We are only two episodes away from the season 2 finale of The Leftovers and – as is usually the case with truly great shows – a lot of previously unconnected or unsolved mysteries seem to be coming together as we approach the end of the season, but a lot more questions remain unanswered.
The main question we will probably never receive an answer to is the obvious one: what caused the sudden departure of 2% of the world’s population? Chances are, we’ll never know. Damon Lindeloff has already stated that there’s no big reveal in the show’s future, and unless Tom Perotta has other ideas, we should be content with just not knowing.
Although this might be a turn-off for some viewers, I’m actually okay with simply accepting the 10.14 departure as the driving force behind every character. It’s not a whodunnit type of series after all, and although looking for a satisfactory explanation for the event is a background motif for the characters, it serves more as a plot device for us viewers. What’s interesting about The Leftovers is how they cope, not what made them ‘leftovers’ in the first place. [Besides, Damon Lindeloff had promised that our patience would be rewarded before and then failed to oblige (see: Lost), so I’d rather know beforehand that this one burning question will remain unanswered than be disappointed after a 4-5 season run.]
Closely related to the cause of the departure but maybe more deserving of an answer is the reason behind the actual selection of who gets to vanish: why these people? What makes them special? The only character we actually got to know a little bit before she disappeared is Evie, so what conclusions are we to draw from that? Is simply wishing someone away, even momentarily, enough to make them depart, as was the case with Nora’s family? These questions seem to hold more significance to the characters, as the actual event is pretty much viewed as a given.
Aside from the mystery of the departure remaining as much of an enigma as in season 1, a lot has changed; new location, new developments, new characters… we even get a brand spanking new title sequence. Gone are the harrowing paintings, tortured faces and gloomy music. This time we get snapshots of regular people doing everyday things, but in each picture, someone is always missing. The opening sequence, along with the song that accompanies the decidedly lighter in tone snapshots, is quite literal, if a bit on the nose.
Everybody’s wonderin’ what and where
They all came from
Everybody’s worryin’ ’bout where they’re gonna go
When the whole thing’s done
But no one knows for certain and so it’s all the same to me
I think I’ll just let the mystery be.
If we’re to draw any conclusions from this change with regard to the updated title sequence, it’s as obvious as it is misleading: season 1 dealt with the aftermath of the departure. People mourned their losses, all of them trying to cope in different ways; from joining a silent, chain-smoking cult to hiring prostitutes to shoot them and from following a british ‘Holy’ man who takes people’s pain away by giving them a hug to being contantly grouchy and angry at the world. Season 2 turns over a new leaf: the main characters seem to be moving on from the terrible events of the S1 finale. They leave the dreariness of Mapleton behind and focus on starting over.
Except, of course, nothing can ever be that simple. Although definitely more hopeful this time, whatever pain they feel is still tormenting them. No matter how determined they are to put the past behind them, bad things continue to happen.
So what do we know so far?
The Guilty Remnant
Even though our favorite nicotine-addicted cult suffered a great loss in last season’s fire, they have regrouped, spread out in various locations, and still continue to give the world the silent treatment.
Patti’s death left the GR without a leader; I would assume that Laurie would become top dog after Patti’s demise, but that’s not the case: Laurie is back among the talking, non-smoking, non-exclusively-wearing-white people again. Not only that, but she’s taken it upon herself to cure other cult members, now that she’s finally seen the light. Her former comrades, of course, aren’t too happy about this development and definitely not keen on losing more members to her psychobabble, but for now at least, they seem to be someone else’s problem. Also, judging by her bizarre run-in with Tom, it’s safe to assume that Meg is running the show.
What’s unclear about the GR is how far their reach actually goes. Are they contained in the tri-state area? Are they a nation-wide phenomenon?
In last week’s episode, we got a taste of Kevin’s afterlife in what could easily have been a parallel universe: Patti Levin was no longer an obscure cult leader but a big-shot senator, whose views regarding the end of the world were apparently shared by many. Is that foreshadowing, or just a depiction of Kevin’s own personal hell? Because, let’s face it, having the person who arguably amounts to your nemesis in a position of power is not exactly an afterlife one would look forward to.
Laurie is guilty of a lot of things, but I have to give her that she’s had it pretty rough these last couple of years; it’s no excuse for abandoning her family and running off to join a weird cult, but still, I feel for her.
When we left her in the end of season 1, we already knew she had been unable to help a clearly unstable patient (Patti) cope with her issues; instead of getting better, Patti reimagined herself as a cult leader, and recruited quite a few followers, including Laurie herself. Having failed her family, Laurie eventually accepts her own daughter into the fold and almost gets her killed. Even during those agonizing moments of the finale, with Jill in imminent danger, Laurie remains frozen in place, unable to move; the most she can handle is to break her vow of silence and send Kevin to Jill’s rescue.
By season 2, we can safely say that not only has Laurie failed as a mother, she is also the most ineffective therapist on television (probably). The fire was a wake-up call. We don’t know exactly how or when she finally decided to leave the GR and lead her personal crusade to rescue her former co-members. We don’t even know if it was Tom’s call to leave baby Lily at the Garvey’s front porch or her own idea.
Regardless of the timeline between the fire and Season 2 Laurie, she seems to be trying to get her life back on track. Having burnt all bridges with Kevin and Jill, she gets a chance for a do-over as a mom when she is reunited with Tommy. She also gets a chance to put her professional training, as well as her personal experience, to good use by organizing a support group to help GR members re-enter society and readjust to normal life. She even writes a memoir about her stint as Patti’s right-hand woman.
Sadly, second chances are hardly this easy. Everything she’s gone through (and everything she’s done) still have a hold on her; in trying to describe her GR experience in her novel, she approaches it dispassionately, without having really processed it on an emotional level. She seems numb, as though she is superficially narrating someone else’s life.
What’s more, her support group isn’t the wild success she expected it to be, as evidenced when we follow the story of Suzan, one of the ‘reformed’ GR members, all the way to its tragic ending. Incapable of scratching below the surface of Suzan’s calm facade to realize the turmoil going on beneath it – and ultimately incapable of preventing Suzan’s family’s demise – Laurie reacts in an unprecedented (for her) show of violence towards two GR members, running them over.
Perhaps her obsession with the book and the support group is her version of penance, but she fails to understand that, in order to help others, she must first help herself. Realizing you have torpedoed your life to follow a group of lunatics and finally deciding to break free isn’t enough; she, of all people, should know that. Instead of focusing on mending her own psyche, not to mention her relationships, she is content with Tommy by her side and fixated on giving her ex-GR followers something to hold on to. This misguided attempt at providing them with something ‘bigger’ than sheer logic, common sense and emotional support, leads her to exploit Holy Wayne’s tactics through Tommy. Noble though her intentions may be, this scheme is no less deceptive than what the GR did to ‘remind’ people that the world ended.
Somewhere along the way, Tommy takes off; having never been a true believer in Holy Wayne’s hugging power in the first place, this new idea of Laurie’s obviously doesn’t hold much appeal for him. Or maybe he’s just rattled by having been raped by Meg, who’s become quite scary in the meantime. Hopefully we’ll find out what happened in the next couple of episodes, as well as why Laurie seems to believe that Tommy’s next logical stop would be Jarden, Texas to stay with his sister and stepfather.
Perhaps the most puzzling part of Laurie’s journey in season 2 is the fact that she doesn’t even ask about Jill when she asks after Tommy in her meeting with Kevin. Has she completely given up on her daughter, or does she know a pointless battle when she sees one? Either way, it’s not like she’s the most perceptive person in the world: once again, her professional training fails her – and Kevin. Faced with the reality of Kevin’s ‘hallucinations’, she is quick to diagnose a psychotic break and dismiss it as mental illness, thus pushing him to seek the only other option available: Virgil’s help.
The Murphy family was a breath of fresh air this season. We had to wait almost to the end of the first episode to confirm that season 2 of The Leftovers would indeed feature the characters we all know and loved since season 1, but it was definitely worth it.
Evie (short for Evangeline, one of the many religious references this season) is initially portrayed as perhaps the most interesting character out of the family of four: she’s young, attractive, a nice girl with a wild side that makes for good storytelling. She’s a good daughter, a choir girl, but she’s also not afraid to run naked through the woods (is that a pastime for teenagers these days?) or flirt with scientists taking samples from the pond she and her friends visit for a dip.
And right when we’re really warming up to her, an earthquake hits, the earth swallows the water in the pond, and with it Evie and her friends vanish. Earthquakes aren’t uncommon in the area, but sudden departures definitely are, so we’re meant to be unsure, at least at first, as to whether Evie’s disappearance is an actual departure or a kidnapping/running away situation.
Evie’s twin doesn’t appear to have a wild side. Religious and decidedly more low-key than his sister, it seems like his only act of rebellion are his secret visits to the old guy living in a shack in the woods, whom we later discover is his grandfather Virgil, and the nightly food runs to the weird guy on the pillar.
As the season progresses, he and new next door neighbour Jill start to get closer. He seems vaguely annoyed by her defiance towards religion, but that also makes her appealing. Just like Matt, Michael is a man of faith, but his is rattled much more easily when Evie disappears. He angrily scrapes the DSD orange sticker verifying there were no departures from his home, thus marking the end of his belief in the miraculous effects of his town, and perhaps also marking the beginning of his bonding with decidedly less spiritual, pessimistic Jill.
Still, the most convincing testament to Michael’s ambiguity where religious matters are concerned is the company he keeps; he doesn’t seek solace in Matt’s church, as any good Christian would. He seems perfectly willing to follow his grandfather’s bizarre practices, which are definitely unorthodox, to say the least; killing someone to help them fight their demons in the afterlife is not exactly a church-condoned ritual, at least none I ever heard about, unless I was home sick the day we were taught about battling our adversaries in Religious Studies.
The patriarch is the kind of character you instantly love AND hate; we soon find out that he’s an ex con who did time for attempted murder, and it is later revealed that the person he tried to kill was his own father, Virgil, who apparently didn’t qualify for any ‘father of the year’ awards.This explains why the grandpa is ostracized, and it also lays the foundation for John’s violent acts later on.
Although he’s a figure of authority, he’s more content with taking the law in his own hands and personally dealing with the people he deems deserving of his own brand of justice, namely charlatans who are cashing in on the town’s reputation for miracles and make their living exploiting people’s faith and hope. This is somewhat contradictory: on one hand, he refuses to believe in miracles, the most obvious one being what gave Jarden its reputation in the first place (=no departures); on the other, he can’t accept Evie’s disappearance as a departure, counting on that very miracle to be true. Kevin Carroll does a marvelous job of looking benevolent one minute and sinister the next, but it’s hard to stay on John’s side after the incident with Matt and his refusal to help him re-enter the town unless he fesses up to raping his invalid wife.
As hard as John makes it for us to like him, that’s not the case with his wife, Erika. The first episode of the season shows us the hearing impaired doctor going out for a jog in the woods. Unlike Kevin’s jogging habits in season 1, she’s not using it as an excuse to sneak a smoke; she goes to a specific spot in the woods, digs up a box, and after a slight hesitation, removes the lid. And then a bird flies out. As far as wtf moments on this show go, this one was pretty tame, and thankfully we get an explanation in recent episodes.
Although Erika seems to be holding it together for her family, trying to protect her husband from the trouble his violent outbursts might get him into, her intentions haven’t always been focused on keeping the family together: right before Evie’s disappearance, she was seriously contemplating leaving them. She wished her children would be okay after she left, especially Evie, and desperately put her faith into the old wives’ tale her grandma had taught her: bury a live bird, wait three days; if the bird is still alive when you unearth it, your wish will be granted.
In a cruel twist, her wish was granted: Evie was gone. Naturally, she blames herself for her daughter’s disappearance, almost as much as Nora refuses to accept blame for her own family’s departure.
But where does this leave the Murphys’ beliefs in ‘miracles’? John seems intent on beating up everyone who still believes in them and/or is trying to make a buck out of everyone else’s beliefs; Erika knows that having a bird fly out of a box after being buried for three days is a medical impossibility, but she witnessed it with her own eyes, and then a ‘miracle’ of sorts occurred, as grandma had promised.
As if this family isn’t weird enough already (and let’s face it, which family isn’t on this show?), Virgil takes the cake as far as scoring high on the bizarre factor. Alienated by his family, with the exception of Michael, he bakes pies for them whenever they are ‘in pain’, like he knew Erika was the night her plans to leave her family were thwarted by Evie’s disappearance.
By his own admission, he used to be a bad man, but something happened and put him on the straight and narrow (relatively speaking), even if his son refuses to see that. He’s willing to help Kevin fight his demons, and apparently has been advising him ever since the beginning of the season, although Kevin was unaware of the series of events that led him to the pond with a cinder block tied to his ankle, as it all happened while he was sleepwalking.
Virgil’s methods are unorthodox, to say the least, but then again, so is Kevin’s little problem. As things stand right now, Virgil appears to be dead – but so did Kevin before his resurrection in last week’s final scene, so maybe blowing your brains out in this quaint little town isn’t enough to send you to the morgue. Michael definitely didn’t seem to think Virgil’s suicide was an emergency: he was quick to haul Kevin’s body to the woods and bury him in a shallow grave, leaving his dead grandfather in the cabin.
Jarden / Miracle
On the surface, Jarden appears to be a dream destination post-10/14. The only town that boasts zero departures has been renamed ‘Miracle’ and declared a national park, except there are armed guards controlling the gates and a virtual circus of misfits camping outside the town limits.
At first glance, it’s a nice little town; a bit prone to earthquakes, but the people are friendly once you get your wristband and are admitted through the gates. And then you notice the weird old guy living on top of a column in the center of town, and the other weird old guy slaughtering goats inside a diner. What’s even weirder, is that everyone seems to accept these bizarre occurrences as normal.
After a while, we discover that Jarden is collectively living the post-10/14 version of groundhog day: everyone is trying to recreate the day of the departures. They must have been doing something right, if no one vanished from their little town, so they might as well keep doing it. A woman was trying on her wedding dress on that fateful day, so now she wears it every day (and honestly, show me one bride who wouldn’t like any excuse to get more use out of her white gown). A man killed a goat, so now he makes it a daily practice. So where do John’s actions fit in this idea of preserving the magic of that 14/10?
Ah, Matt. Possibly the unluckiest man on television. Ever since he won at the casino only to be robbed afterwards, and eventually lose his church to the GR, the poor guy can’t catch a break.
He’s a man of faith though: he doesn’t give up, and his faith is rewarded, if only for just a three hour window. The night he and Mary moved to Jarden, she woke up. She was herself again; they talked, and, as it turns out, did a little more than talking that night, as Mary is now pregnant. As hard as it is to believe Mary’s lucid three hours actually occurred and wasn’t a figment of his imagination, stranger things have happened on this show. Like the rest of the community, Matt spends his time recreating his first day in town, hoping for another miraculous recovery for Mary.
Unfortunately, not everyone else in Jarden or the surrounding area seems to share his conviction. The people at the medical center where his wife’s condition is revealed are certainly more eager to believe he had sex with his wife without her consent than accept his account of the events.
After another string of bad luck, Matt gets beat up, loses his car, and starts making his way back into Jarden, only to depend on famous non-believer John for his entry back into town. John lost pretty much any sympathy we had left for him right then and there, but Matt isn’t one to back down on his faith. Not only does he refuse to leave the newly orphaned kid alone outside of town in order to gain his way back in, he even takes the poor soul’s place in the stocks at the camp.
Although this entire storyline was gripping, it seems too far-fetched, even by Leftovers standards. The wristband-mixup could have easily been sorted out out by contacting the preacher who initially sponsored him into town; he could have looked for another way to bring the kid into Jarden without having to send Mary back with Nora and stay in the camp. However, as far as character-building goes, this subplot was superb and the acting was top-notch. Matt will not renounce his belief system nor will he deny his faith in order to cut corners and make his life easier, even when he’s threatened by bully John.
But what of Matt’s involvement in the Kevin/Patti storyline? He was there to help Kevin with the aftermath of Patti’s suicide, so it’s only natural to expect him to have some part in what comes next. Seeing him do well at the camp may be a relief, but his presence is much more essential in Jarden than among the weirdos outside of town.
Nora has been perhaps the most engaging character in the show, and one who’s undergone the most impressive transformation. For the most part of season 1, she was detached, operating on auto-pilot, calm and collected on the surface and practically dead inside. Then Kevin came along, and later Lily, and Nora was brought back to life.
It took a long time for her to come to terms with her family’s departure, and even longer to convince herself that she was not to blame for what happened. The MIT scientists who offered her a hefty sum for her house seem to believe that the disappearances were due to its geographical position, and that is a concept Nora can live with. She moves to the one place where she will feel safe, the one place where no departures occurred, and she’s finally ready to rebuild her life.
Alas, this isn’t easy when your quasi-husband is clearly losing his mind, and becomes even harder when the one safe place proves to not be so. Evie’s disappearance could mean that whatever force of the universe is causing the departures actually followed her to Texas. This becomes painfully apparent by the new theory proposed not just by some wackjobs who attribute this entire thing to some demon, but also by the very same Department of Sudden Departures she used to work for: it’s not a matter of geography, it’s the ‘lens’ theory.
If this is true, then Nora was not only directly responsible for her family’s disappearance, but also for Evie’s, and this time she can’t simply move away to avoid this curse. Hell-bent on proving that she is not at blame, she gets her hands on the updated questionnaire and uses it to disprove this lens theory via Erika, which results in one of the most powerful scenes we’ve seen on this show so far.
And as if this new development isn’t enough to scare her witless, now Kevin sits her down and confesses he’s been seeing and talking to Patti. Although Nora’s decision to leave is understandable to an extent, it seems particularly cruel to just up and go without a word, and then refuse to answer the phone, especially when Kevin is obviously not having the best of days.
Ah, Kevin. Much like Matt, poor guy can’t catch a break. His wife leaves him to join a cult, he has a miserable time of it, and just when he tries to get his life back together he can’t seem to find a moment of peace. He finds this new baby business quite overwhelming (a wonderful callback to the show’s opening scene, by the way), he has to live in an extremely overpriced house he hates, his daughter is quick to blame him for everything that goes wrong in his new relationship, he is now a suspect in Evie’s disappearance… oh, and the ghost of the woman he kidnapped and watched die is stalking him incessantly.
I must admit, it’s getting a bit old watching him in a constant state of frowning, sweating and on the verge of going insane ever since season 1, but he does have good reason. It’s unclear whether Patti and his sleepwalking are directly connected, but it sure isn’t making things any easier for him.
Not only is he plagued by an almost living, breathing reminder of what went down in Mapleton, his only option seems to be that he dies himself. Although unaware of it for the largest part of the season, Kevin had already attempted suicide on his very first night in Texas while he was sleepwalking, only to be saved by what could otherwise be attributed to divine intervention – but this is The Leftovers we’re talking about, so we have to assume there’s a deeper meaning to the timing of the earthquake and Evie’s departure.
His first attempt largely unsuccessful, having managed to implicate him in the girls’ departure, he needs to make the second one count. He is a desparate man: Nora has left him, Jill hates him for pushing Nora away, Laurie has been unable to help him, and his only chance at happiness, at getting Nora back and pulling his family back together, is to follow the advice of the crazy old guy in the woods.
And what advice it is: let me kill you so you can battle your powerful adversary. I don’t know what I expected after the previous week’s final scene, with Kevin dead on the floor and foaming at the mouth, epinephrine gone, and Virgil’s brains splattered all over the wall, but it definitely wasn’t the amazing succession of events in International Assassin, which may just be the best episode of The Leftovers to date.
So where do things stand as of last week?
Kevin is, incredibly, back among the living. He appears to have vanquished his opponent, having finished off Patti in his third and final attempt. Is Patti really gone? And what price will Kevin have to pay this time? No one in the history of television has come back from the dead with no consequences, so what will those be for Kevin? The last guy Virgil ‘helped’ is now sitting on top of a column, clearly not entirely in his right mind, relying on the kindness of strangers for his daily meals. As a bonus, he is the only other person apart from Kevin who actually saw Patti.
How does Kevin Sr play into this? He was plagued by the same demons as Kevin, although we don’t know what he did to deserve this. He seems to be cured now, off in Australia, which may or may not hold some significance. But then how does he appear in International Assassin, which is apparently a sort of purgatory for all the main characters who have died on the show (plus Neil and Mary)? Is a hotel television the way for the living to contact the dead in the afterlife?
Where is Nora? She took off with a baby and a catatonic woman in her care, so she can’t be too far. Did Kevin even think of visiting Matt’s home to see if she was there? Granted, he had a bit too much on his mind to play detective, but wouldn’t Jill give that a shot?
Is Laurie here to stay? As much as her psychiatric services are required back in Jersey, there is an abundance of potential therapy patients right here in Jarden. More importantly, with Tom gone, it’s Laurie’s (probably) last chance to reconnect with her daughter and maybe try and make amends with both Jill and Kevin.
Speaking of Tom, where is he? Last we saw him, he was getting raped by Meg and then took part in his mother’s scheme to recreate Holy Wayne’s magic in her desperate effort to help ex-GR members integrate back into society. Why the rape? Why do the Guilty Remnants do anything, really? More to the point, where is he off to? Clearly not in Jarden, unless he’s camping out with all the weirdos and we’ve yet to spot him.
How long will John continue to beat people up seemingly undisturbed? Will Matt finally be able to make a believer out of him? And while we’re on the subject of Matt, when will he return to Jarden? Will Mary survive the pregnancy and birth of their child? Knowing The Leftovers, it doesn’t look like we’re heading for a happy ending there. If Patti’s husband Neil is in purgatory along with Kevin, Virgil et al, then why is Mary there?
What is the significance of the water? Scientists take samples from the pond to analyze; street vendors sell it to eager tourists; Evie and her friends bathe in it before she disappears; the earthquake makes the water vanish along with the girls. In International Assassin, Kevin is warned not to drink any lest he stays in Hotel Hell forever; Virgil is too thirsty to resist it and it wipes out his memory; everyone else who drinks it, including Patti, remains dead; in order to finally be able to kill Patti, Kevin ends up in water yet again, this time drowning her in the well.
And if the water is rife with symbolism, so too are the birds. Erika buries one and unearths it alive, and next thing you know, Evie disappears. One is flying around the lobby in purgatory, and it’s only after Virgil the concierge smashes it on the desk that Kevin manages to finally kill Patti. Symbolism abounds, but we still aren’t any closer to making the connection than we were back in the beginning of the season.
But if there’s one symbolic element that is the greatest mystery to me, it’s the one the season kicked off with. In Axis Mundi, we spent about 10 minutes watching a prehistoric pregnant woman lose everything in an earthquake, deliver her baby next to that very pond, save it from a snake and getting bit herself, and eventually dying. Was that just an artsy way of beginning the season, with some vague connection to the here and now?
But what about the episode title? Axis Mundi means world axis; is Jarden, Texas, the center of the world? Are we supposed to take the leap into the religious/philosophical conversation and assume it is the connection between heaven and earth? If so, why would a departure suddenly take place, conspicuously timed to coincide with Nora, Kevin, Jill and Lily’s arrival into town? In other words: if we’re to believe that Jarden is Axis Mundi, then the “it’s a matter of geography” theory could be correct; if Evie’s disappearance is indeed a departure, then the lens theory could be right.
When watching a show like this one, it’s only natural to try and read things into even the most trivial of details. Sometimes our quest for such connections is valid and rewarded with answers; other times, it feels like we’re sent on a wild goose chase and the occasional easter eggs thrown in are only meant to confuse us and make us hunt down clues that aren’t even there. There are layers and layers of meaning just begging to be peeled away, but in the end we find ourselves in a vicious circle of trying decipher which ones we should actually store away for future reference, whether they’re religious references, callbacks to previous plot points or just random minutiae of life on The Leftovers we just need to explain away for our own benefit.
It’s hard to resist the urge to strip back these layers, but I feel like, in the case of this show, resist is what we must do. Fan theories are fun and exciting, but ultimately The Leftovers seem to have a knack for surprising us. Maybe everything will be connected in the end, maybe all the symbols and metaphors will be explained in a way that satisfies even the most demanding viewer. Or maybe we’re just meant to accept that in this fictional universe, we just have to accept things at face value and roll with it.
Whatever happens next, I’m willing to bet we’re in for a treat.