Anyone that’s ever unexpectedly lost anyone close to them understands how that loss can become part of our identity, at least for a while. “Hey, look. There’s Karen. She lost a daughter.” “Is that Tom I see over there? His wife died of cancer last year.” These losses make up part of the fabric of who were are, and in the days, weeks, and months after a loss, our senses our heightened. We feel and experience life more keenly, movies hit us harder, and everyday minutia feels more banal. Pointless even.
It’s during these times when we most question both our lives and existence itself the most. Even those who don’t believe in God find ourselves talking to him/her. We have conversations with the deceased, as though they are in the room with us. Our actions are sometimes considered from the perspective of our lost one. “What would Pete think?” We find ourselves looking skyward, searching for answers. Life itself becomes a kind of elaborate conspiracy theory. We search for answers to questions that don’t have them, and we often look in the most unexpected places. We defy our own sense of logic.
It is through that lens that The Leftovers makes the most sense. The first season was a meditation on grief, exploring the choices we make when overwhelmed by that sense of loss. It’s hard to say what the overriding theme of season two will be after only one episode, but I get the sense that it will be about the search for answers to questions that don’t have them. The answers are beside the point: It’s working through the process of finding them that matters, in ruling out the possibilities so that we can move on. In other words, “Let the Mystery Ve.” The other end of grief is acceptance, and that’s where season two looks to take us.
The second season opens in a different town with unfamiliar characters (in fact, we don’t meet anyone we recognize from the first season until two-thirds of the way through the episode). Miracle, Texas (formerly Jarden) is the new setting, the one town in America where there were no departures. It’s become something of a tourist attraction, where people visit in the hopes of having the magic of Miracle rub off on them.
In fact, the economy of Miracle seems to be driven by it. Tourist busses bring in vacationers, who buy souvenirs from the area, drink the water, and soak up the religion. The premiere, directed by Mimi Leder (who directed many of last year’s better episodes), focuses primarily on the Murphy family: Erika (Regina King) is a nurse; Michael (Jovan Adepo) is a spiritual high-school student; his sister Evie (Jasmin Savoy Brown) is flirty and free spirited enough to run through the forest naked with friends; and their father, John (Kevin Carrol), is an ex-con and firefighter, who also seems to be in charge of rooting out frauds in their city, those who claim to have spiritual powers and use them to prey upon outsiders.
One such fraud, or so John believes, is Isaac (Darius McCrary, who somehow hasn’t aged since Family Matters), who reads John’s palm and warns him that something bad is about to happen to him In return, John the skeptic has Isaac’s house torched, and spends the rest of the episode paranoid, doubting his own skepticism and waiting for that something bad to happen.
It does eventually, when another departure arrives, seemingly focused on only Miracle, Texas, as though returning to strike the one place it forgot the first time around. This time it takes John’s daughter, Evie, along with all the water from the nearby lake, which the townspeople had attributed to their good fortune the first time around.
That’s going to leave the Murphy family in shambles, and they may have to look for solace and comfort in their new neighbors, the Garveys, the family from last season who have moved in next door. Kevin (Justin Theoroux), Nora (Carrie Coon), and Jill (Margaret Qualley) have relocated to Miracle looking for a fresh start, along with their new baby, left behind by Kevin’s estranged son, Tom (Chris Zylka). Matt Jamison (Christopher Eccleston) has also moved to Miracle to fill in as the reverend, though I think he’s also hoping the town’s magic will rub off on his comatose wife (Janel Moloney).
So much for that magic.
And the thing is, the Garveys have been through this, and while they have none of the answers, they know how to survive it, to get through the grief and come out the other side. The Murphys may have to look to them not for answers, but how to work through the questions.
As always with a Lindelof show, there will be far more questions than answers, but investigating those questions is what’s most satisfying about The Leftovers. Here’s several mysteries — both major and minor — to ponder throughout season 2.
1. The cold open sequence, with the cave woman, was like a haunting, brutal and poetic short film, and probably a metaphor for the season. I hope that metaphor is that something good can come from even the worst tragedy. I wonder if we will continue to see those vignettes, and how much that scene might play into the rest of the season. The quake — signifying death — has already repeated itself, obviously.
2. The water is clearly considered to be the source of Miracle’s miraculous powers. It disappeared, along with Evie and her friends who were at the lake. Did anyone else “depart,” or only those who were near the water when it disappeared?
3. Is the water tied to the departure? I know we’re not likely ever going to get an answer to that, but it has to be a part of the equation, right?
4. Will we hear that goddamn cricket again? Or was that a one-episode device designed to heighten tension (if so, it worked).
5. The cracks in the road were clearly created by the tremors, but why the glass casing and the Virgin Mary statue? Are the miraculous powers of the city also being attributed to the quakes?
6. What’s up with this guy, right?
7. If Evie (and her friends) are the only people who disappeared, might the city try and cover it up in order to salvage an economy seemingly reliant upon the fact that it’s the only city with no departures? Or will this be the end of the tourism boom? And will it revert to Jarden, TX?
8. Why were Evie and her friends running naked through the forest?
9. What were those numbers that John and the other firefighters code for? Re: Isaac, two of the firefighters suggested 2 or 3. John said it was a “5.” A “5” apparently means throwing the guy out the window and burning down his house. According to Erika, it was the first time John burned down a house, so the first “5,” I guess?
10. Why did Erika bury a bird in a box to see if it would live? What the hell?
11. “See to it that no one pays evil for evil to anyone,” Michael said during his sermon, later telling his father that it was random. Was it? Or does Michael have something against what his father is doing?
12. And just to put this out there, is it possible that Evie’s disappearance wasn’t a part of the departure? Is it possible that Isaac was behind it? (If so, how would it explain the disappearance of the water?)
13. Why did the Reverend cut Matt Jamison off when he began to talk about his wife? Is it because he didn’t want John to think that Matt was a fraud? And do more people in the city fear John Murphy? Is that why the Murphy family has “no friends,” as John told Kevin Garvey later in the episode?
14. Why does John insist on having his bacon on a separate plate?
15. John asked Michael at the diner, “What is a Thessalonian anyway?” For the unfamiliar, a Thessalonian is not, as Erika suggested, someone from Thessalonia. It’s someone from Thessaly, a sixth century empire that declined because of internal conflict. Is that foreshadowing?
16. Why does a guy named Jerry bring a goat into a diner, slash its throat, apologize, and drag it out, and why do the folks in the diner treat it like an incident that happens regularly?
17. Holy shit, was that really Mark Linn-Baker from Perfect Strangers?
Yes, yes it was Mark Linn-Baker from Perfect Strangers.
18. Who is this guy, and why did he want to pray with Michael?
19. Who left the Murphy family that apple pie?
20. Who did John attempt to murder, and why? And why doesn’t John drink?
21. What did happen to Kevin’s head?
22. Did Kevin really have a couch like the one in the Murphy house? (I don’t recall)
23. Is Evie’s epilepsy in any way tied to her departure? How weird was that?
24. What was in that box, the present that Evie gave her Dad before going out with her friends?
25. Where was Ann Dowd? Liv Tyler? Amy Brenneman? The Guilty Remnant?