THE END IS NIGH
There’s a starring role for Australia in rapture saga The Leftovers’ latest season
Returning this week for a third and final season, the work of several master storytellers, is HBO’s The Leftovers, and if you have never seen it, try dipping in just to get a feel of how far TV drama has travelled in the past decade. Created by Damon Lindelof, who also gave us Lost, that confounding high concept series that raised more questions than it was ever able to answer, The Leftovers is another show full of complex, dense and often frustrating ideas.
Based on the bestselling novel by Tom Perrotta, it’s a mystifying concoction of science fiction, fantasy, romance, horror, suspense and psychological drama, with a nicely weighted freight of crime fiction tossed in. If you haven’t caught it yet, be warned that it’s an emotional endurance test and the sense of melancholy can be a bit wearing.
The series, launched in June 2014, revolves around the mysterious disappearance of 2 per cent of the world’s population: the people abruptly disappeared at the same time without explanation, leaving the world struggling to come to terms with what happened, its belief systems shattered.
The show’s premise is obviously suggestive of so-called rapture theology, the belief that a period of tribulation will occur before the return of Jesus. The rapture is the event in which the Hebrew God mysteriously raises a select group to heaven, leaving behind those who face an intense seven years of trials, (called “the Great Tribulation”), until the return of Jesus and his thousand-year reign on earth.
“The show is an exploration of trying to tap into this idea of ambiguous loss and people’s coping mechanisms,” Lindelof says. “Some people are going to join cults, or gravitate towards belief systems that probably wouldn’t have made any sense before. I really liked the idea of exploring the weird behaviour that would emerge out of this collective worldwide [posttraumatic stress disorder] that occurred in the wake of this sudden departure.”
As the third season starts it’s been seven years since “the Departure”. We find the Garvey and Murphy families — who met, clashed and bonded last season in the “miracle” town of Jarden, Texas — trying to cope with disorder and confusion as it seems there are now only 14 days to go until Rapture, with huge crowds building chaotically, troubled people searching for some kind of resolution and peace.
Justin Theroux’s Kevin Garvey is Jarden’s police chief, trying to maintain order. He’s almost killed by a rogue former Drug Enforcement Administration agent after he doubts the ex-agent’s theory that wild dogs have somehow become human and are now running the coun- first try — and then finds himself dealing with an apparent attempt to poison the river where a large baptism ceremony is happening. He’s a character with some emotional depth but also a dynamic man of action.
To some onlookers he seems increasingly supernatural — is he the new messiah, a man somehow in touch with the other side? It’s a projection he vehemently denies. The episode ends on the same kind of generalised sense of instability and anxiety that has characterised the entire series, taking us to the Australian desert and a small church named after Mary MacKillop, who established her saintliness by creating refuges for those wishing to make a fresh start in life.
Lindelof says that it all will end in Australia, the season having been filmed on locations in Texas and down under: “Australia is the end of the world geographically and our show is about the end of the world emotionally.”
It all might seem far-fetched and utterly implausible if you visit this world for the first time but Lindelof, who wrote the episode with Patrick Somerville, and accomplished director Mimi Leder carry us along with wonderful cinematic invention, edgy performances, and Max Richter’s spine-chilling music. The issue of Black Lives Matter refuses to go away in the America of Donald Trump. The new US drama Shots Fired (originally entitled Indictment), which started last week on Foxtel’s Showcase and is available on Foxtel Anytime, examines the hazardous repercussions of two racially charged shootings involving the police in a small fictional southern US town called Gates Station in North Carolina.
And timely it is too, as recent reports suggest the Trump administration is backing away from the tough-minded policing overhauls of the Obama years that police unions believe had impeded law enforcement and unfairly painted many good officers as wrongdoers. Trump is moving rapidly to meet his promises to restore “law and order”, despite the hostile relationship between blacks and the police and enduring racial disparities in the criminal justice system.
The 10-episode cop drama was created by Gina Prince-Bythewood ( Behind the Lights), who also directed the first episode, with her hus- band and creative partner Reggie Rock Bythewood, both serving as executive producers along with Francie Calfo and Brian Grazer. The series is a passion project for the couple, inspired by the tragic deaths of two young men called Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown.
It’s a tough crime series, almost documentary in style, about what police call “a good kill”, set in black neighbourhoods we rarely see on TV. It’s directed with cool competence, and given a highly cinematic look by director of photography Tami Reiker.
A black sheriff’s deputy Joshua Beck (Tristan Mack Wilds) shoots and kills a white teenager, an unarmed college student called Jesse Carr, after pulling his car over in a black part of town where white kids are known to go for drugs. “It was either him or me,” he says in his defence, claiming the boy lunged for his gun as he climbed out of his vehicle on the cop’s order, but there is no seeming reason for the shooting from what we are shown, regardless of the selfless quality of the cop.
The shooting sparks political controversy: North Carolina governor Patricia Eamons (Helen Hunt), already in a tough election fight (“I’m not a fan of surprises,” she tells investigators), steps in to ensure there’s no perception of impropriety in the case, not wanting another Ferguson, where the shooting of Brown, a black teenager, prompted protests that roiled the area for weeks. (Prince-Bythewood says they wanted the series “to feel like an autopsy of Ferguson”.)
The Department of Justice sends in young, ambitious special prosecutor Preston Terry (Stephan James), an evangelical believer in the system, and hard-nosed black cop turned investigator Ashe Akino (Sanaa Lathan) to evaluate the evidence and bring transparency to the case. Terry already has a reputation as a “finisher”, closing down cases quickly, but this time his superiors want a “cleaner”: someone to not onlyexamine the evidence but to make sure the political repercussions are contained.
They find it difficult to move around in the largely black community, not used to co-operating with the police and furious that with all the shootings of black kids, it takes the death of a white one to bring the government cavalry down in force. They are consistently told they are not asking the right questions, the reason why their inquiries are never answered around the wild-west-like neighbourhood called “the Houses” where the shooting occurred.
But the context alters abruptly when they discover allegations of an earlier, largely ignored, police shooting of an African-American boy. A chill descends on the investigation when anecdotal evidence begins to point to police department corruption.
Beck’s superiors insist that he stick to his version of events and repeat the cop shooter mantra: “In the moment of engagement, I feared for my life.” The subsequent investigation raises profound questions about race and justice, issues that so divide America, especially after the press discovers a videotape made at the time of Beck’s graduation from the police academy.
Clutching his medal, he says: “I finally got the licence to shoot these crackers.” It is a profound indictment, adding further complications into the volatile racial mix.
The driven Terry is obsessed with a truth that has no colour, believing that the judicial system must not only represent and enforce the law “but to use it to make real the promise of America”. His partner, Akino, is a former beat cop who, after being tapped by the DEA, worked in Colombia and Mexico for six years. Akino also has anger management issues and is fighting for the custody of her daughter, a rather welcome inversion of the convention more typical of too many cop shows featuring blokes with problems, who tend to follow their own existential codes of behaviour.
As played by Lathan, there’s an “I hate everybody” force field around Akino that everyone can feel from 10 feet away. She’s also fabulously desirable: “I’m every guy’s type,” she proclaims.
If you need another reason to watch Shots Fired, then it’s this great actress — she is really something. Thursday, 8.30pm, Showcase. Monday, 8.30pm, Showcase.