Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 17, 2016)
Season One of The Leftovers offered an up and down year, but the series’ potential remained clear – and strong enough to send me toward Season Two. In this two-disc Blu-ray set, we get all 10 of Season Two’s episodes. The plot synopses come from the packaging.
Axis Mundi: “Jarden, TX was renamed ‘Miracle’ after it was discovered no one had departed. The town has since become a magnet for those who are convinced it can keep them safe – including Kevin (Justin Theroux), Nora (Carrie Coon) and Jill (Margaret Qualley).”
Don’t expect “Axis” to proceed in as concise a manner as that synopsis implies, though. The first 10 minutes feels like an outtake from 10,000 BC, and then much of the remaining program concentrates on our introduction to the residents of Miracle, with an emphasis on the Murphy family. No one related to Season One appears until the 38-minute mark, and Kevin’s crew doesn’t pop up until almost 46 minutes into the show.
If an episode progressed in a concise, logical manner, it wouldn’t be Leftovers, would it? That oblique quality could make S1 maddening, and this trend may repeat itself for S2. However, “Axis” provides an intriguing open to the season, and I like the fact it offers a change of scenery. This factor opens up a mix of new possibilities, and “Axis” launches the year in an occasionally perplexing but still interesting way.
A Matter of Geography: “When Nora makes an impulsive choice, the new Garvey clan gets a fresh start in the safety of Miracle, but Kevin finds himself tangled in the Murphy family’s problems.”
After “Axis” emphasized the series’ new Texas location, “Matter” takes us into the past to reveal how the Garveys found their way to Miracle. That’s a good decision, as I like the choice to engulf us in the Texas location/new characters and then let us know what brought our “old characters” there. The episode comes with much of the series’ usual vagueness, but it still offers a solid show.
Off Ramp: “While Laurie (Amy Brenneman) seeks to spread the word about the Guilty Remnant’s dangers, Tom’s (Chris Zylka) infiltration of the cult uncovers a whole new nest of problems.”
The Remnant became one of the reasons S1 was so frustrating. Interesting and annoying in equal measures, the cult showed the series’ strengths and weaknesses all at once.
“Off Ramp” presents the Remnant’s first real appearance in S2, though from a different perspective, as we see attempts to leave the group. These add intrigue to this side of the series, so despite my misgivings about the Remnant, “Off Ramp” evolves matters well.
Orange Sticker: “Kevin is missing in the midst of an earthquake, while the Murphys are left reeling after Evie (Jasmin Savoy Brown) disappearance. When Kevin returns home, he has no memory of the night before.”
While S1 could be maddeningly vague, S2 tends to feel more like it attempts an actual narrative. That comes mainly from the possibility that more “departures” have occurred, which is where the Evie story goes. Of course, no one should expect the series to suddenly become clear and self-evident, but at least “Sticker” shows the season’s trend toward a more obvious – and interesting tale.
No Room At the Inn: “Matt Jamison (Christopher Eccleston) takes his wife Mary (Janel Moloney) outside of Miracle to seek answers about her condition, but their lives take a dangerous detour when they are barred from returning to town.”
Prior S2 episodes allowed us to update the lives of various S1 characters, and “Inn” delivers a close focus on Matt and Mary. This topic takes some unusual and unexpected twists. Though the episode’s Biblical allusions partially go toward Mary’s namesake, Matt comes across as a Job-like figure – which the show acknowledges – and that adds a sense of drama to the program. It’s a strange but enthralling show.
Lens: “After some unexpected visitors get under Nora’s skin, she becomes preoccupied with a question about herself. Meanwhile, Erika (Regina King) reveals some haunting secrets.”
In a series that rarely answers questions, “Lens” provides some – sort of. Don’t expect anything major, but the episode does explain some of S2’s more perplexing elements – like the man who slaughters goats – so I regard that as some sort of victory.
The rest of the episode is a slightly more mixed bag, but nonetheless one that advances the overall narrative fairly well. That was S1’s biggest issue: there often seemed to be no real story or purpose involved, so I’m glad to see that change somewhat in S2. “Lens” thickens the plot in a satisfying manner.
A Most Powerful Adversary: “After Nora gives Kevin and Jill some unexpected news, Kevin deals with the fallout by exploring his options – and tackling his Patti (Ann Dowd) problem head-on.”
One of the biggest complaints about Leftovers stemmed from its refusal to tip off the nature of “the Departure”. 17 shows into the series, we now get potential hints about this topic – and perversely, I find myself disappointed that the series now points in any certain direction, even though it’s possible these are red herrings. I guess I got so used to the utter absence of answers that even clues seem “wrong”.
Not that one will find concrete information about anything in the mostly-still-vague “Adversary”. Still, it does advance matters in a compelling way – it’s not as dynamic a show as some of its recent peers, but it moves the season well.
International Assassin: “In the wake of Kevin’s desparate decision to vanquish Patti, questions and answers emerge as the world adjusts to the repercussions of what comes next.”
Remember how I talked about the way S2 seemed more concrete than S1? All that goes out the window with the bizarre “Assassin”. The entire episode deals solely with Kevin’s “Patti issue” and it takes a number of fantastic turns. Is it real or in Kevin’s head? We’ll never know for sure, but it’s an interesting journey.
Ten Thirteen: “A personal loss and subsequent pilgrimage to Miracle offer clues on why Meg (Liv Tyler) embarked on her path as a Remnant crusader. After a fallout with Laurie, Tom seeks to reunite with Meg.”
If you expect “Ten” to expand on Kevin’s journey from the last show – well, you probably haven’t paid much attention. Leftovers doesn’t tend to work that way, so rather than develop Kevin’s situation, we get nothing about the character.
And that’s fine with me, as “Ten” pursues grander series-wide goals. It brings back Meg for her first prominent material this season and offers surprises that push us toward the season finale. “Ten” turns into a solid show.
I Live Here Now: “In the season finale, Kevin comes clean to a skeptical John (Kevin Carroll) about his connection to Evie’s disappearance as Miracle faces an unexpected threat on the Departure’s anniversary.”
S2 finishes with… well, with something. As expected, it answers no questions, and it probably leaves us with more than when we started.
Still, that’s the way the series works, so if you’ve gotten this far, you shouldn’t feel disappointed that matters fail to resolve in a neat, tidy package, “Live” nonetheless provides a good conclusion to the year – a year that I think far surpasses S1 in terms of quality. S2 makes me excited to see where S3 will go.