Are 'The Leftovers' In Purgatory? Theories Suggest Kevin Garvey & Co. Were Actually Raptured
Damon Lindelof, showrunner of HBO's The Leftovers, is no stranger to crazy fan theories. As the man in charge of ABC's Lost for six years, he's heard it all: aliens, conspiracies, and — yes — purgatory. A small contingent of Lost fans insisted for years that all the survivors of Oceanic flight 815 had actually died in the crash, and were now stranded in purgatory. They were shouted down by other fans, even debunked by Lindelof himself... and then it turned out they were sort of right. (No, they weren't dead the whole time, but that whole parallel universe thing in the final season was an afterlife of sorts.) Ironic, then, that Lindelof's The Leftovers is also plagued by theories involving purgatory.
People have a lot of questions about The Leftovers. Where did the Departed go? Is Police Chief Kevin Garvey really crazy? What's up with that guy who gives magic hugs? Who's stoning the Guilty Remnant? But one of the most prevalent theories making the rounds as the season enters its home stretch is that the Leftovers aren't left over at all. As the theory goes, those who were "left behind" are the ones who were really raptured... and they are now living in some form of purgatory.
On one level, this theory would certainly explain a lot — most pressingly, the seemingly supernatural events that keep occurring in Mapleton, NY. That's why Kevin keeps seeing visions of portentous deer; that's why Reverend Matt Jamison has been receiving signs from God; that's why Holy Wayne's embraces have the power to heal emotional distress — because they're all living in a purgatory imbued with the power to manifest one's thoughts and desires. (Sort of like the titular alien artifact from Sphere, only with fewer murderous jellyfish.)
It's an intriguing theory, but one with absolutely no foundation in the source material. Granted, the show has already drastically altered many characters and events from the Leftovers novel, but it's hard to imagine Lindelof transplanting the entire story from what's recognizably our world into a fantastical limbo of his own creation. That would be a bold move for someone who already spent six years dodging purgatory rumors.
But perhaps, once again, those speculating about purgatory aren't as far off as you might think... Because The Leftovers almost certainly does take place in limbo — just a metaphorical, and not literal, one. Lindelof doesn't need to set his show in a torturous and fantastical realm, because the citizens of Mapleton have already crafted one for themselves. Kevin, Laurie, Jill, Matt, Nora... they're all living in a purgatory of their own creation, trapped by their grief in a world that's neither here nor there. They go about their daily routines like ghosts, they've numbed themselves to any emotion other than grief. And in a world devoid of sense after the disappearance of 140 million people, they search for meaning wherever they can find it — hence Kevin drawing significance from a deer and Matt seeing God in some pigeons.
Sometimes showrunners ruin their shows by going too literal. Remember when the Life On Mars reboot ended with the revelation that the entire series actually took place in the mind of a sleeping astronaut on his way to the Red Planet? (Don't worry, I try not to, either.) Lindelof would only be doing his show a disservice by cashing in wholesale on the supernatural aspects of it. The novel was so gripping because — other than the specific instance of the Sudden Departure — it took place firmly in our ordinary world. Revealing that The Leftovers took place in purgatory all along would undermine the real-life stakes that these characters have been struggling with.
You fooled me with that purgatory nonsense once, Lindelof, and shame on me. But fool me twice...
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