TV Review: HBO’s ‘The Leftovers’ (2×01) “Axis Mundi’

If you are like me, you might not remember exactly how season one of The Leftovers finished last year. Here’s a quick recap of the finale: The Guilty Remnant (GR) placed life-like mannequins of the Departed in the homes of the Mapleton, NY residents and they were angry. The town burns the mannequins and the homes of the GR. Chief Kevin Garvey was in the woods burying Patti, the leader of the GR, with the help of Reverend Matt Jamison. Chief Garvey returns to find his daughter, Jill, still in the burning GR house and saves her after his sobbing GR wife, Laurie, pleads him to. His estranged son, Tom, left Christine and Wayne’s newborn baby on a doorstep. Nora Durst finds the baby and keeps it. The episode ends with a sense of hope and renewal.

Season 2 Poster_The Leftovers

The season two premiere of HBO’s The Leftovers left me with more questions than answers; and that’s exactly what creators Damon Lindelof (of LOST and Prometheus fame) and Tom Perrotta intended. First off, we are treated to a brand new title sequence and opening credits. Where season one’s was dark, gray, ominous, and full of religious painting-esque imagery, this season’s is fun, bright, warm, and full of images of family-friendly activities. However, being the kind of show that it is, within every image of a family barbecue or ski trip, every bowling alley or camping ground, there is at least one family member missing. They are very precisely cut out of the scene and replaced by imagery of the “universe”/sky. Weird. The word doesn’t even begin to describe the episode.

It opens with some sort of flashback. Hundreds of years ago (I can only assume by the opening character’s attire and surroundings), a pregnant, cave-dwelling woman is startled awake by an earthquake which forces her to give birth alone and in the middle of the night along a river (quite graphically I might add). She survives for several days on nothing but water until she comes upon a bird’s nest, places the baby on the ground and eats the eggs. The woman, protecting her newborn from an oncoming snake, is bitten and poisoned. Some time later, she dies along the riverbed with her babe in arms. Another native woman appears and takes the child. In a very smooth shot, the camera pans along the riverbed and we are in present day. Three teenage girls are bathing in that same river, only displaced by time. Odd placards warning non-residents to stay away and that it is prohibited to take any of the water are scattered amongst the rocks. A scientist named Dr. Brian Goodheart is taking samples of the river water right by the signs. Throughout the episode, there is a great deal of unexplained symbolism and metaphorical imagery that I can only assume will get answered as the season progresses.

We then meet The Murphys. John and Ericka Murphy and their twin children Michael and Evie (one of the teenage girls we met earlier playing in the water) live in a suburban home in Jarden, Texas. Ericka (played by the great Regina King) is a nurse who happens to be hard-of-hearing (as showcased by her hearing aids). Her husband John (played by Kevin Carroll) is a fire fighter who sometimes takes the law into his own hands…more on that to follow. Michael is a bible-carrying young man who feeds the homeless man living at the top of a 20-foot monument in the town’s square. Evie seems to be the rebellious daughter who is on medication for an undisclosed reason, attends choir practice, plays softball and isn’t afraid to curse. Let me mention that John is obsessed with catching a cricket that is seemingly inside their home.

The Murphys_The Leftovers

The story is told from John’s perspective, very similarly to what we were used to in season one, being told from Kevin’s. John visits his long-time friend who claims to be the town psychic. He warns John that “something bad is about to happen” to him. John brushes it off as nothing. He returns later that evening with a group of fellow firefighters and burns the psychic’s home to the ground. A number of unusual things go on in Jarden that surprisingly do not draw attention or seem out of the ordinary for its residents. The burning of that house for example. Or the cowboy who brings a live goat into a diner during breakfast, slashes its throat in front of everyone, then drags its bloody body out the front door; all as diner guests stare uninterestedly or taking photos with their iPhones. There are Rangers combing the perimeter of the town tasting and arresting those that do not reside there. Cricket. Cricket.

Come that Sunday, the town meets at their Baptist church for the weekly sermon. Naturally, Michael is on the dias reading scripture in front of the congregation and his family. The reverend introduces a substitute reverend that is to take his place during his upcoming time away and it is none other than season one’s Matt Jamison (played by Christopher Eccleston). He is there, of course, with his comatose wife, Mary. An odd exchange between the Murphys and Reverend Jamison ensues, signaling a tense relationship to follow throughout the season.

John spends the following day (his birthday) worrying about his doomed prophecy. Something as trivial as dropping a spoon into the kitchen sink garbage disposal activates a suspenseful score and slow-motion camera movement, tricking the audience into thinking this is the “something bad” that is supposed to happen to him. Obviously, it was not. As he steps onto his front porch for some fresh air (as we all do right after we think we’re going to lose our hand, literally), John sees that a new family is moving into the house next door. Did I mention there was a random, anonymous, baked apple pie sitting on John’s front porch? Well, there was. Again, ominous music. Slow panning of the camera. Careful inspection of the wrapping. Is it poisoned? Get over it John. You believed your psychic friend but don’t want anyone to know. Cricket.

The Garveys_The Leftovers

It turns out that the new neighbors are: you guessed it, The Garveys. Kevin (played by Justin Theroux, and yes, first seen 45 minutes into the episode) is accompanied by Nora Durst (played by the incomparable Carrie Coon), his daughter Jill (played by Margaret Qualley), and the newborn baby left on the doorstep in last season’s finale. John invites them over for a friendly “welcome to the neighborhood / birthday” barbecue, but not before handing Nora the mysterious apple pie as a welcoming gift.

The barbecue allowed for a number of revelations (see what I did there, revelations…because everyone thinks the Departure was an act of God…never mind):

  1. John doesn’t drink. Kevin offered him a beer, but John turned it down.
  2. Kevin sees things. We don’t know what exactly but he has a moment where he stares into space and it creeps everyone out.
  3. Evie has a mouth on her. She isn’t afraid to ask the question everyone (not including the audience because we know the answer) wants to know: Did Nora adopt or sleep with an African-American man to have that baby.
  4. Evie has epilepsy, hence the medication.
  5. John was in prison. For six years and 119 days. During the twins’ childhood. Everyone thought he was joking since it was said so nonchalantly around the dinner table. He wasn’t joking.

The episode ends just like it began, with an earthquake waking our current band of characters. The Murphys follow earthquake emergency protocol and hide between doorways only to find that Evie never made it home that night. After some phone calls and “where could she be” screams, John and Michael drive out to the river where Evie sometimes swims. We find that the river is completely empty, wet rocks and flopping fish littering the place where all the water used to be.

Cricket. Cricket. Cricket.

The Leftovers airs Sundays at 9pm on HBO and HBO GO.

Mauricio is a New York City-based creative producer whose content spans film, theater, web, and live events. When he’s not obsessing over a color-coded spreadsheet, you can find him in a movie theater or a coffee shop catching up on his latest TV guilty pleasures. A graduate in marketing and motion picture production, he’s a foodie, a Disney enthusiast, and a travel junkie.
  • Kim Henrichs

    This show had such a good premise. Too bad it turned out to be unwatchable…