Damon Lindelof Explains What The F––k Happened On Last Night's 'The Leftovers'

In its second season, HBO's The Leftovers went from being a fascinating and totally compelling curiosity to one of the best shows on television. By embracing a few lessons he learned on Lost, showrunner Damon Lindelof managed to maintain the series' trademark sense of overwhelming, existential despair and make it fun to watch at the same time. The Leftovers has been as punishing as ever this season, but now each emotional pummeling is accompanied by riveting mysteries and strong, fast plotting.

And cliffhangers. Oh boy, has this season had some cliffhangers. Last week's episode, which was set entirely in a dream/afterlife/purgatory and managed to not be totally obnoxious, ended on a series-changing note. Last night's episode completely ignored those events to focus on other characters, but it also culminated with a gigantic twist that puts the events of the past nine episodes in new context. Now, Lindelof has opened up about that twist, speaking at length about this big reveal in a new interview.

Naturally, everything underneath this paragraph contains MAJOR SPOILERS for The Leftovers season 2. You should stop reading right now if you haven't caught up yet. The next sentence after this one is going to give away the ending of last night's episode.

"Ten Thirteen" concluded with Tom Garvey (Chris Zylka) discovering that Evie Murphy and her friends, whose disappearance in the season premiere has driven so much of the past nine hours, were very much alive and on Earth. They've just joined the Guilty Remnant, the chain-smoking religious group that dresses entirely in white and refuses to speak out loud. Since the episode ended right after this revelation, we don't know any details, like why they ran away from home to join such a miserable cult or how they figure into the seemingly violent machinations Meg Abbott (Liv Tyler) has in the works for the season finale.

In a lengthy (and excellent) interview with Variety, Lindelof explained that this twist emerged from conversations in the writer's room, where it was decided that this was the most compelling direction to take the storyline. As for why these girls would betray their home, a town who saw zero people vanish during the Sudden Departure, Lindelof chalks it up to teenage rebellion:

We were having all those conversations very, very early on and we decided the girls were really angry about the exceptionalism. They sing the Miracle anthem but they sing it snidely and snarkily and with some degree of teenage rebellion. We're like, "Yeah, they faked it." And obviously this is a horrible thing to do — it goes well beyond a teenage prank, to put your parents through this. Not to mention you'd need a significant degree of resources in order to pull it off. Where would you go in a media[-saturated] culture? How could you even disappear? How big of a thing would this be? When we started kind of kicking the tires [of this concept, an idea came up.] What if they staged it for a greater cause? A pseudo-religious cause? Jackie Hoyt, one of the writer/producers, suggested they joined the Guilty Remnant. As soon as she said it, we were like, "Of course they did."

Next week's season finale will undoubtedly delve into further details and explore just how these three managed to pull off their grand disappearance, especially since this twist arrived so far out of left field. And Lindelof says that was intentional – not tipping their hand to viewers was crucial, especially since people have gotten so good at deciphering plot twists on the internet:

We're in a media culture where the audience is so sophisticated and they can crowdsource and Reddit this information — if they get a twist, you know, like the Edward James Olmos [twist] on "Dexter" or what happened recently on "The Walking Dead," the audience basically crowdsourced exactly how [that twist could have happened] within hours of it airing. By the time it airs a month later, the audience just goes "Duh!" That's not the storytellers' fault. It's just the sophistication [of the audience's ability] to figure things out. It's like, we're up against this incredible creative algorithm.

While some viewers may roll their eyes at the Guilty Remnant (who were the most controversial element of the first season) suddenly showing up to play a huge role in the finale, Lindelof says the goal was to course-correct and make this group more interesting going forward. It's no accident that Meg's chapter of the cult is bending the rules and rewriting doctrine to suit their own needs. It's all part of making this aspect of the show more interesting to everyone:

Hopefully I feel like we presented the Guilty Remnant in a more compelling way through Meg's perspective, because she questions them. In fact, she challenges the parts of the Guilty Remnant. "I don't want to write on this pad of paper. Stop writing. Let's f–ing talk." And that's good, because that's what religion is. I mean that's why there's a broad [array of faiths]. Not every Christian is a Catholic. There have to be people inside those religions questioning and challenging and offering new doctrine.

In any case, next week's finale is surely going to end in tears. But will those tears belong to the characters, the audience, or both? Knowing The Leftovers, option three certainly sounds viable.