UK TV review: The Leftovers Season 2, Episode 2
Ivan Radford | On 12, Oct 2015
“It’s hard to tell if they’re part of your story, or you’re part of theirs,” Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux) is told during the second episode of The Leftovers Season 2. That, in many ways, was the problem with Season 1: for all its thematic intrigue, the resolute lack of answers combined with so many characters, each trying to resolve their own plot, often left things feeling muddled.
Enter Season 2, which has turned over a new leaf and jettisoned most old faces in favour of new pastures. Or has it? After Episode 1 of the new season took us straight to Jarden, Texas, where nobody has disappeared, Episode 2 drags us back to before this run began. We return to the Garvey’s former home, filling in the tween-season gaps.
On the one hand, it’s frustrating to see us back on familiar ground. On the other, it’s a nice piece of exposition for those who wanted some closure – although The Leftovers, in case you haven’t worked it out by now, isn’t interested in such things. Even the new theme tune (a folk song, which trills “Think I’ll just let the mystery be…” with the quaint smiles of the religious Texan community) spells that out. There are, though, some answers to be given – and oodles more questions to be asked.
By positioning this chapter as a flashback, Damon Lindelof and his writing team reap all kinds of rewards. Some, such as a swift goodbye to Kevin’s ex-wife and son, are treated like the reassuring footnote they should be, while others are left tantalisingly, and cruelly, open-ended: one sequence sees a team of MIT researchers offer to buy Nora’s house, because it’s an anomaly due to the multiple departures that took place within its four walls. Does proximity or radiation have anything to do with it? Goodness knows. But data might have prevented it, they argue. “You think it’s going to happen again?” asks Nora, suddenly frightened. “Why wouldn’t it?” comes the inevitable reply.
As always the whys and wherefores are not the aim of the game here. The interesting problem is how: how does someone deal with not knowing what happened to their loved ones and get on with their life? Between Season 2’s religious movement (both in Texas and, perhaps, in Australia) and the relocation of Garvey and his group, The Leftovers is establishing moving on and coping as its major theme. For Nora, there’s the matter of taking in another baby – and getting it approved by the adoption authorities. For Kevin, there’s the issue of guilt surrounding Patti’s suicide/death in Season 1.
The revelation of each of their sordid back-stories is superbly handled by both the writers and the cast, turning exposition into something both amusing and moving; the act of learning about their new companion is part of what establishes them as a convincing couple. “Do I have to say something crazy now?” offers Megan in the middle of the discussion, with a dry wit that you wish the overbearing Season 1 had more of. In fact, this whole episode has a surprising amount of laughs – or, specifically, laughter – in it, as the Garveys begin to heal and hope for the future. At almost exactly halfway through, we bid farewell to New York, the camera soaring in a beautiful tracking shot over the countryside with all the freedom our broken family could wish for.
But Kevin isn’t quite there yet. Between the crying baby, juggling the laundry, running late and doing more laundry, the new dad can’t quite shake off the ghosts of the past. Justin Theroux is excellent at this kind of intense moping – he, and the rest of the ensemble, certainly had a lot of practice last time around. And so we’re treated to a montage of him getting angry, him listening to angry music and him getting angry while listening to angry music. To top it all off, we have the return of Patti, as Kevin goes back to the cabin in the woods to excavate her body. She becomes an albatross hanging around his neck, one with both a physical and emotional impact – something that comes across violently well during a bout of kitchen-based anger.
The focus on his own struggle to move on might well feel like repeating old material, but it fits nicely together with the tidbits of information from last week: we now understand why the Garveys’ original home burned down, where Nora got the money to buy another came from, and we aren’t surprised to discover that Matt is keeping secrets from his sister about this mysterious church movement. The suggestion that the departure is all a matter of geography, meanwhile, brings to mind the introduction of Season 2: did that cavewoman all those years ago die on land that would one day become Jarden? And what does that mean for the watery trials faced by the town’s modern-day residents? The result is a moving study of the very notion of starting over – a suitably meta premise for the Lost writer – but one that, unlike Season 1, has pruned away any unnecessary subplots; between Kevin’s guilt, the Murphys next door and Matt’s settling in, it’s still hard to tell who’s part of whose story, but this time, it’s intentional.
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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