Season one of The Leftovers told a weird tale about the aftermath of 2% of the world’s population—about 140 million people—completely vanishing in an event called the “Sudden Departure.” Its focus on a small New York town was filled with the pain and grief of suddenly losing your loved ones, and fleshed out a number of coping mechanisms, many of which turn out to be both insane and frighteningly real. The 10-episode first season was based on Tom Perrotta’s novel of the same name, and created by Perrotta and Lost‘s Damon Lindelof…which explained the disappointment that some felt with the first season as a whole, even though the season averaged 1.5 million viewers per episode.
Season one picked up about three years after the "Sudden Departure," but the way people were acting, you'd think it would've happened three months ago. Did these people never try to properly pick up the pieces of their lives? It's a situation that's hard as hell to spring back from, but the idea of making people "remember" (whether it was Matt Jamison and his fliers or the entirety of the all white everything, chain smoking cult known as the Guilty Remnant) was on 10, which turned a number of people off. There's also the issue that plagued Lindelof's Lost: many viewers got wrapped up in wanting a reason for the "Sudden Departure," when Lindelof wasn't concerned with that in any way. The show was far more of a "let's put these people in a messed up situation and see how they react" kind of thing. Additionally, episodes like "Gladys" truly hammered home some of the faults of The Leftovers, how it had a tendency to wallow and beat its viewers over the head with its inherent sadness. The overkill—coupled with the needs of many to get some kind of concrete answer as to WHY—drove many away.
So no, it isn't hard to understand why people got frustrated with the first season of The Leftovers, but it's really a damn shame that they haven't returned, because season two has been phenomenal.
The viewers aren’t there (season two’s most-viewed episode—its ninth—reportedly had around 860K viewers), but those who are actually watching are in awe, as are critics, who have praised the second season's challenges and triumphs over the last nine episodes. Somewhere in the year between the season one finale and season two’s premiere, Lindelof and company happened upon a glorious idea: take the survivors from Mapleton, New York and transplant them to Jarden, Texas, a town affectionately known as “Miracle.”
In Miracle, the “Sudden Departure” is said to have not taken anyone. What that’s done is turned the town into a mecca for believers—we’re talking people of all races and nationalities traveling to this town just to experience it, be it buying water from their springs or touring its streets just to “feel.” You have townspeople who are stuck in a self-imposed Groundhog’s Day, going through the same motions they did that fateful day as some kind of good luck charm, while others have realized that there are no miracles in Miracle. And you have the protagonist from season one, Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux), bringing his new patchwork family (his daughter Jill, girlfriend Nora Durst, and the baby that was left on Kevin’s doorstep in the finale) to Jarden looking for a chance to start life anew.
They should know that it’s never that easy, right? Your old problems don’t vanish with a new locale, and as in this second season, the new set of problems is just as mysterious—and deadly—as the old.
This second season finds the creatives behind The Leftovers totally pushing the envelope, and winning. Who would’ve thought that Lindelof could’ve pulled a The Sopranos-esque fever dream-like episode...and surpass damn near any dream sequence Tony ever had? And while Carrie Coon as Nora Durst provided some of the most emotional moments in the first season, her performance in the second season has been dynamic, although you could say that about nearly anyone on the cast. Regina King has shined bright in every scene she’s been placed in, and Ann Dowd as Ghost Patti has been phenomenal—any scene that she and Theroux are in together is golden. Kevin Carroll, who plays King’s husband John Murphy, walked into the show with a sly smile and a boulder-sized chip on his shoulder, and moves in varying degrees of intensity throughout, although the entire cast deserves applause for their performances.
Season two of The Leftovers isn’t just fire performances, though. The blank canvas that Lindelof and friends were left with after season one (as the entirety of the first season is pulled from the novel) was a blessing in disguise, as it allowed Lindelof to take the character beats that were established in the first season and expand upon them in a beautiful fashion. The subtle music cues from The Pixies' "Where Is My Mind" to describe the state of insanity that the Garvey clan have been in, the clues about both Jarden delicately hidden in plain sight (all to be tied up in a wonderful bow later on), and the awesome solo-character episodes that tell a complete story within the larger framework of their universe have been so vital to the critical success of this second season. A large chunk of the people who were invested in the first season departed, but those who were leftover were treated to an engrossing world that felt like the illest short films week in, week out, which no one—not even the leftover season one devotees—saw coming.
One of the keys to this season has been how tangible the reactions of the characters have been. In season one, we're dealing with some ridiculous coping mechanisms: Nora Durst hiring prostitutes to shoot her in the chest, people asking Holy Wayne to hug their pain away, or the Guilty Remnant breaking into people's houses and standing in their driveways just so they don't forget. Could those things happen? Probably, but in the real world, after harrowing events, most people don't go to those extremes. With the turns that season two has taken, while we're still seeing the hordes of people coming to Jarden to believe, there are many more grounded outbursts. Regina King's Erika Murphy has an intense scene at a fundraiser that feels like one of the first times that a Leftovers character has had what felt like a "real world" reaction to the circus that "miracle" towns can be turned into. We're seeing Nora Durst taking off the Kevlar and just trying to live as a survivor of the "Sudden Departure," even if it involves the wild-eyed spending of millions of dollars. The second season of The Leftovers—while obviously still grounded in the lore of the series—touched a nerve. The show highlights the growth of these tortured souls, giving them a much more relatable lens to be viewed in. If you stuck around to see these flowers blossom, you were rewarded with real life-reasoning on some of the crazy things they do, just to survive (or remember).
As much as the show changed, like the season two tagline said, it truly began again.
This Sunday, the second season of The Leftovers comes to a close in Jarden with a new threat that’s same as the old threat, only much more fierce. It follows an episode (“Ten Thirteen”) that ended with a major gut punch that threw us all the way back to the opening gut punch from the season two premiere, highlighting just how unflinching and unafraid the Leftovers creative team has been in creating a second season that’s gone above and beyond to satisfy those who stuck around. For those of you who were interested enough in the first season to make it all the way through but were narcoleptic on watching the second season, it’d be in your best interest to HBO Now and Chill this weekend with a major binge on the magnificent second season of The Leftovers. It’s not the best show on television, but it’s damn close, and the leap in quality between the first and second seasons is worth it.
Hopefully they'll make a decision on season three soon, because if it's anything like the second, we're hoping those who suddenly departed from the show will slowly make their way back.