As we learned watching Season One of The Leftovers, showrunner Damon Lindelof has an apparent aversion to non-linear storytelling. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. However, this type of narrative causes some discomfort, as it forces the viewer to constantly examine and deconstruct what they’ve just seen. Good TV.
The premise of Season Two focuses on a small town in Texas that was somehow not affected by the Sudden Departure. Jarden, TX, or otherwise known as “Miracle,” boasts a “population of 9,261 - 0 Departures.” It is this special spot that beckons Kevin Garvey and family to leave Mapleton, NY and make a permanent move to Jarden.
The family currently consists of Kevin, now an ex-police officer; his girlfriend Nora Durst; his daughter Jill; and baby Lily. If you recall, Lily is not biologically connected to either Kevin, Jill, or Nora. Kevin’s son Tom had been briefly acting as her surrogate father when he was trying to protect her mother Christine. Evidently, Holy Wayne is Lily’s father.
Of course, the Garvey family figures predominately in the second season, but it is a new set of characters, the Murphy family, that share the focus with them. John Murphy (Kevin Carroll), his wife Erika (Regina King), and teenagers Michael and Evie (Jovan Adepo and Jasmin Savoy Brown) are quite likeable and normal, but like the Garvey dynamic, there is a great deal below the surface. Think Titanic iceberg unseen kind of stuff.
This is why the first episode, “Axis Mundi,” told from their point of view, introduces them and their place in the town’s social and work structure. It is crucial to for viewers to develop a relationship with the Murphys, because their collective stories form much of the season’s framework.
Of course, there are quite a few familiar faces from last season. Nora’s brother Matt Jamison and wife Mary had moved to Jarden several months previous, and have already felt something strangely unique about the town. Matt’s eternal patience with everyone, especially the non-responsive Mary is evident, but he still succumbs to baser emotions at times. As in Season One’s episode, “Two Boats and a Helicopter,” Matt has an episode told from his POV. In “No Room at the Inn”, he needs to leave town on an errand with Mary, and things just turn unbelievably bizarre.
Laurie and Tom are back as well, and they too have their own episode in “Off Ramp.” She is fully out of the Guilty Remnant, and she and Tom are working to help others leave the GR. Several roadblocks strain their efforts, and it’s clear that Laurie still has her fragile moments. Note: By the end of the episode, her frequent car washing just might strike you as creepy.
Speaking of the Guilty Remnant, Meg is back as well, and has become quite the leader. In “Ten Thirteen” some of her pre-Departure backstory is revealed. Also she and Tom strike up an awkward…friendship? Partnership? Not sure how to quantify it all, but one thing is obvious, Meg is one intense chick.
But no one claims the intense label like our old pal, Patti Levin. Dead you say? Sure, but she’s still back, and constantly compelling.
I won’t outline the other episodes, each one is great and advances the story, linearly or not, but I must give mention to “International Assassin.” It’s a straight-up mind-fuck of an episode. You realize what’s going on, somewhat, at least what you think is supposed to be going on. But the path that this episode follows is so twisted and filled with WTF moments, well, you might get a little nauseous from some kind of frontal lobe vertigo.
My recommendation is to watch all the episodes, in order of course, and then go back and watch Axis Mundi again. It will be a richer viewing.
All told, the acting does not disappoint. The regulars are on their game, if Justin Theroux’s Kevin seems a tiny bit happier, it’s a thin veneer with a lot of strain coming through. Liv Tyler as Meg has a lot more to do this season, and she hits her marks well. Same with Amy Brenneman as Laurie, her role is also expanded, and she makes the viewer quite uncomfortable at times.
The newcomer Murphys are wonderful. Regina King is always a joy to watch, and Kevin Carroll, who has more of a Broadway background, is captivating. He comes off as a normal dad, but in this flawed character, Carroll finds a unique balance between menacing and sweet. Jovan Adepo and Jasmin Savoy Brown are also well placed in their roles.
The visual aspect is also quite good. There’s a scene when Evie is swimming and the combination of her face and the sun’s reflection around her face make the water look like rippling glass. Other marvelous scenes involve nature as well, there’s some woods that are used for as a setting for many of the scenes, and they are quite lovely.
Other striking scenes come from a crazy and eclectic encampment outside the town borders. This is filled with colorful people, both from visual and emotional aspect.
There are also some great close-ups, a few that come to mind are in “A Matter of Geography”. This episode is mostly from the Garvey POV, and set two months after the finale of the Season One. The camera offers intense looks at Kevin’s face, his fear and frustration mixed with dirt and sweat work to set up the theme of not just the episode, but the whole season. The same with Nora, whose expression offers a tentative hope, and Jill, who seems to channel a fragile innocence, as opposed to the snarky teen anger from the first season.
Besides the new locale and some new cast members, one very noticeable difference is a new song track for the opening credits. It’s the 1992 release of “Let the Mystery Be” by Iris DeMent. The video sequence has changed as well. Honestly, I did not like the change at first. Very up tempo and happy-go-lucky. I wanted Max Richter’s somber violin and choral-infused melody. I wanted to hear that melody played out over the same disturbing Sistine-esque figures of loved ones being taken in some version of a Rapture. This is a Serious Show, people!
However, while the second season is no less serious, the whole concept is one of moving on. And there is supposed to be a great deal of joy in Jarden, after all, they were “spared,” right? The new video sequence still portrays loss, but the whole feeling is that the world needs to go on.
The lyrics fit nicely as well. The new attitude, at least in Jarden is of being grateful, but not examining things too closely:
Everybody's worryin' 'bout where they're gonna go when the whole thing's done.
But no one knows for certain and so it's all the same to me.
I think I'll just let the mystery be.
I think I'll just let the mystery be
So when you watch the second season, naturally you’ll want to play detective, who wouldn’t? But let the story unfold till the end, let the mystery be, it’s much better that way.