There is something strangely admirable about Damon Lindelof essentially blowing up what audiences knew of the first season of “The Leftovers,” and giving it a semi-reboot for season two. As he’s articulated in recent interviews, the source material of Tom Perrotta’s novel had been used up on the first season, which meant a fresh approach was required for the new batch of episodes. And while Lindelof and co. could’ve have theoretically stayed in the surroundings of Mapleton, New York and figured out what happened next, instead the action has been moved to Miracle, Texas with a whole new cast of characters joining the ensemble, not to mention an expansion of the show’s central mythology. From the guy who is still living down the disappointing closure of “Lost” half a decade later, it’s a bold move. However, Lindelof better steel himself because many will be frustrated by his tendency to continue to ask a lot of questions, but provide little in the way of answers.
The good news is that the gambit of bringing a new family into the storyline pays off. The debut episode welcomes Texan brood The Murphys into the fold, and they are a fascinating bunch. Patriarch John (Kevin Carroll) hides some real menace behind a seemingly friendly demeanor, while his son Michael (Jovan Adepo) is almost his polar opposite, a good-hearted lad who not only looks out for his younger sister Evangeline “Evie” Murphy (Jasmin Savoy Brown), but brings leftovers (hah) to the less fortunate around town. If there is any quibble it’s that John’s wife Erika (Regina King) is pretty severely underwritten, though hopefully future episodes will open up that character a bit more.
Through The Murphys, we learn that Miracle, Texas truly lives up to its namesake. The population of 9,261 didn’t experience any losses from the Sudden Departure which has made the town, located in the middle of a National Park, a major tourist attraction, with bus tours constantly rolling through. But at the edges of this idyll are oddities that can’t be ignored, from the residents-only water supply, to goat sacrifices, and more. While untouched by the tragedy that affected the rest of the world, there is something not quite right in Miracle. And had Lindelof decided to stick strictly to this narrative, a fully rebooted “The Leftovers” would be nothing short of intriguing. The actors in the Murphy clan do solid work, and the world that is setup around them provides a fascinating backdrop. However, its the ties to the first season that are actually weakest link in the new season.
Structurally changing character perspective with each episode, the second and third entries of season two catch us back up with the Garveys. We learn what happens to Kevin Garvey (Justin Threoux), Nora (Carrie Coon), and Jill (Margaret Qualley) and how they come to find their way to Texas, as a new family unit (including a newborn baby). The Guilty Remnant are still around, though Laurie’s (Amy Brenneman) relationship with them takes an entirely new turn. And we learn more about where the lives of Tom (Chris Zylka), Kevin Garvey Sr. (Scott Glenn), Matt (Christopher Eccleston), and Meg Abbott (Liv Tyler) have arrived at next. The problem is that it’s only mildly compelling.
Without spoiling what’s to come, the machinations and ongoing struggles with the Guilty Remnant feels not unlike the always unfolding but never quite cohesive or graspable motivations of The Others from “Lost.” They are both big organizations operating with unwritten rulebooks and with an enigmatic air, but as we learned from Lindelof’s previous show, consistently teasing an audience isn’t always substantive. Moreover, with so much time devoted to bringing viewers up to speed and threading the Garveys and everyone else from the first season into the new storyline, we largely lose sight of The Murphys after the first episode. And just how strong and interesting their story is compared to everything else is only more deeply felt the greater and longer their absence.
All that said there is something that, for anyone that has stuck with the “The Leftovers” this far, will snare them again this time around. The premise still has the same potency, and Lindelof and show’s writers are effective at really wringing surprising moments of emotion, tension, and genuine surprise. While the overall package may be spotty, the individual punctuation marks still resonate, and the cast is pretty first rate all around with the material, even as it continues to evade providing anything resembling real resolutions to show’s big questions.
Indeed, Lindelof can’t help himself and the first episode’s extensive, dialogue free opening set in prehistoric Texas, and never again returned to (at least in the first three programs sent to press) may be a big barometer for how much leeway viewers new and old will be willing to give “The Leftovers” is leading them down a path that may not have a finite goal in mind.
“The inside joke is to put a disclaimer on the front of every show…saying, ‘If you are expecting any answers to specifically as it pertains to the Sudden Departure, you will leave this show immensely frustrated.’ But I think it’s even more of a ‘fuck you’ to rub it in people’s faces,” Lindelof recently told HitFix. “We’re much more interested in the condition of living in a world without answers than we are in providing them. I also think that we’re playing fair with our storytelling. …all of our characters are resigned to the fact that they’re not going to get an answer, we feel that we’re playing fair with our storytelling in terms of showing it.”
And it’s in that quote where you will probably find your answer as to whether or not to start or continue with “The Leftovers.” However, to judge the show on what it’s not providing is perhaps unfair, when the world it has created to explore is this distinct. The second season of the show has opened a tantalizing enough door in its first three episodes that it’s hard to turn back, but at the same time, no one can be blamed for having serious reservations about stepping through at all. [B-]
“The Leftovers” Season 2 premieres on Sunday, October 4th at 9 PM.