw X is splashing gore and gallons of blood in theaters now! 

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Scott Pilgrim Takes Off



“Scott Pilgrim Takes Off,” Netflix’s latest series, is a rollicking journey through the world of video game culture, blending nostalgic references with a fresh narrative twist. Centered around Scott Pilgrim, portrayed with magnetic charisma by Michael Cera, the show skillfully integrates gaming elements into its storytelling, creating a delightful homage to the video game subculture.

The series cleverly employs pixelated graphics, power-up animations, and game-like sound effects to bring the virtual world to life. These visual cues, reminiscent of classic video games, enhance the storytelling and resonate with audiences familiar with the gaming landscape. The attention to detail in recreating iconic gaming moments is commendable, creating a visual and auditory treat for enthusiasts.

The exploration of video game culture goes beyond mere aesthetics; it becomes an integral part of the characters’ identities and interactions. The script intelligently weaves gaming terminology and tropes into the dialogue, effectively blending the real and virtual worlds. The series navigates the challenges and triumphs of the characters through the lens of gaming, making it a unique and engaging experience for both gamers and general audiences.

The ensemble cast, including standout performances from Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ellen Wong, and Chris Evans embraces the gaming theme with infectious enthusiasm. The chemistry between the characters is palpable, adding emotional depth to the series.

“Scott Pilgrim Takes Off” successfully taps into the zeitgeist of video game culture, offering a nostalgic yet contemporary take on the gaming phenomenon. It’s a must-watch for those who cherish the pixelated roots of the gaming world while providing an accessible and entertaining narrative for a broader audience. The series takes off not only in its title but also in its ability to soar within the ever-expanding realm of Netflix originals.

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