UK TV review: The Leftovers Season 2, Episode 1
James R | On 05, Oct 2015
“It was a test. Not for what came before but what came after. It was a test for what comes now.”
That was Reverend Matt Jamison (Christopher Eccleston) in Season 1 of The Leftovers, HBO’s mysterious drama that bewitched and befuddled viewers alike in 2014. The tale of those left behind after 2 per cent of the world’s population disappeared, it scrambled around in the existential dirt with little care for working out exactly what was going on. For those willing to follow Damon “lack of answers” Lindelof’s philosophy, what began as a sci-fi mystery evolved into a mature, moving study of grief, both en masse and individual.
Season 2 revamps the whole show, taking a refreshingly new approach to the same themes. The Garveys are still here, but they’re free from the baggage that weighed them down last time around: daughter Jill (Margarey Qualley) and ex-Sheriff dad (Kevin Garvey) have literally moved on from the past, with Nora (Carrie Coon) and an adopted baby in tow. Where do they move to? Jarden, Texas, the one place where nobody has been taken at all.
“God has spared our town,” the local congregation sing, celebrating their good fortune. The African-American town couldn’t be a bigger contrast from Season 1’s New York setting: where the previous group were largely white, this is a diverse community; where the Garveys and their neighbours were miserable and mourning, these people are smiling and upbeat; if Season 1 was about the cursed, Season 2 is about the blessed.
It feels like a surprisingly natural step for Lindelof and Tom Perrotta (the writer of the novel by which the show is inspired). After a divisive season that could easily not have been renewed, rather than stretch the plot beyond the original text, they’ve expanded the world. The result is something that feels rejuvenated, but also resonates more: this is far from Season 1’s microcosm of a worldwide problem, where every personal dilemma became steeped in melodrama, but another piece of the global puzzle. Gone are the symbolic baby dolls and dogs; in their place are everyday problems, such as whether to eat an apple pie brought round by a neighbour. This is simply how other people react to a phenomena that defies explanation.
But religion remains an undeniable focus of the show – and little wonder. How else does theology evolve other than when confronted with the unexplainable? The notion of the terrifying unknown is addressed immediately by the opening sequence, a bravura bit of baffling TV, which seems almost designed to provoke the same people who struggled with the first season. Between the screaming and the bleeding, it takes us back to the roots of humanity, when an earthquake was as scary as it is now, and when life, like today, would grow without stopping to look back at failed generations.
Whether there’s a literal connection between that introduction and Jarden is something that, let’s face it, Lindelof will likely never answer, but there are remnants of it floating about in the rest of the episode: modern resident John (Kevin Carroll) is close to calling the spiritural chunk of their civilisation cavemen for their beliefs. There’s a sense that we’re watching the swell of a new religious movement – one that embodies the opposite reaction to the dark of Season 1 and feels more crystallised than that season’s lone figure offering magical, healing hugs.
The notion of belonging and staying, though, is a preoccupation for all people, regardless of whether they believe or not. “I was born here. I have a right to be here,” says one, after beind hounded, with a fiery resolve. He seems to prophecy bad things to come. Whether they will come to pass, though, is again not the end game: the fascination lies in how the locals will react to the threat. Even Matt – a welcome return from Eccleston, who had the best episode of the bunch in Season 1 – finds his smiling openness cut off by the cautious church leaders: is there trouble even in this paradise?
Matt, like his sister, Nora, and Kevin, presents another culture clash within this harmonious group. With the excellent Regina King (as John’s wife) supporting Carroll’s believably troubled turn, even the prospect of having neighbours over for pie becomes tense.
“Knock knock who’s there?” jokes his daughter. “Broken pencil,” comes the punchline. “Never mind,” she adds. “It’s pointless.”
Pleasingly different, yet reassuringly familiar, The Leftovers sets up its second run as an engaging look at how religion – and myth – grows in response to the mystical. If Season 1 was a test, Season 2 feels like a promising reward for the faithful. Either way, this is far from pointless.
Season 1 and 2 of The Leftovers available on Sky Box Sets. Not got Sky? You can watch The Leftovers online on with NOW, 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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