The Leftovers isn’t afraid to be cerebral. The show doesn’t cater to the no audience member left behind formula—you either like or you don’t; if you don’t, there are plenty of ways to turn your brain into an egg with the telicopia of shows out there. The Leftovers plays a unique brain scrambler with the audience. Instead of creating a mystery with mystery, it creates mystery with drama. Of course, we want to know what caused the departure, but the show looks at how everybody deals with it in the multitude of ways they rationalize absurdity and process grief. The show doesn’t ask how, it asks why.
With all the mini set pieces of symbolism scattered around, season two is broadening the thesis into what possibly could have caused the departure. And as the show intended, the internet is humming with WTF’s and wild theories, especially with the opening teaser. I haven’t looked at the theories, but mine are probably no better. Superficially, I sum it up as the world can give life and take it whenever it wants—the baby being born in contrast with the earthquake killing the dead naked cave people, the snake and vulture hovering above that could kill and eat the baby, and of course, the mother dying by the river, the same river that vanishes with Evie. And everything with biblical undertones. I don’t know . . . But that’s The Leftovers modus operandi. It serves you a blender of whys without holding your hand.
I see a little bit of “True Detective” graphic artistry in the opening credits but has the same irony as a Duran Duran song opening to “The Sons of Anarchy.” The compositing works with the missing people in the pictures and the folksy vibe gives Jarden, Texas a feeling of a zen commune. But after Sunday’s premiere, we get the sense that Jarden isn’t the Garden of Eden as we’re left with a feeling that something is being hidden.
The Murphys pull you in right away. After spending time with them, they’re an ideologically neutral version of the Garveys, led by John (Kevin Carroll), who’s hiding uneasy tremors behind his disarming smile, a singular expression of Jarden. Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux) and Nora Durst (Carrie Coon) nose his bad energy after his demure response to an attempted murder charge. Which makes sense that he’s an enforcer tracking down members of “the five,”—Jarden’s Guilty Remnants?— like Isaac (biblical sacrificial son of Abraham) apparently was. His wife, Erika Murphy’s (Regina King) complicity also tells us the only moral compass in the family is his son, Michael (Jovan Adepo), who sells “miracle” and other biblical wares toting Jarden’s Shangri-La getaway. When not hawking tubes of Eden-water from the mystical river, he’s preaching, as the episode centers around a particular passage he read from Thessalonians about not repaying evil for evil as he eyes his dad John. The foreshadowing in place, we’re expecting something bad to happen as Isaac also predicted. The garbage disposal? Or will something happen to Michael? But the episode leaves us with a satisfying ending, a Jarden departure and microcosm of the general enigma.
Like all things Leftovers, Evie Murphy (Jasmin Savoy Brown) is strange. She has an offbeat humor, no big deal, but she runs naked in the woods, which kind of is, and she has epilepsy. But Evie is the lady of the river, or is for some time. As she fills her water bottle with a sample, a prominent sign prohibits taking one. She chugs some, as Michael fills the tubes with it. But is her departure payback for her father’s transgression? Matt Jamison (Christopher Eccleston) sees a halo around Jarden because his wife was ostensibly cured when they first arrived—her disease, which ate away at his faith in the first season. But he’s abruptly sidelined by the substitute preacher because he’s not in on the dark secret. Going back to Evie, just because she pilfered water from the mystical river does she deserve to be departed? Did she overstep some commandment that we’re not aware of? I have theories on the cricket, the tremors, the pie, and the goat, among other threads of micro symbolism engineered into the episode, but it’s fun not knowing completely. That’s how the show blends us in, by making us question along with the characters what we know and don’t. Just as The Leftovers critiques our existential meanderings, it will eventually offer a reason, a form to what’s formless, an order out of chaos.