In the first season of HBO’s The Leftovers, the world struggled to cope with a global event where 2 percent of the population vanished. The sudden “departure” (to use the show’s parlance) was never explained; rather, the first season focused on how one specific town coped with the aftermath. False prophets with “magical” hugs? Bizarre cults causing mayhem? A crazy-muscular alcoholic Justin Theroux? The end result was a mixed but surprisingly effective character piece.
With the source material now exhausted (season one was an adaptation of Tom Perrotta’s bestselling novel), The Leftovers now must shift gears to ask new questions about this post-Rapture world. Will we ever get answers? Not likely, and the show is better for it. Void of having to push the narrative towards solving big mysteries, the show is free to instead focus on the characters themselves. The Leftovers continues to be both a fascinating (and at times frustrating) take on what it means to have faith.
Season two picks up several months after the events of Mapleton, New York but in a new town altogether: Jarden, Texas. Population: 9,261, Departures: 0. That statistical anomaly has made the town — now known as "Miracle," Texas — a pseudo-religious site that’s had to quickly adapt to its newfound celebrity (think: high-security gates and pop-up shops hawking souvenirs like vials of river water). Is there something special about this city, or was it just random chance? Are the quirks just small town eccentricities or indicative of something more supernatural? Are the residents all hucksters capitalizing on new tourism, or do they really believe in what they’re selling? Is blind faith in the mysticism still therapeutic for those that visit the town? Again, the answers to how and why Miracle was "spared" is of less concern to The Leftovers than showing the world’s inhabitants trying to make sense of it.
Population: 9,261, Departures: 0
The Leftovers moves at a snail’s pace, with most of the first two episodes being devoted to exposition on the town and flashbacks to wrap up loose threads from season one. In fact, we don’t see any familiar faces until about 40 minutes into the premiere. Instead, we’re introduced to Jarden through the lens of longtime residents the Murphy family: John and Erika (Kevin Carroll and Regina King, respectively), seizure-prone daughter Evie (Jasmin Savoy Brown), and church-supporting son Michael (Jovan Adepo). John in particular plays a pretty major role in the first two episodes as the protective and paranoid patriarch / volunteer firefighter that’s set up as someone very capable of violence if what he believes is just. There’s an uneasy tension about him at all times that makes The Leftovers wholly entertaining to watch.
Ultimately, though, this is a still a show largely centered around the extended Garvey family. At the end of season one, grumpy cop Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux) and daughter Jill (Margaret Qualley) return home to find celebrity griever Nora Durst (Carrie Coon) at their doorstep along with an abandoned newborn child. (How they become a family unit and find themselves moving to Miracle is the entirety of episode two.) Any otherworldly questions about the Rapture or about Kevin’s hallucinations remain unanswered — we know literally as much as the characters do, and The Leftovers doesn’t even pretend to tease an explanation beyond that. Meanwhile, matriarch-turned-cult survivor Laurie Garvey and son Tom seem to have their own storyline that’ll be addressed later in the season.
Like everyone else invested in Miracle, the reasons for the Garveys moving seem to hinge on wanting to believe this town is, somehow, a safe haven where they can move past the events and start fresh. Everyone deals with the unknown in different, believable ways. It’s a sentiment that the entire show seems hellbent on repeating: This thing happened. It can’t be explained. It very likely won’t be explained. So what now?
That isn’t to say, of course, that The Leftovers is entirely devoid of Big Mysteries — this is, after all, a show run by Lost co-creator Damon Lindelof — and by the end of episode two, it’s very clear there’s something very tragic that’s about to happen. Is it related to the Rapture, though, or something else entirely? Will we ever know, or is this something else we’re going to have to accept as those affected try to overcome it? At no point in season one did The Leftovers attempt to explain the big mysteries. At its core, the show is about not having answers and trying to find ways to accept the unknown. If you, too, can accept a world with large, inexplicable phenomena, The Leftovers is worth your time.