The Leftovers: “Axis Mundi” Season 2 Premiere Review

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Where do you go from where The Leftovers season one left off? Mapleton was consumed by the fires of grief, and the Garveys were somehow more distant from each other than ever. But there was a a sense of completion so few shows manage to achieve after just their first season.

So season two picks up in Miracle, Texas, the only place on the planet where the population went down by none on October 14th. We meet the Murphys, a family that is meant to get off on the right foot with audiences. “Axis Mundi” is entirely told from their perspective, with season one characters only popping up a couple times in the premiere. At first, they seem like nice people. Two hard-working parents, an awkward son, and a rebellious daughter. The perfect nuclear family. But the episode slowly picks them apart and shows just how messed up the world of The Leftovers can still be.

John (Kevin Carroll) is the father. He’s a volunteer firefighter that also dishes out social justice by way of arson. After a meeting with someone he knew as a kid who now claims to be a prophet of sorts, he and his fellow volunteers burn down his home. John’s wife Erika (Regina King) is in on it, but she also claims this is the first place he’s ever burnt down. John’s fight against false prophets goes against his son Michael’s (Jovan Adepo) beliefs, as we see him bring food to another religious figure and then go and pray with someone he may or may not be related to on the outskirts of town. Then there’s the daughter Evie (Jasmin Savoy Brown), who suffers from epilepsy and doesn’t always take her medicine. Their family dynamic is creepily perfect. Whatever their role is this season, Damon Lindelof dedicated an entire prologue-ish episode to them, so their future must be significant.

While introducing us to the family, “Axis Mundi” gave us a thousand other questions to ponder. Why is Erika hiding birds in boxes in the woods? Is the town aware and okay with John essentially being a vigilante? Who left the pie? Did they eat it? What’s with all the earthquakes? The Leftovers likely won’t give us these answers soon, if at all. But the show’s abstract method of storytelling is still visually stunning and unflinchingly engaging, even when it doesn’t make the most sense.

As for the familiar faces that show up in the premiere, John seems to be suspicious of all of them. First up is Matt Jamison and his wife. Matt is taking over as a reverend at a local church. But his wife seems like she just got a lobotomy. The current reverend even stops Matt when he’s about to tell the parishioners about their experience. I expect another episode from Matt’s perspective is on the docket for later this season.

Then there’s the Garveys 2.0. Kevin, Nora, Jill, and the baby that was left on their porch in last year’s finale move in next door to the Murphys. We don’t get a whole lot of insight on what kind of headspace the Garveys are in, this being the Murphys’ episode. But just having them on screen for at least some of the premiere gives this episode a little more importance.

But the real stinger was how the premiere ended. After a pretty significant earthquake, John, Erika, and Michael realize Evie is missing. When they look for her, they find that she and her friends have disappeared, along with all the water in the lake they were swimming in. Did another disappearance happen? Is the lake the key to what happened on October 14th? After a strong premiere of place-setting, this is the perfect hook to end the episode on.

As a whole, The Leftovers definitely feels more confident this season. It also hasn’t managed to lose any of its weirdness. This was a smart way to start the second season, bringing in new characters and teasing us with the old ones. I’m very intrigued to see where this is all going. Grade: B+

 

Some Other Notes:

  • Okay, let’s talk about the opening scene for a second. I read it as the rebirth of the show itself. With the baby posing as the show’s powerful ideas, it’s moving from one society to the next as snakes and nature in general cut down its former family. Just as the show is moving to a fresh, potentially more hopeful start, after last season was drenched in misery. Is there a deeper significance to the baby’s mother dying at the lake that later disappears? I’m sure, but instead of speculating, I’ll let The Leftovers progress a little further into this new environment.
  • Kevin Carroll is great as John Murphy, walking a fun line between friendly and intimidating.
  • Though he’s still not quite as powerful as Justin Theroux, who really grew into Kevin by the end of last season. His limited time on screen in the premiere reminded me of how much his character grounds the fantastical, abstract nature of this series.
  • Miracle is a fascinating new playground. Goat sacrifices being routine in diners? It’s a tourist attraction for religious fanatics. Brilliant.
  • “Axis mindi” means the world center. Makes sense given the location change.
  • For the record, I loved the opening titles of season one. Season two’s definitely pale in comparison.
  • As if this even needs to be stated, by the score is still amazing. The hard base on John’s more intimidating moments was like something out of a Kubrick movie.
  • I can’t wait to see the Garvey’s perspective on everything next week.

By Matt Dougherty

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