If you’re like me, you’re still buzzing from last night’s season (and possible series) finale of The Leftovers, and if you’re Damon Lindelof, you’re also awaiting a ratings report for the finale and hoping that — without competition from The Walking Dead and a route in the NFL — that enough viewers tuned into the finale to give it a ratings boost.
That’s probably what Lindelof needs to increase the show’s chances of renewal. I argued last night after the finale that Lindelof should pull a George Costanza and walk away after a perfect season of television, and honestly, I’m already starting to rethink that position. If The Leftovers did end, I’d be happy with where it stopped.
But, knowing that Lindelof is “fighting for the life of the show,” as he tells Alan Sepinwall in the finale post-mortem, makes me want to root for its renewal now. Why? Because Lindelof wants it, he probably has a clear idea of what he plans to do with season three, and after season two, he deserves it.
Still, there’s a question about ratings. They dropped precipitously between the first and second season, in large part because — I think — the more intense competition in the fall (last summer, The Leftovers, like True Detective this summer, practically had a monopoly on Sunday night prestige television). Will viewers come back around and binge watch the second season now?
Knowing about the rave reviews the second season has gotten, they should (and I’m convincing everyone I know to do so ). Is that enough? Maybe. Maybe not. My personal opinion is that HBO has to run something in the fall against The Walking Dead, so they may as well make The Leftovers their sacrificial lamb, so to speak. It’s established, and the show is certainly not going to lose anymore viewers between the second and third season, and it’s now a legitimate Emmy contender (if Regina King, Ann Dowd, and Carrie Coon are not in the conversation, then there’s something seriously wrong with the Emmy voters, and Lindelof deserves to win for best writing).
What does Lindelof think? Again, from Sepinwall:
I know that HBO is really happy with the creative of the show; they’ve been immensely supportive of what we wanted to do, and they’ve been highly collaborative and pleased with the results. That said, all of us have to take a pragmatic look at the numbers. HBO is not Netflix or Amazon. The numbers of the show are known, and the truth of the matter is that the ratings are down from season 1. If the show was always an underperformer, the little engine that could, and the trajectory was flat, or up or down a little bit, we wouldn’t be in the situation we’re in now. The reality is, everybody felt that the show was ascending a bit, creatively and ratings-wise, towards the end of the season, and in the interim between the two seasons, we lost a lot of the audience coming into this year. That’s the situation that we’re in. The critical buzz, the critical response, and the fan response, has been much more positive this year than it was last year. And that matters; that’s important. But I think what would be great is if there were some kind of bump in the finale ratings. We actually saw an uptick in the ratings for episode 9, which I was surprised by, considering we were up against “The Walking Dead” mid-season finale and an incredible football game that I was watching and rooting for the Broncos. It would be great if that trajectory continued. It would probably be bad if we lost viewership from episode 9 to the finale. Any case that can be made for a show that is picking up momentum would be huge. But the reality is, I’m talking to HBO. We’re going to sit down before the holidays and get a sense of where everybody’s head is at. I certainly want to make more episodes of “The Leftovers.” That’s kind of how things sit.
As for story ideas in season three, Lindelof was reluctant to say much unless and until there is a season three, although he did say that exploring what it means to Kevin to have surviving a gunshot at point-blank range might be interesting, and that it would be too “cruel to both the audience and Janel Moloney to put Mary back to sleep. In fact, I think she’ll just stop sleeping all together so that she can binge watch all the excellent TV shows she missed while she was unconscious.”
He is confident, however, that “if I put those writers in a room, and if Mimi (Leder) is going to come back and direct, that we will be able to produce a high-quality third season of the show.”
I’m feeling fairly confident about that, myself.
However, I would disagree with this Lindelof statement: “You also have to acknowledge that you’re going to make mistakes. There’s no such thing as a perfect season of television.”
There is such a thing as a perfect season of television, although it’s happened very rarely: The fourth season of The Wire, the fourth season of Breaking Bad the first seasons of Six Feet Under and Friday Night Lights and season two of The Leftovers. That’s the complete list. NO ONE DENIES THIS.