For a show so renowned for its darkness, there’s delight in watching the final season of “The Leftovers.” Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta‘s series is so often seen (particularly by those who exited after its gloomier first year) as a weekly dose of downers, the worst way for your mood to end a Sunday night. However, fans of the HBO drama know that there’s surprising joy to be found onscreen: both in the humor present in elements from the dialogue to the musical cues, as well as in marveling at the execution. You won’t be out of line if you giggle with glee when you realize how audacious Lindelof is at every turn — and how that boldness pays off. “The Leftovers” has always operated on a different plane of existence than anything else on television, and in its third season, it bests even its own record.

the leftovers season 2 finaleThose worried about Lindelof repeating what they see as the mistakes of “Lost” should feel satisfied here (if they can ever feel satisfied). HBO provided all but the series finale to press, and if the season’s first seven episodes are any indication, “The Leftovers” will not only stick the landing, but will also get spontaneous applause from the German judge. These episodes indicate a satisfying wrap-up to the stories of Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux, leading a cast doing some of TV’s best, most nuanced work, including Carrie Coon and Amy Brenneman) and those around him after the departure, building on the first two seasons of the show. There are callbacks, flashbacks and reappearances of characters that make you realize Lindelof is doing the showrunner equivalent of Black Dynamite’s boomerang: he threw that shit before he walked in the room. It all feels entirely planned out and set up in the previous seasons, both in its plot and in its themes.

the leftovers season 2 finale“The Leftovers” has always been about asking the big questions about relationships, faith and the nature of life itself, and it doesn’t shrink back from those in its attempts to provide a conclusion to its own narrative. We’ve explored how “The Leftovers” refuses to be a mystery box show, and here the questions are just as important as the answers. That said, we are offered answers and closure in these episodes, even if we may not learn the nature of the Sudden Departure (which wasn’t revealed in Perrotta’s novel). Its effects are ultimately more interesting than its cause, with the exploration of grief and loss reaching depths that television has rarely plumbed.

Lindelof has famously warned critics against revealing too much of the new season’s plot (though only a killjoy would do that to the fans anyway), but as the final trailer reveals, season three finds the world closing in on the seven years since the Sudden Departure. People worry that the anniversary will bring another cataclysmic event, and everyone from Matt Jamison (Christopher Eccleston) to Kevin Sr. (Scott Glenn) believes that Kevin may be the only one to save the world.

the-leftovers-season-finaleLindelof and his writers room don’t get sufficient credit for the show’s humor and its sense of playfulness. It’s often funny enough to earn a bark of a laugh, whether for deadpan delivery of a line, a particular bit of well-crafted dialogue, or a perfectly chosen song. “The Leftovers” mixes it up on the opening-credits front, with the music for second episode “Don’t Be Ridiculous” seeming so out of left field (and yet so fun) that I chuckled all the way to Lindelof’s name at the close of the credits. Max Richter‘s classical score works so well with the show’s grand themes, evoking exactly which emotion we’re meant to feel at any moment the orchestra comes in.

But when “The Leftovers” does go dark, it doesn’t hesitate to be absolutely devastating. Despite all the sadness we’ve experienced to date, episode three, “Crazy Whitefella Thinking,” somehow reveals the most tragic Sudden Departure story yet. There are plenty of laughs this season, but more than one hiccuping sob escaped my lips watching these episodes, and not just because of the fact that this gem of a show is coming to an end. As ever, it’s also one of the most beautiful series currently on, even in an era of cinematic peak TV. Painterly images reign, thanks to the work of cinematographers Michael Grady, John Grillo and Robert Humphreys and returning directors Mimi Leder, Keith Gordon, Daniel Sackheim, Nicole Kassell, Carl Franklin and Craig Zobel.

the leftover season 3 finaleWith just three seasons and 28 episodes, “The Leftovers” will be the rare show that leaves its audience wanting more, while ultimately leaving them satisfied. This is bold television that is willing to take creative risks, and it’s one that not enough people have experienced or stuck with. Lindelof is against bingeing the show — and he’s right: ideally, this is the sort of drama you savor and mull over for days, sipping it instead of downing it in one gulp. But if he really wanted people not to watch it in bulk, he shouldn’t have made something so great. [A]