[Like the "10 for 10" series but a little longer. It's my endeavor to clean the backlog slate (with some things watched well over a year ago now) "this" month with 20 reviews written in 20 minutes (each) over 20 days...
[this so took longer than 20 minutes...oops]
Season 2 left Tom Perrotta's source novel in the dust, with Perrotta, Damon Lindleof and Mimi Leder making some very bold strokes to change not only the tone of the series but its meaning. The first season was clearly about loss and depression (and not necessarily how one relates to the other), the second was a search for security as one tries to overcome their loss and/or depression (I like David's take that it's about a need to find meaning in mystery, because it's definitely that too). The third season, is all about faith, and from the opening moments it tests its audience's faith in storytelling. Like how the second season began with its primitive humanity metaphor, the third season opens in a small town in the 1800s. Told wordlessly with the soundtrack the only audible aspect, we witness a family on their rooftop, then attending church where dates are crossed out, new dates are chosen and eventually back on the rooftop again. They're predicting the Rapture and waiting for God to take them. Time and again dates pass, and the predicted date changes, and eventually the wife in the family is the only one on the rooftop, her faith unwavering where her husband's was shaken. She suffers in the rain, she's laughed at by her neighbours, and her husband looks at her with both disdain and pity. But she has faith.
Season 3 blows up (in some cases literally) most remnants of season 1. It's three years after the end of season 2 (and 7 years after the Departure) and that heavy-hearted, gut-punch of a season is in the past. And yet, for Nora Durst and Kevin Garvey, the past seems to have circled in on them. Nora is yet again facing the loss of a child, with Lily back with her birth mother, and Kevin is chief of police in Jarden, like he was back in Mapleton. Despite their pact to always be honest with one another, Nora is secretly bitter behind Kevin's back, angry at the world, without any closure. What Nora has that is new is great, it gives her purpose, but she doesn't believe in it. Likewise Kevin, whenever he gets a moment to himself, suffocates himself to bring himself to the brink of death... he needs it to feel alive (like that time he died and was an international assassin in another reality). They put on a face of bright cheerfulness with one another but deep down they still hurt.
Well, actually, it's not so much that they hurt, but that they're petrified of being hurt again.
Nora wants to run away. Kevin wants to run away. Both are so afraid of the other person leaving them that they can barely stand the happiness they feel when they are together. They're like skinless people, all raw nerves exposed. Just living is torture.
But faith. They have no faith in their love for each other. Meanwhile, Matt Jamison believe Kevin, following his death and rebirth last season, is a new messiah, and begins writing scripture with John and Michael. Matt needs to have something more to believe in, and so do John and Michael.
Meanwhile, the world anticipates the end of the world in the coming
weeks. It's a joke in most cases, but anxiety is high because enough
people need something to believe in that they believe that the end times
are near. Kevin's father, who went to Australia in season 1, comes back into the fore with a stupendous episode following his travails across the Outback. He's a believer in the Great Flood that's coming, and he believes that only he can prevent it. To do so he appropriates tribal songs, dances and rituals, performing them across a "song line", frequently arrested in the process (I quite love the tightrope walking this show does with his cultural appropriation, and toying with our belief in whether it's justified or not). Scott Glenn's bravura performances (here and in Marvel's Defenders) never ceases to amaze... he plays a type, but he plays it sooooo well.
A running gag involving the 80's sitcom Perfect Strangers pays off in the second episode, with Mark Lynn Baker making a return to the show to try and coax Nora into believe there's a device that can take her to where the departed went... and that it's in Australia, and she needs to bring $20,000. Kevin tags along, not to go find his father, and not really sure why himself. While there, he begins to hallucinate which brings Matt, John, Michael, and his ex-wife (now John's wife) Laurie to Australia (where Matt has his own test of faith on a sex cruise ship).
It's a truncated season of only 8 episodes, but each one is monumental, just loaded with importance for the characters and packed with meaning for the over-arching metaphor of both the season and the show. The final note is that love is another type of faith, and that in order to be in love you have to have faith in the other person to reciprocate it. The fear of being hurt often tests that faith and all too often wins.
Does the show give us a satisfying ending? One of the best ever, I'd say. It provides some decisive answers, and yet, by telling and not showing it leaves a lot of room for questioning. As much as the first season weighed heavily on my heart while watching, and the second season got a little too mired in its own sense of mystery and myriad of confrontations, this third season is an absolute gem. Every episode has its own character journey, its own story that starts and ends but all come together to form a whole for the season and for the series. I can't say I'd watch the entire series from start to finish again, but I think I would watch season three multiple times in a heartbeat.
I come back to what brought me here... "best show on television"...? I still hesitate to go that far, but one of the best seasons of television, for sure. You can't really take season 3 without seeing seasons 1 and 2, but the journey through them completely pays off.