10 Times ‘The Leftovers’ Has Moved Us to Tears

The Leftovers - Season 2
Van Redin/HBO
Episode 14 (season 2, episode 4): Justin Theroux. photo: Van Redin

Few shows leave fans reeling at the end of every episode quite like HBO’s The Leftovers. Damon Lindelof’s Lost follow-up continues the island drama’s themes of science versus faith, with an astounding amount of questions; except many, if not most of them, are designed to be unanswerable. Still, the show’s exploration of triumph and failure in the face of harrowing grief and unfathomable cosmic loss carries the most weight, creating bonds between viewers and characters unlike any other story on television right now.

From show-stopping performances to heartbreaking plot twists, The Leftovers rarely fails to level its audience with relentless emotion. With Season 2 coming to a close this Sunday, we picked the 10 moments the show demanded our tears, which flowed with all the potent power found in the water of Jarden, Texas.

A Baby’s Sudden Departure

(Episode: “Pilot”) The only sound more piercing than a shrieking baby is the same baby’s sudden silence. When an unnamed mother, frustrated with her infant’s behavior, finally realized that her son was no longer wailing in the back of her car—disappeared, without a trace, along with two percent of the world’s population—the panicked tears streaming down her face mirrored our own.

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Nora Durst’s Holy Hug

(Episode: “Guest”) There’s no shortage of sob-worthy moments from the sixth episode of Season 1, centered almost entirely on Nora Durst (Carrie Coon), who lost her husband and two children in the Sudden Departure, and who grieved by hiring prostitutes to shoot her in the bulletproof vest. But the biggest tear-worthy moment was Nora hugging it out with Holy Wayne, the supposed mystic who could take away pain with one simple embrace.

The Leftovers - Season 2

Christopher Eccleston (Rev. Matt Jamison) and Carrie Coon (Nora Durst)

Patti Levin’s Bloody Death

(Episode: “Cairo”) The garbled final words of Guilty Remnant leader Patti Levin (Ann Dowd) made about as much sense as her decision to slit her own throat in front of Mapleton police chief Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux), but the emotional walloping of the scene caused tears to flow as freely as the blood from her mortal wound.

Kevin Garvey’s Family Loss

(Episode: “The Garveys at Their Best”) The penultimate episode of Season 1 took viewers back to the world-changing events of October 14, albeit on a micro scale, focusing in on Kevin and his family as they lost everything they loved. It’s hard not to choke up as children holding hands simply cease to exist, and it’s impossible not to feel jaw-dropped heartache when Laurie Garvey (Amy Brenneman) watched the unborn fetus inside of her vanish from a monitor.

Nora Discovering Loved One Dolls

(Episode: “The Prodigal Son Returns”) If “Guest” didn’t cement Carrie Coon’s place as the MVP of The Leftovers, her performance upon finding Loved One doll replications of her departed family sitting in the kitchen, exactly where Nora saw them last, sealed the deal. It’s one of the most spectacular depictions of grief captured on the small screen.

RELATED:Carrie Coon on Finding Miracles During the Apocalypse

The Cavewoman’s Miracle

(Episode: “Axis Mundi”) The exceptional second season of The Leftovers began with an out-of-context flashback to a time before time, when a pregnant cavewoman gave birth to a child moments after all her people were killed in a natural disaster. The 10-minute sequence ended with her struggling, but ultimately failing, to survive from a venomous snake bite, leaving her baby completely alone—until she’s miraculously rescued by another prehistoric person. The tears of confusion, sorrow and joy are present all throughout.

Susan’s Shocking Murder-Suicide

(Episode: “Off Ramp”) After liberating herself from the Guilty Remnant, Laurie dedicated her life to rehabilitating other members of the hard-smoking, no-talking cult. But she was unable to free one victim, Susan (Heather Kafka), of her guilt. And one of the more devastating moments was of Susan not only taking her own life, but the lives of her husband and child, by driving head-on into the path of an oncoming truck.

Reverend Jamison’s Exposed Exile

(Episode: “No Room at the Inn”) Reverend Matt Jamison (Christopher Eccleston) never once abandoned his faith in God, his wife or the miracle of Miracle. But his faith was nonetheless tested at almost every turn on The Leftovers, especially in this Season 2 episode, which ended with him in self-imposed exile, naked and alone in a set of stocks on top of a taco truck. The erstwhile Ninth Doctor’s naked visage is a bizarre sight to behold, sure, but it’s also intense as a visual a sucker-punch right to the feels.

The Leftovers - Season 2

Regina King as Erika Murphy and Coon

Nora and Erika Murphy’s War of Words

(Episode: “Lens”) Carrie Coon, wrecking your eyeballs with gut-wrenching self-delusion? Nothing new there. What is new: Nora meeting her match in rival Erika Murphy (an exquisite Regina King). The two actresses traded sharp-tongued barbs about the different types of loss in a post-Departure world. It’s scene-stealing turn after scene-stealing turn as Nora and Erika verbally slugged it out, their rival views of the universe shattering hearts like rocks through windows.

Kevin’s Alternate Life as an Assassin

(Episode: “International Assassin”) Lindelof’s answer to Inception saw Kevin traveling through what’s either a spiritual plane of existence or a severe psychological meltdown as a sharp-dressed killer, tasked with assassinating the trolling ghost of Patti Levin. There’s plenty of high-octane action, with an overload of mind-bending themes to chew on, but the real feast occurred at episode’s end when, despite feeling sorry for the departing Patti, Kevin still chose to fulfill his grim killing task—but not without some hot tears of his own. Without a doubt, this ending is the weirdest, heaviest, most emotional and flat-out best episode of The Leftovers.

The Leftovers, Season Finale, Sunday, Dec. 6, 9/8c, HBO