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‘The Leftovers’ review: One of TV’s best series is ambitious, baffling

Justin Theroux and Chris Zylka star in HBO's

Justin Theroux and Chris Zylka star in HBO's "The Leftovers." Photo Credit: HBO / Van Redin

THE SHOW Season 3 of “The Leftovers”

WHEN | WHERE 9 p.m. Sunday on HBO

GRADE A-

WHAT IT’S ABOUT Back in Miracle, Texas — where no one disappeared during the Rapture-like event that swallowed up 140 million people around the world — law and order has been restored, partly thanks to Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux) who’s become a police officer again and rides around town on a white steed. Three years earlier, Miracle had been overrun by the Guilty Remnant, the cultists punishing humanity for its manifest sins but who are nowhere to be seen now. Nevertheless, the town is on edge. It’s just 14 days from the seventh anniversary of the Sudden Departure, and people are wondering whether another apocalypse is coming. Series co-creator Damon Lindelof is overseer of the eight-episode final season.

MY SAY The new season of “The Leftovers” is Prometheus unbound. Prometheus is showrunner Lindelof, and he’s literally unbound. Everything is on the page, or screen, and I do mean everything: Lindelof’s obsessions, quirks, head games and ideas, along with his meditations about history and faith, the nature of God, and the meaning of life and of death. He has reached deeply into the Bible as well as Milton’s “Paradise Lost,” the Kabbalah and what seems like the whole spread of Eastern and Western mysticism. Lindelof has apparently read every book in the New York Public Library and doesn’t want to waste a word of them.

The show’s final season seems convincingly poised to reveal the mystery of everything. Best of all, it’s on HBO’s dime, which means it will look fabulous while getting there.

For fans of “The Leftovers,” the third season looks like the best yet. It’s funny, horrifying, strange and baffling, while the five-minute opening sequence — about the antecedent of the “Guilty Remnant” — rivals any five minutes in this series’ history in terms of pathos and humor. For everyone else, it will be a complete muddle. This final season is for devoted fans and for Lindelof only. That’s immediately apparent, too.

But if newcomers do want to jump in for the end of this magical mystery tour, how should they proceed? Obviously, watch a few key episodes from the first and second seasons (they’re all on HBO Go and HBO Now) and/or read Tom Perrotta’s 2011 novel from which the show was adapted. (Perrotta is co-creator of the series.)

Then, think about Lindelof’s classic series, “Lost,” which he co-created with Jeffrey Lieber and J.J. Abrams, and produced with Carlton Cuse. “The Leftovers” is Lindelof’s bid to finish what he started there. Both series are about people who vanished without a trace, both have beset heroes, both are an exploration of faith (through symbols and literary allusions) and both embrace the mysterious and unknowable. The former had the Smoke Monster, the latter had Patti Levin (Ann Dowd), the ghost who haunted Kevin.

“Lost’s” reach ultimately exceeded its grasp. The finale was at best a letdown, at worst a complete bust. But watching the opening moves of this third season of “The Leftovers,” you do at least get the sense that Lindelof won’t make the same mistake twice.

BOTTOM LINE Exciting, ambitious, baffling and not always tethered to coherent storytelling, “The Leftovers” is one of TV’s best series.

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