First Impressions: The Leftovers, Season 2

by: Douglas Grant and Michael Shields

Two of Across the Margin’s editors convene to discuss the always polarizing HBO drama The Leftovers as it returns for its second season…

The Leftovers

DG: Let’s talk. You start the conversation, cause I don’t even know where to begin.

MCS: I got this. I guess where we should start is with the wild-as-fuck first ten minutes, with the cavewoman and the rattlesnake and that baby whose life was in peril to the point where my skin wasn’t simply crawling, but almost burning – what  a tense and unique (to say the least) commencement. But, I need to discuss the about-face first. It seems that The Leftovers pulled a maneuver, a sort of reboot for this season, and this restart I am speaking of doesn’t just refer to the characters and action during the course of the program, but to the much peppier opening title sequence. About five minutes into the episode, entitled “Axis Mundi,”1 I said aloud, “Is this really Leftovers?” Soon after, as we progressed further into the episode, it became clear the entirety of the action was going to take place in a new location (Jarden, Texas – known as “Miracle” because of the lack of departures) while following a family we were just introduced to (The Murphys). In fact, not a single familiar face appeared onscreen until Reverend Jamison popped up about thirty-six minutes in (and then the Garvey’s later on, forty-five minutes into the episode). I know this is only one episode, but it appears the game has drastically changed….

DG: I thought the new intro versus the old could not have been more opposite, and while I’m watching I’m saying to myself, “Oh, this is going to piss so many people off.” I’m still way into The Leftovers. I love that more questions than answers are offered. I appreciate the show’s ambiguity, and I’m digging all these new characters and the novel setting.

I’m getting a little tired of the incessant comparisons to Lost. I never watched Lost, and at this point I probably never will. What I do know about the show is that people were frustrated that many of their questions were left unanswered, and I hope these same people aren’t holding their breath waiting for big reveals on this season of The Leftovers.

MCS: I don’t mean to lay into you on the Lost thing, but it was an excellent television show. While the ending – as even you, a non-believer know – left much to be wanted, the journey was riveting. There is probably no television show I have happened upon that achieved the level of character development that Lost was able to. And there were a ton of characters on the show over its duration. I definitely understand the comparisons and the conversation, as how do you not invoke Lost when talking about Damon Lindelof’s art work? It is his crowning achievement and our frame of reference for his brand of storytelling.

Speaking of Lindelof, this season’s intrigue is heightened by the fact that what viewers will see unfold is more him than the previous season, as Peter Berg is no longer involved and the story arc is moving away from Tom Peralta’s source material (although Tom is still heavily involved in the writing of the series). So it will be interesting to watch what happens as the season progresses under Lindelof’s chief direction. I will admit to the fact that I was very hard on The Leftovers last season until the final few episodes. The insistence by the showrunners that they would never reveal why people “departed” bothered me. The deep-seated ambiguity in general bothered me. The apparent lack of cohesion in the narrative bothered me. I received a lot of heat from fans of The Leftovers about my angst, but I can’t help but ask now: If it wasn’t broke, then why did they fix (change) it? Lindelof recently revealed that he wrote the first season enveloped by a fog of depression (anyone who saw even a single episode could have guessed that!), and with this season premiere, I felt as if I was watching an entirely new program – and in my opinion this is a positive. The point of view of the Murphy family was fascinating, and the character development within that family was swift and layered. I want to know more about Miracle, Texas and I want to know it now. I am on board this season, but I tread cautiously. I have to learn to deal with the fact that things will happen that will never be accounted for. The polar bears in Lost (sorry Doug!) exists in The Leftovers – I just have to learn to live with that, and delve into the meat of the matter – how those left deal with a post-departed world. There is certainly plenty to chew on there.

DG: I’m sure Lost was great; I didn’t mean my comment to come across as a knock at the show. I just am not sure if I will give it a run, in the same way that I will probably never go back and watch Damages, Dexter, or The Americans, even though they all at one time or another piqued my interest. I see what you’re saying though. To me it’s really about my desire to see something stand on its own merits without comparisons to companion pieces or relative materials.

It was exhausting this last spring and summer:

Me: “Yeah, I like this this new season of True Detective. I like where it’s going.”

Someone else: “Oh, but Season One . . .”

or

Me: “It’s interesting to go back and see Saul’s humble beginnings.”

Someone else: “It just doesn’t have the same feel as Breaking Bad.”

You see what I mean?

MCS: I definitely understand. It’s funny that people allow artists and art to grow and change in some instances and not in others. Take painters, like Picasso, for example, where his many different periods exist on their own – as unique from that which came before or after. But when it comes to television, Better Call Saul or True Detective Season Two just aren’t afforded the ability to live as singular entities. We (including myself) are so fast to package things, and make comparisons. It’s unbecoming. Maybe it is a hindsight thing, where in time we are able to more easily judge the various works of different artists on their own. Or maybe it’s always been that way, you can’t escape your past…

DG: On to the opening, we have waited too long already. The cavewoman scene was just….just wow. I fucking hate rattlesnakes, and I’m with you when I say that I could not handle that scene. I don’t want to attempt to pick it apart too much, but I have to wonder if the writers even knew what they were getting at with that opener. It’s not that I didn’t like it, but it seemed risky for a show that’s writing could scare off viewers in droves if it takes them too far down the rabbit hole without the payoff of any kind of understanding or closure.

MCS: Rattlesnakes scare the hell out of me too. Any snake really. While the opening scene was indeed tough to watch, I found it cinematically fascinating. If I was to guess what was going on, I would presume that the writers were saying something about geography here. Something is different in Jarden, miracles can occur for some reason. If you think back to the beginning of Episode 1 in the first season (“Pilot”), a baby was tragically separated from its mother when it departed (an event that we will never know more about – sorry, I’m harping). But here, in this initial episode of this very different season, a baby who is assuredly doomed – survives! Right away you realize you are not in Mapleton, New York anymore.

I saw a few things on Twitter that were discussing allusions to the “Woman of the Apocalypse” and that makes sense, and is fairly deep. A woman, a child, and a dragon – the dragon is defeated and the child lives on. I’m going to have to look further into the parallels there. But regarding the cavewoman – it is easy to see her as a sort of leftover herself. After the earthquake, she is left to fend from her child and herself alone in a world that had inflicted so much hardship upon her. Isn’t this what The Leftovers is all about anyways? Dealing with loss…

DG: I certainly hope we see more of the prehistoric era. It would be cool if they kept it going the way in which Boardwalk Empire kept the prequel storyline going in its last season. Again, though, it might alienate a lot of viewers.

I like your point about hope vs. doom in the new season vs. the pilot. And wasn’t Texas the location of that cult Tom Garvey joined in season one, the one led by Wayne Gilchrest? Or do I have that wrong? I’m curious if these two plot points are connected somehow.

MCS: I think you are absolutely right. But in that line of thought, we don’t know why that Jarden was spared, and people throughout the globe are going to want to know what’s happening in this miracle town. I foresee people from outside of the town swarming to Jarden for information, and to take what it is they think is the secret to survival. Isn’t that what John Murphy (played with fierce intensity by Kevin Carroll) seems to be fighting against, the enduring mysticism, anything that can threaten his town and his family?

DG: Absolutely. If you look at scenes from next week it would appear that the residents of Jarden want to keep people out and keep their town pure.

MCS: John is at the forefront of that battle, and in this way I found him to be fascinating. He was sweet at times, a true family man. But then we were privy to his sinister side, and it was relentless. Reminiscent of Fahrenheit 451, here we are presented with a firefighter who starts fires. And now the fire-fighter is neighbors with a brooding, complicated police officer who just moved into town. Sparks are bound to erupt there. And let us not go any further without mentioning that Emmy winner2 Regina King plays John’s wife, Erika. I am all in on the Murphys!

But are we burying the lead – the Perfect Strangers reference, Mark Linn Baker faking his departure?! In Season One there was a mention to the cast of Perfect Strangers departing, and now we find one of them had been opportunistic about this cataclysmic event. I wonder if there are others who used The Departure to their advantage?

DG: At the moment, the only celebs I remember departing were Shaq and Gary Busey. Watch Busey turn up somewhere having disguised himself by acting normal. Seriously though, there was something that seemed unsustainable about the Mapleton storyline, but I’m sure the writers are far from finished with it. After all, we don’t know what’s happened to Kevin Sr., Laurie, Tom, or Meg Abbott. We don’t even know the fate of the Guilty Remnant for that matter. Despite this, I feel like that all can wait, as right now all the interest I have in the show has to do with the developments in Jarden.

MCS: Sam here. And as I said, I am all in. I know this goes against a lot of the hate I spewed within Season One, but it’s a whole new ballgame now. Lindelof and Perrotta are taking chances with genre, story, and point of view, and I applaud them for flipping the script so drastically. My favorite episodes of last season were those two one-offs, where in one they followed Reverend Jamison the entire episode and the other they followed Nora Durst for the entirety. In that light, I was pulled in here by this season premiere following the Murphys throughout. I don’t expect that to continue moving forward, but that was a hell of a hook to start. And my take away from John Murphy’s actions – which fueled the episode – is that he isn’t buying into the miracles of Miracle, Texas. He is a pragmatic man who is taking it upon himself to police the town of the occultism. But now, his daughter is missing, and, just like the changes from Season One from Season Two we have been speaking of, maybe Jarden has changed too? Maybe in town where no one is said to have been departed – the first person just did (Elvie)? And maybe you can bury a dead bird in a box and it will be brought back to life. That type of shit happens on The Leftovers? Why? I guess it doesn’t matter….

  1. The axis mundi is the world center, or the connection between Heaven and Earth. []
  2. For her role in ABC’s American Crime. []

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