If you’d somehow avoided all the pre-release buzz about “The Leftovers,” then, boy, were you in for a shock tonight. Even those who did read all they could — from reviews to interviews — were mostly likely still taken aback by that wild opening sequence, one we’ll touch on shortly and certainly revisit in the coming weeks. (Yeah, we have no idea what it means yet.) It’s not that fans of Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta’s HBO drama aren’t accustomed to focus shifts. Season 1 episodes focusing solely on Matt and Nora prepared us for bold structural choices, but…that opening. Wow.
Beginning with the tragic story of a pregnant cavewoman, “The Leftovers” Season 2 was set wholly in the town limits of Jarden, TX. Also known as Miracle National Park, the town of 9,261 is both the only city in the world to not lose any residents on October 14 and the home to the Murphy family. Parented by John (Kevin Carroll) and Erika (Regina King), a firefighter and nurse respectively, the Murphys seem like your average clan…until John burns down a “friend’s” house and business because he’s “selling a lie and folks are buying it.” Then there’s the whole ritualistic goat slaughter in a public restaurant and disappearance of the seemingly natural water source, but, well, we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Below we’ve broken up the events of “Axis Mundi” into facts, questions and theories to best discuss the most pertinent points of Episode 1. Considering how much we’ve already touched upon, let’s get right to it.
1. The Murphys are not good people.
It’s hard to be affected by loss if it never happened to you. That fact alone made this new family immediately suspicious, and that was before John (Kevin Carroll) burned down the house of a man with faith, dignity and respect. (Poor Isaac. Getting thrown through that window was too much.) To then discover Erika (Regina King) is a knowing accomplice turned the whole family sour. Suddenly, young Michael’s kind ways are a little too nice and Evie’s expeditions with her friends a little less innocent — especially that hallucination (?) where they ran naked through the woods. They may not all be as bad as Dad — and I’m guessing even he has a few empathetic aspects — but the Murphys aren’t trying to get better, because nothing bad ever happened to them (so we think). Of course, you could also argue John is aware of the town’s conspiracy and is doing what he thinks is right. If Miracle’s miracle never happened, John could be taking vengeance on those who try to exploit it for what he deems are the wrong reasons. Yet even if this is the case — and it’s pretty early to assume anything — it still doesn’t make him innocent; just, perhaps, a touch less guilty.
2. Everyone in Jarden, TX is a Chicago Cubs fan.
How else can you explain the aforementioned murdering of a goat? Sure, it could be some loner’s personal religious belief somehow related to keeping the town safe from departures. Or, you know, that’s just how they do things in Texas. I’m going with dedicated Cubs fans, though, and if you don’t get why, read up. (Good luck in the postseason, boys. Go Cubs go!)
3. The Murphys don’t have any friends, and the Garveys need some.
Everyone laughed after John made that crack about hosting a solo party on his birthday, but he’s not kidding. The ex-con is also friendless, and it’s no doubt because of his power-hungry ways. Watching Isaac’s reaction to John’s arrival at his palm-reading operation told us everything we needed to know for a first impression: This guy is dangerous. We didn’t need his admission to being a “recovered” criminal to know he and Mapleton’s ex-Chief of Police Kevin Garvey would butt heads. (We knew as much when John said he was sober.) I’m looking forward to seeing exactly how these neighbors get tangled up in each other’s lives.
1. Where did the water go?
As we saw in the intro, nature acts fast in Jarden. That rockslide couldn’t have occurred at a worse time for the mother — who could’ve used some help during birth — or a better time for the baby — who would’ve died in the cave alongside everyone else. More importantly, perhaps, is how fast it occurred. That water hadn’t been gone long, seeing as the fish were still flopping when John and Michael arrived. This indicates there’s something about the earth Jarden’s built on to explain why it’s become so especially strange, rather than a man-made con that somehow disrupted the environment.
2. Where are Evie and her friends?
This, I believe, ties back to her epilepsy. While I remain suspicious of Evie’s momentary trance-like state being related to her forgetting to take her medicine — we saw her take it earlier in the episode — I think it could cause her and maybe even her friends to do things not unlike Kevin. Kevin sleepwalks. Kevin gets lost. If someone was looking for Kevin, they might be just as worried as Evie’s parents. Evie could help explain what’s going on with our favorite former cop — if they ever find her.
3. What was with that buried bird?
In a short, easily glossed over scene, Erika went running and didn’t stop until she reached…what, exactly? Ignoring another connection to Kevin — who used to run to a mailbox where he kept a hidden pack of cigs — Erika’s buried treasure was an utterly confusing event. How did it survive? Why was it put there? Did she need to set it free? The two connections I can spot in the episode are a) the other prominent bird was the one following the pregnant cavewoman. It flew above her and became a harbinger of doom for the young mother, who first saw it before her cave collapses, again when her baby was being threatened by a snake and, finally, right before she died. Taking that and applying it with b) — that Erika did this after being warned by Isaac of impending doom for her husband — perhaps the bird is some mystical bad luck charm, and she set it free to bring misfortune on someone else. That someone could have been her daughter, in what I hope was an unintended consequence — if any of this is true. I know, I know. I’m stretching here, but there’s not a lot to work with only one hour into Season 2.
1. Reverend Matt is going to get himself in some trouble.
Considering how quickly the good reverend was ushered away from the podium, I’m shocked the church even invited a stranger into the congregation. They seem to run a pretty tight ship over there, similar to how John runs his firefighters. Matt, never one to back down or give up on people, may try to push back in the coming weeks, and — considering he’s also known for going too far — could end up catching hell for it.
2. Someone is the direct descendant of the baby from the opening.
Wild guess: Erika. She just seems to know something no one else does; not even her husband. Plus, you know, that bird…
3. People departed from Jarden on October 14.
Other than gut instinct and suspicious behavior — not to mention how much money is being made from the claim — I have no reason to believe the above statement. Someone would have had to check to make sure every citizen was accounted for, and it would take a pretty impressive group effort to conceal 185 bodies (approximately 2 percent of the 9,261 residents). That being said, I think they pulled it off. I just don’t know how.
Bonus: The frog croaking from within the house isn’t real, and John is as crazy as Kevin! (Frogs are the new bagels.)
“The Leftovers” Season 2 airs Sundays at 9pm.