In 1987 Alan Moore brought new meaning to the comic book world with his acclaimed graphic novel – Watchmen. Masked vigilantes, employed by the government, had been at the forefront of significant cultural and political shifts for the best part of the 20th century. The result? A stalemate between two superpowers, the USA and the Soviet Union, a world on the brink of WW3… and it’s 1985. In 2009 Zack Snyder came along and made the movie, which in some aspects, outshines the novel. Now we have Damon Lindelof’s TV Series…
Lindelof first won the hearts of millions around the world in 2004 with LOST. It was, in many ways, the first of its kind. A long, complex story with dozens of characters and a budget to make your eyes water. But as strongly as it began, LOST failed to maintain the affection of its fans. The creators’ inability to wrap up the vast amount of intrigue that had kept us invested for so long ultimately left many of us feeling empty and cheated. It wasn’t long however before Lindelof was back on the scene with The Leftovers – A grimy drama set in a world where 2% of the population suddenly disappear and those who remain struggle to cope with the unexplained nature of the event. Highly acclaimed and nominated for a Primetime Emmy, it seemed he’d learned from his mistakes. So when the show came along, with both the graphic novel and film close to my heart, I was praying for this to deliver… and it did.
Unlike the film, the series doesn’t follow the story of the source material. Instead it’s set in modern day but uses the graphic novel as historical canon. The ramifications of the original story echo through to the present and we are led through this unfamiliar yet recognisable world by characters both new and old. Regina King plays the central lead Angela Abar, who poses as a bakery owner to hide the fact she is a police officer due to a mass killing of such officials some years before. An attack committed by a white supremacist entity know as the Seventh Cavalry. Since the event, officers are permitted to wear masks and assume an alter-ego, Abar’s second self is <em>Sister Night</em>. Along with her colleagues she works to expose the minds behind a new wave of cop killings but fears for the safety of her family as evidence that the Seventh Cavalry are back starts to mount up.
Abar serves as the anchor-point to the story and many of the themes explored in the show have some direct correlation to her – family, race, loss. Such a character deserves an equally significant performance and King shines in the role, balancing emotive turns with a physicality to make you flinch.
Yahya Abul Mateen II plays Angela’s house husband Calvin, fretful and stoic in equal measure, ever supportive of his wife but ever wary. Other noteworthy shifts come from Jean Smart and Tim Blake Nelson who both have their own arcs to traverse. For this, Lindelof utilities a technique that will be familiar to LOST fans by dedicating each episode to the backstory and development of a single character but also builds out the context of the world a little wider.
The key storyline in the entire show however comes in the form of Jeremy Irons’ mystery character. Rarely have I seen such abstract nonsense on screen. Each scene with Irons leaves me more confused than before and on more than one occasion I found myself thinking how on earth are they going to reconcile this insanity with the very grounded central story. But that is the beauty of it.
Ruling – I said before this show delivered. It’s a singular treat when a show gives us the level of satisfaction and elation that a film can. To plot and manage so many threads, to leave us guessing until the very last episode, to break our hearts and then fill them – it’s an Everest of a task and Lindelof and his team do it masterfully.