The planet hit 6 billion people in 1999, just a couple months before the new millennium. A dozen years later and there were 7 billion people living on Earth.
There are now over 7.25 billion people living in the world, an increase of a quarter of a billion people in only three years.
Projections have the human population on Earth at 11 billion people by the turn of the century, calling into question what the breaking point will be. When will there really be too many people on Earth for mankind to sustain itself?
The genius of a show like HBO’s The Leftovers is in flipping the script. The world as mankind presently sees it is a place of constant expansion and growth. But what if instead of another 250 million humans being born in the next three years, what if 140 million – two percent of the world’s population – vanished from life?
Two percent, by definition, is a small amount of anything. But if 140 million people went missing it would forever change the makeup of the world – how one thinks of the universe they live in, and how the masses interact with one another.
The Leftovers is based on a novel of the same name and features the town Mapleton, New York three years after the disappearance of the millions of people – referred to as the “Sudden Departure.” While the show receives mixed reviews and has drawn harsh critic for its unsettling violence, I think the show is certainly worth a watch.
The show demands your attention. Think about the world left behind by this disappearance? Religious leaders would plea rapture. Conspiracy enthusiasts would have a field day. On a personal level, with 140 million people gone missing, families have been ripped apart and communities gutted. The emotional state of chaos created in this show is inciting.
The Leftovers turns its scope almost exclusively on Mapleton, which is a keen strategy. The town of Mapleton was like any ordinary town in America before the disappearance. Now the presence of the Guilty Remnant – essentially a cult – is what shapes the town. (We still haven’t been given true insight into their exact motives. We do know they (a) wear all white, (b) chain smoke like it’s their job, and (c) they never speak – literally never, not even for a Klondike bar. The GR serves as a painful reminder to the town of what happened, and is the driving force of the tension in Mapleton.
The core characters of the show are so terribly flawed. Police Chief Garvey (Justin Theroux) may be, as his father puts it, “losing his shit.” Garvey’s children, Tom and Jill, have both responded to the event by resorting to a messianic figure and frequent bursts of rage, respectively. Reverend Matt (Christopher Eccleston) who is given the entire third episode to himself, has lost so much, and is willing to do anything to keep what he has.
What the Sudden Departure places upon these “survivors” is despair, a worry that they will only continue to lose more – people, their way of life – until they too leave the Earth.
Creators Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta have responded to HBO’s faith in their program with an amazing production. The Leftovers truly fits in seamlessly with the reputation that HBO shows have and it’s clear their commitment to the production quality is essential to this shows success. The Leftovers doesn’t work if they cannot create the world left behind by the Sudden Departure; while the show can come off as sporadic and dreary, when the show locks into a scene, the result can be beautiful.
Moments such as a touching baptism and the assembly line creation of a baby doll for a nativity scene have provided viewers with the entrancing moments necessary to keep viewers coming back, much like the now infamous tracking shot from True Detective or every single death in Game or Thrones.
The Leftovers isn’t just a drama though. The show has already made a habit of sprinkling in plenty of “What the fuck?” moments. Garvey and his dreams are becoming a weekly dive into the supernatural and have me questioning his mental health. And above all else the character Holy Wayne gives The Leftovers an unsettling overtone and really gives the show the edge that pushes it into a supernatural world.
Much like other well-known HBO programs The Leftovers is attracting attention for a few controversial reasons. Certain episodes such as the 5th episode “Gladys” should be given the highest warning possible when it comes to violence. The show has also come under criticism for its accused religious agenda. In true HBO fashion, it’s clear The Leftovers is interested in pushing the limits of comfort to achieve something bigger than positive reviews. What can be inferred is the fact that this show is making its viewers question a lot of things.
The longer this show goes on though, the more we’re going to want answers. The GR still remains a silent shadow in white over the town of Mapleton and it’s clear they have big plans. As stated above, Holy Wayne is sure to provide some holy shit moments. And, for God’s sake, where did all those people go?
By removing two percent of mankind, The Leftovers forces the survivors to consider what it means to be alive in a dying world. What interesting timing, as Earth adds another 140 million people every two years, ascending toward a world population that is entirely unsustainable.
Alain Pierre-Lys (@captainreality) is a staff writer for The High Screen and student at SUNY Oswego in the beautiful tundra of central New York.