“What were the last words they said to you?”
You can learn a lot from simpply talking to someone – and The Leftovers is all too aware of it. From Kevin Garvey’s conversations with the probably-imaginary Patti to the questionnaires Nora used to carry out for the DSD following the departure, The Leftovers is one of the most dialogue-heavy shows around. Not necessarily because it has a lot of it, but because it’s all weighed down with so much baggage. Every conversation adds to the plethora of unanswered questions.
After Matt’s stellar episode, Season 2’s focus shifts back to Nora (Carrie Coon), who finds her peace in Jarden disrupted by the arrival of an old colleague asking his own quiz to research into the disappearance of Evie, Taylor and Violet. Was it a second departure? The only way you can deterine these things is to rigorously work through a standard set of answers: controlled, scientific conditions.
That climical routine is the same process all the residents of Jarden are going through in an attempt to ensure that nothing breaks the magical spell of the “saved” town. But, crucially, it’s not the same thing: they’re using scientific principles to approach a spiritual problem. The researchers are trying to understand and move on from the problem. Their subjects are trying to preserve the status quo. The DSD changes its questionnaire in light of new findings. The Texan residents, meanwhile, are still stuck in the same limbo.
So when it comes to the missing girls, there’s no willingness to accept that it could be the departure rearing its Revelations-like head again: instead of a funeral, or something similar, the town holds a fund-raiser to keep the search going. Into the middle of it all wanders Jerry, the local goat-slayer, who keeps slaying goats becaus he happened to do so on the day of the departure and hopes it might stop it happening again: logic and religion warped into a bizarrely gruesome form of superstition.
In the face of such absurd juxtaposition, it’s little wonder that Erika snaps. “We are not spared!” she cries mid-ceremony, before having a total breakdown. Nora, meanwhile, is trying to snatch the latest DSD form form her colleague’s bag.
It’s a typically complex set of events all taking place around a simple situation – and there are hints of possible reasons and resolutions floating just below the surface, from the science of lenses (people who cause other people to disappear) to the theology of demons. Damon Lindelof and Tom Perotta script the chapter themselves, which suggests that these threads aren’t just mere red herrings.
It’s no coincidence, though, that Craig Zobel is in the director’s chair. The man who brought us the incredibly disturbing Compliance (also starring Ann Dowd) has a shrewd understanding of power and control – and how both can be abused, subverted or reinforced through conversation. The strongest set piece arrives when he’s left to focus, close-up, on both Erika and Nora as they sit down for scripted set of Qs and As.
Regina King and Carrie Coon are heartbreakingly brilliant, going toe-to-toe in a series of crushing admissions, cruel blows and, underneath it all, a shared sense of sadness and loss. “I evolved,” she tells King’s mourning mother, insisting that Erika needs to move on from blaming herself. Yet it’s telling that Nora can only have these kind of discussions by reading off a pre-written questionnaire – and that she tries to steal the updated form in the first place. It’s an act not just designed to stay abreast of events, but also to prevent any concrete scientific conclusions being reached. Some people are moving on from the departure. Nora, though, seems happy for limbo to last forever.
Additional notes (contains spoilers
– Carrie Coon and Regina King really are fantastic, both apparently unable to remember what they last said to their children. With Nora, though, we already know the last thing she was doing was shouting at them. Both, more crucially, were performing wishes at the time of departure: Nora, it seems, praying for peace and quiet. Erika, meanwhile, was wishing that her daughter would be ok, if she left husband John. Both got what they asked for, in the cruellest way possible.
– Matt, after last week’s trial by Groundhog Day, seems quite content now, having made himself accepted by the community outside of the gate to Jarden. The secret? Refusing to let his punishment end. Now, outside of the cycle of routines within the city walls, he is possible the only happy one on the show.
– It’s interesting that we don’t see Patti (Ann Dowd) this week – only Kevin’s one-sided conversations with her. Justin Theroux sells the craziness as well as ever, but does that mean he really is insane? Or that Patti is something more supernatural?
– If Nora and Erika was a moving showdown of too grieving women, it’s only rivalled by Laurie and Nora talking on the phone, as one lone mother calls another, asking if Kevin’s new partner has seen Tom at all. Yes, the other Garvey has gone missing. But where is he? And will it have anything to do with the Guilty Remnants?
– The most disturbing phone call, though, belongs to the doctor who rings Nora to talk through the idea of her being a lens. Their current theory? Nora has the demon Azrael living inside her. Yes, a demon. Once scientists start talking about religious phenomena, you know the boundaries between reason and superstition really have been lost altogether. Did she imagine it, as Kevin is hallucinating Patti? Or are they both somehow connected? Just how far into horror territory will The Leftovers Season 2 go? Previously, we have been restricted to a very human horror: bereavement and a fear of being meaningless. The introduction of another form of terror out of the blue really is quite unsettling.
Season 1 and 2 of The Leftovers available on Sky Box Sets. Not got Sky? You can watch The Leftovers online on with NOW TV, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription that includes live and on-demand access to Sky Atlantic, Sky 1, FOX UK and more.
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