Friends, have we got a lot of show and feelings to get through. I’m not going to waste much of your time setting it up except to welcome our brilliant guest panelists Edie and Caitlin to the Leftovers Season Two party and to remind you that you can keep up with our live tweet by following the hashtag #Oct14th. And with that, it’s on to Jarden. –Sage
This post has also been sponsored by Edie, who is one of our wonderful Patreon supporters! If you’re interested in helping us keep the site up and receiving this and other benefits, check out our Patreon page!
- Favorite Episode?
Edie: I should say right up front that this is my first watch-through of The Leftovers. My first impression of Season Two was that it felt like one long episode broken up into parts, so it’s extra hard to choose a favorite. That said, I’ve settled on “A Matter of Geography.” I’m a stepmother, so watching Kevin, Nora, and Jill all trying so hard to build a family together with little Lily is very personal to me. These are good people who have been through a series of unimaginable traumas, but the notion of creating a blended family under any circumstances has some universal truths, and we really get to see that in this episode.
Kevin and Nora are trying so hard to be honest with each other, and build a foundation that’s solid in a way their previous marriages clearly weren’t, but that’s easier said than done. Mostly it’s just impossible to know if you’re doing it right, as you Frankenstein pieces of your old life together with pieces of the lives of others. Jill knows a brilliant stepmom when she sees one, but carries legitimate fears that her father will “fuck this up.” That’s how it is with parenthood in general, but especially with a blended family: there are just so many opportunities to fuck it up.
Sage: Season Two is spectacular all around, but “International Assassin” is still that bitch!
The weirder Lost became, the more I loved it, so The Leftovers’ jump to the spirit world/afterlife/in-between/whatever you want to call it is firmly in my wheelhouse. The execution of the episode is delightfully bombastic, but may that never overshadow the sheer gall of this series to disappear 2% of the population and then travel to another plane of existence that isn’t even the one they disappeared to!
“International Assassin” is part of a storied TV tradition that has had varying levels of effectiveness over the years. IMO, it’s among the very best AU episodes ever made – a perfect storm of fan service (Senator Levin’s security guard congratulating Kevin after he searches him below the waist, the reveal that Neil died choking on a chicken bone, one of Erika’s birds loose in the lobby) and serious meditations on many of the show’s themes. It’s also Schroedinger’s afterlife, in that it allows for two interpretations: one, that Kevin has actually shuffled off this mortal coil and is successful in following Virgil’s instructions, and two, that this is all in Kevin’s head and he’s only free from Patti at the end of it because he believes that he’s exorcised her. Either way, the journey is the fun part, and an incredible showcase for Justin Theroux.
Shannon: I’m not pretending to totally understand “International Assassin,” but I know a masterpiece when I see one. This was one of the most remarkable hours of television I’ve ever seen, from a show that keeps raising the bar on remarkable hours of television. I barely even know what to say about it! There isn’t a single misstep in the episode and everyone is at the top of their game. From the aesthetics of the hotel, to the concept of picking an outfit to represent your identity in the afterlife, to the absolutely fucking devastating Patti fake-out, to finally meeting Neil and making his abuse so much more real than shit jokes, to the exquisite use of Verdi, to Justin Theroux’s very best work.
All of that, and a Godfather joke! Fucking exceptional.
Kim: I feel like every prestige drama or serialized genre show has that episode. You know which episode I’m talking about. THAT episode. The episode that everyone talks about, the one that really shows what the show is capable of but at the same time may not be indicative of the show as a whole. The episode that may not be the one you should show someone without the context of the rest of the series in order for them to fully appreciate just how great the episode is, but you show them anyway, just because it’s that good. You know which episode I mean. “The Constant.” “Bad Blood.” “Blink.” “Fly.” “The Suitcase.” “A God Walks into Abar.”
“International Assassin” is THAT episode of The Leftovers.
As we sat down to watch “International Assassin,” Sage worried as to whether she had built this one up too much for me. Considering that a large chunk of my answers for this post are pulled from this episode, I’d say it more than lives up to the hype. I don’t really know what to say about this episode except it’s AWESOME. Damon Lindelof’s MIND, y’all. As a Lost fan, and specifically a fierce defender of Lost’s sixth season and the flash-sideways, this episode was tailor-made for me. (It really WAS, Damon co-wrote it with Carlton Cuse’s son.) It’s like they took the conceit of the flash-sideways, where all the castaways lived idealized versions of their lives, resolving all of the issues they struggled with in the real world, and made it into like…a multi-level real life choose your own adventure video game, like Jumanji but with human obstacles.
Because that’s what it all comes down to on a Lindelof show, right? For all of the supernatural elements and weird shit and questions without answers that pervade his work, what Damon Lindelof really cares about is how people relate to each other, how some relationships imprison us while others liberate us. “International Assassin” is about that journey for Kevin Garvey. “Know who you are, and then adorn yourself accordingly.” Kevin doesn’t know himself here, hence him picking that fine ass international assassin skinny black suit when his old Mapleton uniform is RIGHT THERE. But he knows who he is by the end, hence his certainty when he comes back to this place in “I Live Here Now.” If you don’t understand the magnitude of Kevin’s choice and the importance of that choice being entirely rooted in what happens to him in “International Assassin,” then I’m sorry to tell you, you’re watching this show wrong.
Rachel: Another season of The Leftovers, and another almost impossible choice of favorite episode. But the one I keep going back to over and over again is “International Assassin.” From the moment it picks up Kevin being reborn in that mid-level afterlife hotel bathtub through to his final confrontation with Patti in the well, this is a “dream sequence” episode for the ages. Set entirely to either silence or the soundtrack of the Verdi opera “Nabucco,” Kevin is singularly focused on eliminating Ghost Patti from his life. There is absolute chaos & madness along the way. We have a wayward bird instead of cricket, visit past lost souls including Virgil, Wayne, and Gladys, meet Patti’s ex Neil, talk to Kevin Sr. via the hotel room TV static, and go on the most bizarre road trip. Mary is there too, and it seems like this is where her consciousness goes while she’s in her coma-like state on earth.
Kevin has to kill Ghost Patti three times to make it stick, and in doing so, he sees the true breadth of her humanity, as a power-driven cult leader, a misunderstood child, and a victim of spousal abuse summoning the strength to move forward with her life. Kevin goes through his own symbolic torture before he can get to the threshold of releasing their bond. Pushing child Patti into the well (which was a LOT!) also wasn’t enough. Only when Kevin joins Adult Patti at the bottom of the well does he see her completely. They come to a detente, with Ghost Patti letting Kevin drown her and go on alone, returning to the land of the living and a shocked Michael.
There are so many fundamental questions coming out of “International Assassin” not just for Kevin, but for us too. Are attachment and love dead, as Patti suggests? Do we look backward toward what we once were, or are we going to transform? And what does that look like?
Caitlin: “International Assassin” is an episode that has stayed with me since I first watched it. If you were ever sat at a wedding table with me between the years of 2015-2019, I inevitably brought up The Leftovers Season Two and this episode. Although it didn’t pack as hard of a punch upon repeat viewing, it altered what the audience and the characters knew to be true. It confirmed that in The Leftovers world, there is an afterlife and you can dip your toe in the purgatory water (just don’t drink it!) and come back on the other side. Beyond changing the rules of the show, Patti’s comes back in full force as Senator Levin and Kevin pushes a child down the well while miraculously maintaining his good guy status.
- Least Favorite Episode?
Edie: There really were no bad episodes this season, and that makes this a hard question to answer. I’ve picked “Off Ramp” as the episode I found it the hardest to watch. I felt clenched all the way through it. While it was wonderful to hear Laurie talking, and see her interacting with her son, Tommy, you know right from the start that this is all going to go very badly. I found myself shouting “You need to go to therapy!” at our former therapist many times throughout this watch. Laurie can’t seem to stop herself from projecting her need to redeem her cult member past all over her son, other cult members, and a very unlucky family of four.
Laurie’s reckless desire to fix things, to feel like she has some measure of control over her post-GR life is understandable, but so dangerous. Despite her obvious guilt over abandoning her family during a moment of global trauma, Laurie has not stopped taking her family for granted. Instead of healing herself, she’s trying to atone for her time with the GR’s as a way of proving her worthiness to reconnect with them. She may be working with Tommy, but she’s not really “seeing” him, his needs, or the incredible danger she’s putting him in, which culminates in his rape by Meg. These character notes are all important, but there’s a lot of non-consensual action going on in this one that would make it a tough rewatch.
Rachel: Again, these episodes are all pretty great, so it was hard to pick one I liked less. That being said, I think that with the addition of the Murphys and the Miracle story, some of the characters from Season One that I liked were naturally going to get sidelined a bit and Laurie, the primary focus of “Off Ramp” is that unfortunate character and thus the episode I have to put in this spot. I feel so terrible for her and for Tommy and for them both as a parent-child unit. It’s hard to watch the self-destructiveness they share as a result of their cult experiences. They’re trying to use it for good, but they are so clearly damaged too much to be of any help yet.
The main issue with the episode for me is that I think Laurie wouldn’t be that obtuse and take things as far as she did, with the running over GR members, the forcing Tommy to lie about the Holy Wayne hugs, and potentially damaging the newly out cult members even more. I could see her being extremely self-destructive in a lot of ways (like the laptop heist) but given who she was before the Departure, and in the GR, her continuing to hurt others in that way doesn’t entirely hold up. If she was so broken about what she did to Jill, why then would it be okay to do the same thing to Tommy? Thankfully I think Laurie’s story tacks back on track in “A Most Powerful Adversary” to where she is a bit more clearly portrayed.
Caitlin: Not that I’d categorize any episodes as a “least favorite,” I’ll say “A Matter of Geography” out of necessity. It has the much-needed explanation of how Kevin, Jill, Nora, and Lily came to Miracle and how Patti came to haunt Kevin. But with Miracle as the new setting, the action back at Mapleton was slightly less engaging.
Shannon: I know this quality is not for everyone, but more often than not I find real beauty – and even comfort – in intense, relentless tragedy. So it’s hard for me to unravel why “No Room at the Inn” hit me off-key. But it did, and when I look back on the season, this is the one that makes me wince. I wouldn’t go so far as to say “No Room at the Inn” was badly done, or even unnecessary for the plot, but the never-ending emotional brutality made it the hardest watch of the series. The tension of last season’s Matt-focused episode worked really well for me – hell, it was my favorite of the season – but there was a tortuous energy in the storytelling that gave this a different tone. Again, the things that happened in “No Room at the Inn” needed to happen for the rest of Matt and Mary’s season arc, but I’m not convinced it had to be quite so wrenching.
Sage: The weariness was apparent as we got into the meat of “No Room at the Inn,” and I totally get it. Season One’s Matt episode, “Two Boats and a Helicopter,” has a kinetic energy that keeps it watchable despite the relentlessness of Matt’s suffering. “No Room at the Inn” is missing that, which makes it the low point of an otherwise transcendent run, despite another acting master class by Christopher Eccleston. There aren’t many ensemble hours in Season Two, and I think this is one storyline that suffers for it. I can see the rightness in Matt ultimately being forced into the encampment, but I wish that his and Mary’s journey out of town had been intercut with another plot.
Kim: It pains me to say this, especially since “Two Boats and a Helicopter” was my favorite episode of season one, but “No Room at the Inn” just was too much for me, you guys. It’s like “Two Boats” goes right up to the line of being too much to handle in regards to the biblical levels of torment that Matt Jamison endures and “No Room” jumps right over said line. It felt like they were torturing Matt for no good reason other than to torture him and it was almost unbearable to watch at times. Maybe what made it too much for me was the fact that Matt spent a good portion of the episode carrying a completely helpless Mary around, putting her life in danger as well? The storm drain scene was SO HARROWING, and a bit like the stoning of Gladys in season one, it just crossed a line for me. When we finished the episode, I was emotionally spent. And not in a good way. Eccles is still amazing in this role though!
- Favorite Character?
Sage: I came into this process with every intention of spreading the love around, but I would be lying to myself and to you if I named anyone but Kevin Garvey Jr. my favorite character of the season (again).
He has regular conversations with the ghost of his mortal enemy who he calmly confessed to his family that he had kidnapped and buried, yet gets embarrassed singing karaoke to escape the underworld. He openly listens to his former cult member psychologist ex-wife’s advice about coming out of his delusion, then jumps out a window to go try to die instead. He’s that dad who’s awkward at dinner parties, but doesn’t even blink when he suggests to John that his daughter never loved him. We’ve been asked to follow him through so much, and we do that without hesitation.
And that’s because, the stranger and less explainable the events of his life are, the more focused Kevin’s reason for living it becomes. The man just wants to go home. And who among us can’t identify with that?
Caitlin: Kevin Garvey Jr. is perhaps one of the only characters in the history of TV I’d accept coming back from the dead twice in (what?) 24 hours. Although he’s not as attentive to his family as he should be while he fights to regain control of his life from Patti, he does everything within his power to make it right. His stubborn refusal to die in the Season Two finale proves his pure intentions – this is a man who simply wants to be home with the family he loves, if only this damn world (and damn Ghost Patti) would let him.
Kim: Once again, when it came to this question, I didn’t know until I KNEW. Much like the moment when Adam Driver started singing “Being Alive” in Marriage Story and I infamously said “Oh, I get it now,” out loud in the movie theatre, my “Oh, it’s you!” moment for season two came as Kevin Garvey warbled his way through “Homeward Bound” in the lobby of the Hotel California. I’ll talk more about that later, but for now I’ll just say, holy shit, you guys. I know it’s the thing amongst devotees of The Leftovers to rage about how Carrie Coon and Ann Dowd were ignored by the Emmys, and rightfully so, but ALSO Justin Theroux should be mentioned in the very next breath. Kevin’s always been the anchor of this show, our emotional “in” and the first character we were introduced to in this world, and Justin’s work is nothing short of extraordinary.
What I love the most about Kevin Garvey is that he’s not always the easiest character to love. He’s prickly, he’s self-destructive, and he’s clinging to his sanity by his fingernails. But what makes Justin Theroux so magical in this role is that his perfectly manic, but exhausted energy makes Kevin relatable. He’s doing his fucking best in extraordinary circumstances. He loves his family fiercely. You WANT this guy to get his shit together as much as he clearly does. What I love about Kevin in Season Two is his openness. So many times over the course of these ten episodes I would turn to Sage and just say “Is this TRUTH DAY?” whenever Kevin would just say whatever shit was on his mind. And even though he held on to the Patti secret way longer than he should have, once he DID tell Nora, he TOLD HER. He wants to be better and he fights to be better, even when that means literally dying to make it happen. What more can you ask for in a leading man?
Rachel: Erika is a force to be reckoned with. She keeps it together when nobody else can, but also can tear things down when they SHOULDN’T be together. Absolutely the glue that holds the Murphys together, she manages John’s emotions, and gives her kids the life that she thinks they deserve. But after the girls vanish, she goes back to the place that led her to almost leave in the first place. She is both appropriately devastated by Evie’s disappearance, but holds on to the desire to find the truth, and not just accept what the other mothers want her to. Despite her strong faith, there is a sheen over the town that Erika cannot abide and calls everyone out at the fundraiser. She is fundamentally a practical person, and confronts John with the honesty of “you need to hit people because you need to hit people.” And then in the most quiet way, Erika (and holy moly Regina King, what a performance) tears Nora’s victim-centered stoic righteousness to shreds with the precision of a laser.
Shannon: Has there ever been a character as hilarious, as intense, and as absolutely fucking genius as Ghost Patti? I for one do not think so! In the course of any one single scene, Ghost Patti can deliver a line reading that will leave me cackling before she goes in for a gut punch with something totally devastating. It’s emotional whiplash of the very best kind, and every single bit of it is somehow genuine to her character. You never know what you’re going to get with Ghost Patti, but you know it’ll be something specific and cutting and either really important or absolutely absurd. I would say I’m going to miss her, but I’m juuuust not convinced she’s really gone.
Edie: Nora. Nora Nora Nora Nora. I have watched Carrie Coon bring this complicated woman to life in a way that is nothing short of revelatory. There have been so many times I’ve thought to myself that I want to be Nora that I’m about ready to order a WWND? bracelet off of Etsy. Sure, she’s damaged, but who isn’t? Her most incredible moments are when you can feel pain doubt radiating from within her, but how she doesn’t make that anyone else’s problem. She just requires that elusive thing: honesty. As much as I felt for Kevin when she left following his confession that he’s “been seeing someone,” and that someone is a dead Patti, I cheered that Nora was taking her child and leaving Kevin to care for himself and his daughter. Talk about a woman who can set boundaries.
- Least Favorite Character?
Caitlin: I was far more sympathetic to Laurie on this rewatch than I was when I first watched. With that said, I’d like her to be a bit more accountable for how her grief-ridden actions affect others, particularly her children. Although she’s in therapist mode (and probably has some resentment toward her ex-husband), it was hard to watch her give such a moralizing speech about belief to Kevin in “A Most Powerful Adversary.” Yes, her experiences with the GR and as a therapist may make her believe that she’s right, but it turns out she really doesn’t know anything about the afterlife.
Shannon: It’s a hard choice this season! I appreciate and feel for every single one of the characters at this point. They’re all great. But simply because she didn’t get a whole lot to DO this time around, I’m going with Jill. Margaret Qualley makes the absolute most of what she does get (that scene with Michael in the church was a stand-out) but I mourned what her friendship with Evie could have been and missed her active dynamic with her brother.
Sage: No disrespect to the always wonderful Steven Williams, but it’s Virgil. We needed a character to introduce Kevin to this method of shaking Patti off, and it makes sense that he would be connected to the Murphys, but letting the audience know that YOU know that you’ve created another incarnation of a racist stock character does not let you off the hook for doing it in the first place.
Rachel: What I love about this show, and Season 2 in particular is that there really aren’t any regular characters to dislike. Everyone has such tremendous depth, and even if I disagree with their choices, I’m not put off at all. So I am left to dislike one-off interlopers such as the roadside father, the visiting scientist that harasses Nora and Erika, or the goat-killing Jerry, and I like it that way.
Edie: Even the characters that make me really mad at them (Hello Meg) are some of my favorite people to watch on this show, so I’m going with Jerry and his goat sacrifices. Sure, Jerry is traumatized just like everyone else who has lived through the departure, but no one enjoys surprise goat-slaughter, least of all the goats.
Kim: That crazy bitch who rips baby Lily right out of Nora’s arms.
- Best New Addition?
Sage: Regina King is on my list of actors I would watch in literally anything, so you know it’s real if I’m choosing John over Erika Murphy here.
I can’t help it. John Murphy is fascinating to me. It’s that veneer of self-control that lays over his explosive fury. It’s the way he treats violence as a day job that he can shut off whenever he walks through the front door of his home. It’s that he protects his family without ever really seeing them, yet senses that something is off about the Garveys the moment they arrive. Before Evie and her friends disappear, it’s John’s destabilizing presence that whispers to us that there are no miracles in Miracle.
The writing is superb, of course, but Kevin Carroll elevates it with every choice, whether that’s a slow, menacing smile, or chewing on a toothpick like it’s the only thing that’s stopping him from burning the whole town to the ground. Yet, for as blatantly destructive as John’s actions can be, Carroll keeps him tethered to a hopeful core, which is what makes the resolution of his Season Two arc land so beautifully. The Leftovers couldn’t have done any better for a doubter-turned-believer.
Edie: John Murphy. The tension between John and Kevin is electric from the very first episode of this season, and the gripping thing about their relationship is how similar they are. Both are doing the wrong things for the right reasons, and trying to hold their families together under immense strain. There is so much going on behind John’s eyes at any given moment, and though it’s often hard to pinpoint what that is, it is always deeply felt. Kevin Carroll’s portrayal here is a gift: his John Murphy seems to be an adversary in the first episode, but becomes the kind of man who can shoot Kevin Garvey nine episodes later and still have us, and Kevin, rooting for him.
Caitlin: Erika Murphy, a.k.a. Regina Fucking King. She’s grappling with her own faith, but she’s not so broken that she’d allow Nora Fucking Durst to try to logically explain away what happened to Evie. King’s acting when she discovers what Evie has done is some of my favorite of the season. Just give me all the Erika running around Miracle please.
Kim: Regina King, Academy Award winner, Emmy winner, Hollywood multi-hyphenate power player, MARCEE, my wife. How could I not say her for best newcomer? Listen, I don’t know what rock I was living under, but I had NO IDEA that Regina joined us for Season Two, as Sage can attest by the “IS THAT REGINA KING?!” shriek I let out in the season premiere. I just love the energy that Regina has; it’s like she immediately brings weight and gravitas to every single scene that she’s in, just from her mere presence. She has an incredible chemistry with Kevin Carroll, Erika’s tightly coiled control the yin to John’s more volatile yang. But also don’t fuck with this woman! As evidenced by that transcendent scene with Carrie Coon in “Lens,” shot almost entirely in extremely tight close-up that I would like tattooed on the inside of my eyelids so I can watch it all the time, Erika’s cool facade belies a barely concealed rage. This bitch WILL put a rock through your window and afterwards she WILL stand there defiantly, daring you to do anything about it. Really, it’s no wonder that Damon decided to break his self-imposed casting rule in order to work with Regina again on Watchmen. This whole season feels like an audition for Sister Night, down to her sprint to Evie on the bridge in the finale.
Rachel: All of the Murphys are spectacular in their own way. I picked Erika as my favorite character so it would make sense to put her here too but I’m going to say John instead just because he is the linchpin to so many of the characters’ choices in Season Two that he adds the most depth to the season’s story arc. From his Miracle denial, to his past connection to Virgil, his “on the job” skepticism of Kevin, how he interacts with Michael and Evie, all of it is crucial to driving the story forward. He changes everyone around him in profound ways, not to mention the final confrontation with Kevin that changes HIM in return. John Murphy takes finely tuned directed anger to new lows and new heights, and The Leftovers is better for it.
Shannon: Don’t make me pick a favorite Murphy, I can’t and I won’t.
- Most Underrated Episode?
Caitlin: I don’t know if it’s technically underrated, but the episode that seemed to elicit the most negative feelings in our watch group was “No Room at the Inn.” It’s incredibly difficult to watch as Matt’s day goes down a never-ending spiral, but the episode explains so damn much about Matt Jamison. When I watched the first time, “No Room at the Inn” was the episode that really indicated that The Leftovers was really upping the ante in Season Two and I was so down to be along for the (extremely harrowing) ride.
Rachel: The season opener “Axis Mundi” has a lot of work to do. It sets up the entire Departure-free world of Jardin/Miracle TX and introduces us to the complex Murphy family. And yet, it starts with a bold opening sequence from prehistoric times, unrelated to the rest of the show, with a gut-wrenching (What on this show isn’t gut-wrenching? But I digress.) vignette of a woman suddenly on her own, giving birth in an unforgiving environment. That tale tells us two important things to carry with us during the season: this place is important, and the strength and adaptability of women is vital.
Edie: With this rewatch group, it’s hard to call any episode underrated because we’re all savoring every morsel of this show together. That said, I think “Orange Sticker” lacks some of the punch of the episodes that bracket it, and does a lot of thankless work in setting up the continuing mysteries of “where’s Evie?” and “did Mary wake up or is Matt losing it?” There are also a lot of softer notes here between Michael and Jill, who I both enjoy but whose relationship is somewhat puzzling and not given a ton of screen time in the end. They are both teens who grew up faster than they should have had to, and try to deny the impact that’s had on them. It’s a quiet, powerful meditation on how our kids continue to not be alright, as Sage often quotes on our #Oct14th hashtag.
Kim: Would “Ten Thirteen” be considered underrated in like, the true sense of the word? Absolutely not. It’s an absolute tour-de-force performance by Liv Tyler, who in the span of one episode came thisclose to winning my favorite character of the season. (What can I say? I love a villain, and Meg is fucking terrifying.) It starts to move our key players into position for the finale and it does a brilliant job of slowly building a horrible sense of impending doom. And then that reveal of Evie and her little bitch friends at the end? BLOOD-CURDLING. (Sorry, I know they have names, but all through the finale I just kept calling them “those little bitches” so that’s who they are to me.)
So then why, Kim, are you choosing this episode as your underrated one? For the same reason that The Two Towers won the fewest Oscars of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, dear reader. “Ten Thirteen” is sandwiched between two FAR showier and more talked about episodes in “International Assassin” and “I Live Here Now” and in my humble opinion, it doesn’t get enough credit in how much heavy lifting it does. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Sage: My secret dream is to be a cult deprogrammer, so I have to shout out “Off Ramp.” As an exploration of Laurie’s anger, as a vibe check on the current state of the Guilty Remnant, as a reality check on how lost and overwhelmed its defectors still are – it fires on every level. And, whereas Tommy gets short shrift in Season One, this episode (paired with “Ten Thirteen”) underlines in bold the fundamental need he has to care for people, often to his own downfall, which is what led him to Holy Wayne in the first place. Having watched the series on my own the first time, I was a little surprised at how strong and immediately horrified the group’s reaction to the unveiling of Tommy and Laurie’s new therapy plan was, but Tommy is such a tragically open-hearted character that you just yearn to protect the kid.
Also, this episode lives or dies on the back of Amy Brenneman, and she is STUNNING. A lot of actors would have been so jazzed to have a tool handed to them after a season of working without it that they would have difficulty modulating that part of the performance. But this Laurie flows seamlessly from the silent Laurie we know so well, to the point that her using her ability to speak almost becomes an afterthought.
Shannon: There’s a Tom McGuane quote that comes to me by way of Marc Maron’s WTF, and I think about it a lot with the Guilty Remnant and Laurie Garvey in specific. “The mind is not a boomerang; if you throw it too far it will not come back.” For all the hope and determination I find in The Leftovers, and for as much as the show argues that we must always go forward, it also never shies away from the fact that sometimes, we just can’t come back. “Off Ramp” grapples with that dichotomy, maybe the best of any of the episodes we’ve had so far. It’s determined to combine genuine hopefulness with the recognition that sometimes, the human heart can only take so much until it just breaks.
This hour does so many things remarkably well. In two tiny scenes, “Off Ramp” makes it painfully clear to the audience just how LOUD daily life would seem to someone who had lived in silence for months. It makes the pull of groups like the Guilty Remnant and Holy Wayne real; they’re lifestyles that, at the very least, don’t try to act like nothing has happened. They only exist because the world shifted in a fundamental, undeniable way. To be a part of one of those groups means living in that shift. A liberation, a relief. A trauma and a manipulation.
This is all a very long winded way of saying, my love and appreciation for Laurie Garvey, hard and imperfect as she is, is still going strong. Laurie is knee deep in her own recovery and doesn’t have any clear path forward to process any of it. Of COURSE she would return to her old career and try to form a support group and two-person rescue committee for GR members. It’s something only she can do. It makes perfect sense for her. And it’s beautiful, and it’s very often not enough, because sometimes nothing can be.
- Favorite Ship?
Shannon: I don’t know how to not pick Nora and Kevin again, so, Nora and Kevin. I mean come on. They started handcuffing each other to the bed for fuck’s sake, what else do you want from me.
Edie: I’m basic. I over-relate to Kevin and Nora and I want them to be happy together in their weird, somewhat kinky, brokenness.
Caitlin: Always and forever, Kevin and Nora. While I don’t necessarily understand why Ghost Patti was the straw that broke the camel’s back for Nora when it came to their relationship (I mean… I don’t and very much do), it means Kevin gets to risk death to get her – and his own life – back.
Kim: I’m going with Kevin and John, mainly because Kevin Carroll and Justin Theroux both have so much wildly unpredictable energy on their OWN, that when you put them TOGETHER you can’t do anything other than just sit back and watch the sparks fly. Truly, whenever Kevin and John shared a scene, I wasn’t sure if they were going to end up kissing or if they were going to murder each other. Well. I guess that question was answered when John shot Kevin in “I Live Here Now,” but then they became best friends after that, so really, who can say that I’m wrong?
Sage: This season? It’s Erika/Freedom.
Mrs. Murphy is as strong of a personality as her husband, but she still deserves better than what their life has become. John is paranoid and angry and not in a way that includes how his wife must also be feeling. Their cohabitation has become a stand-off – one that we learn in “Lens” she was already preparing to break before Evie disappeared.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the revelation that Virgil is Erika’s father, not John’s, and how that changes both of their backstories. We’re left with the assumption that John went to prison for enacting violence on Erika’s behalf, and I can GUARANTEE that it wasn’t something that she prevailed upon him to do. John chose to avenge his wife instead of stay with her, and I don’t think she’s ever forgiven him for it. Why should she?
Rachel: Whatever is going on between Kevin & Ghost Patti is the most sinister, delightful, co-dependent, spiteful, magical, love/hate relationship on the show.
- Best Warm Fuzzy Moment?
Edie: The Durst-Garvey family confession moment at the end of “A Matter of Geography” lifts me up. Any moment where we get to see Nora be amazing to Jill just wins my heart. It’s a hard-won relationship these two have, but the way Nora turns to Jill and says, “I lied to you about my gun, I won’t do that again. I’m sorry” is so beautiful and real. Nora has treated Jill’s feelings seriously from their first awkward dinner together in Season One, and Jill’s reply of “it’s okay” is such a stepmother win for her. Nora can’t help repeating “it’s okay” to Kevin, smiling in surprise at Jill’s acceptance. Jill does the divorced kid thing of breaking the positive tension with a “do I have to say something crazy now?” joke, and I just want to hug her too hard and kiss her all over her forehead.
Sage: On this watch, I’ve really fallen in love with the relationship between Nora and Jill. They really are made for each other: Neither are easily satisfied, both were intensely lonely, and they share the same chaotic streak. They tell each other things they wouldn’t tell Kevin, but in this healthy way that opens up both of their worlds. It’s one of the reasons I struggle with Nora running off after Kevin confesses that he’s seeing Patti. It’s always read as slightly out of character to me, and even though I think she always planned on coming back, I just can’t quite fathom that she, who recognizes Jill as another abandoned soul, would leave her without saying goodbye.
Shannon: I’m obsessed with every moment that Kevin and John share and I have been since their first weird little wave across the lawn in “Axis Mundi.” There’s something in the spirit of these two men that fundamentally respects and recognizes what the other has been through in a way that no one else can. The closest similarity is Kevin and Matt, but Matt’s fundamental optimism will always butt up against something in Kevin and keep him at a distance. John Murphy, though, has seen some shit and made some (very) bad choices – and so has Kevin Garvey! That shared perspective means they will always ultimately forgive each other’s mistakes – up to and including John literally shooting Kevin and leaving him for dead.
Anyway, I could have picked pretty much any one of their uniquely gentle support system moments to go here, but nothing matches that beautiful exchange in the ending scenes of “I Live Here Now,” when John finally returns home after his family’s devastation and quietly, anxiously asks Kevin, “What if nobody’s home?” Kevin doesn’t blink before responding, “Then you come over to my house.” My fucking heart.
Caitlin: “Homeward Bound” is so earnest it almost hurts with the cutaways to Kevin’s life. But Kevin wants to be home with his family, dammit! For a man who once ran into a burning home without a second thought, it’s the vulnerability of karaoke that Kevin has to overcome this time to be reunited with his family.
Rachel: When Mary wakes up and Matt sees her for the first time. The look in his eyes (Thank you Christopher Eccleston!) It’s vindication for him personally and in his faith in the “Miracle” of Miracle, TX. And Mary remembers everything too! It’s all so perfect, a rarity on this show.
Kim: If your heart didn’t grow infinite sizes at the way Matt Jamison lit all the way fucking up (that Ninth Doctor megawatt grin though!) at the sight of Mary fully lucid and aware of her surroundings, then I don’t know what to do with you. After two solid seasons of ungodly suffering, Matt Jamison needed a fucking win, y’all. As an audience, we needed a win too. And this was the biggest one that we could get. And, because Matt’s a pure soul, he wasn’t even petty about being right in regards to this particular miracle like I most certainly would have been.
- Thirstiest Moment?
Edie: Justin Theroux naked. Wet. Sloshing around in that bathtub in “International Assassin.” I think I saw more of Kevin Garvey naked in those moments than I did my first boyfriend in high school. I’m a big fan of nudity in non-sexual environments, and the camera can’t help but enjoy lingering on that muscley, tattooed man.
Shannon: I have gone on record on Twitter to say that I prefer a clothed Kevin Garvey (I know, I know) and I stand by my opinion. Therefore! This is a tie between the shirt he wore to the adoption hearing in “A Matter of Geography” and the black suit/white button down combo from “International Assassin.” That button down was doing the most.
Caitlin: Perhaps as with the gray sweatpants in Season One, the obvious choice is Kevin crawling out of the bathtub in “International Assassin” (and again in “I Live Here Now”). But I’m going to go with Kevin rocking the suit he chooses to adorn himself with. His true identity may be a Mapleton cop, but the temporary role of international assassin looks good on him.
Sage: The implication is that Kevin does not, in fact, adorn himself accordingly in “International Assassin,” but doesn’t he??
Kim: Your Honor, I would like to submit into evidence the ENTIRETY of “International Assassin” for the thirstiest goddamn hour of the season (if not the history of television), from the bathtub scene to that skinny black suit that fits like a glove. J-E-S-U-S C-H-R-I-S-T.
Rachel: Kevin Garvey being birthed from a bathtub through his donning of the “International Assassin” suit gives us the best of both worlds! Whether you like him naked or in the clean lines of a sharp suit, Justin Theroux provides the thirst in spades.
- Best Right in the Feels Moment?
Rachel: In the opening of Episode 4, “Orange Sticker,” Nora is awakened by the fracking earthquake to a missing Kevin and the dog running free around the neighborhood. Then she learns of the missing girls via Erika next door. Did a Departure happen again? Her abject terror flashing back to her husband and kids disappearance is clear in her desperate attempt to find Kevin and figure out if he is GONE gone. “Did it happen?” she wails to the 911 operator. And then Kevin walks in the door. Whew!
Shannon: Nora standing alone in the middle of her new, run-down living room, terrified to her core and desperate for news of the outside world to see if the disappearance has happened again, is absolutely fucking gutting. So much of the way Nora carries herself comes back to this fundamental fear, and watching her process that possibility is nightmarish. It’s one of Carrie Coon’s best moments and that is REALLY saying something.
Caitlin: Kevin telling John in the finale, “Then you come over to my house.” John had just shot Kevin, but coming back from the dead (twice) allows you to be magnanimous. And after “Homeward Bound,” the audience understands how meaningful an offer this is.
Kim: This may make me the most basic of bitches, but I HAVE to say Kevin singing “Homeward Bound” as means to LITERALLY get back home to his family. As many of our friends observed on Twitter, it was a very Adventures in Babysitting “Nobody leaves here without singing the blues” kind of moment, and let me tell you, I was here for it. The scene was already moving with Justin Theroux’s endearingly out-of-tune performance, but then they upped the ante by folding in flashbacks to Kevin’s journey to this very moment. (Me, shaking a fist in the air: Lindelof and that damn National Geographic!)
After two seasons of seeing Kevin unmoored and ready to blow up his life at any given moment, it was incredibly moving to see him so grounded, so utterly and completely SURE of what and who he was fighting to get back home to. Jill. Tommy. Even Laurie! And finally…Nora fucking Durst. The way Kevin’s face CHANGES when he sees Nora in his mind’s eye. “Home where my love lies waiting, silently for me.” I NEED A NAP.
Edie: Meg exiting the bathroom from “powdering her nose” in “Ten Thirteen” only to find her mother dead on the floor of a restaurant reached out and grabbed my heart. This was similar to how my grandmother Edie, for who I am named, died before I was born. Edie Rigg died suddenly of a heart attack on the floor of the Sea-Tac airport in Washington, while my mother Charlotte helplessly watched strangers attempt to revive her. Charlotte was returning for a visit home after moving away to New York, and only had a few minutes to speak to my Grandma Edie before she fell over and died.
My mother didn’t join a cult, she ran away to Europe instead, but if that trauma had been hijacked by a global catastrophe? Who knows what kind of emotional responses that could lead to, and though Meg makes me very upset in Season Two, in this moment I completely understood her.
Sage: Season Two gives us reunions all over the place, even the one that feels the most impossible. And for as flawed of a husband and man that Matt is, it’s impossible not to be affected when Mary comes back to him. Nobody can light up his own face like Christopher Eccleston, and while Matt is friendlier than a lot of our characters, he still has had limited opportunities to experience actual joy. That man’s full smile is like the sun breaking through the clouds, and, dare I say, this one calls to mind another cause for celebration: Just this once, Nora, everybody lives.
- Best WHAT THE FUCK Moment?
Shannon: Again I say. So! Many! Options! Even more than in Season One, somehow, and STILL none of these countless “WHAT THE FUCK” moments lost their oomph. I don’t know how they do it, folks, I really truly don’t.
But if I’ve got to go with one, I’m going with the completely batshit opening of “Axis Mundi.” It’s just so weird! And I love weird! And I especially love that Lindelof doubled down on that weirdness from Lost and trusted that his audience would either be on board or move along. We needed the complete break from last season before meeting the people of Jarden, Texas, and our mystery cave woman living and dying to the tune of Verdi’s “La Traviata” is one hell of a complete break. Her dramatic change of perspective gets us ready to meet the Murphys and the rest of Miracle and for that alone, I thank her.
Kim: I don’t know why I expected anything different from the man who gave us “Across the Sea” as the second to last episode of Lost, but yet somehow I was STILL SHOOK by “Axis Mundi” and the entire cavewoman opening. (One day, I’ll stop comparing The Leftovers to Lost, but today is not that day.) Honestly, I didn’t know what the fuck I was watching in that moment, and now, after watching the full season I STILL don’t quite know what the purpose of that whole opening was…and you know what? I don’t have to know. This, my friends, is why I am an ideal watcher for a Lindelof show. Yeah, I may go “WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS?” at the time I’m watching, but at the same time, I’m perfectly content to just go with the flow, because I actually DON’T expect the narrative of the show to explain this to me.
And here’s the thing: I just have to respect the Big Dick Energy that the first half of “Axis Mundi” radiates. Not only does it not have a single word of dialogue for the first 11 minutes of the episode, we don’t see a character we KNOW for another 27 minutes and six seconds AFTER THAT. (Yes, I looked up the exact time stamp, we don’t see Matt until 38:06. We don’t see the Garveys till 46:55!!) It’s like Damon Lindelof KNEW that no one was watching this show, so he was just like “I WILL DO WHATEVER THE FUCK I WANT AS LONG AS HBO LETS ME.” I’ve said this over and over again, but seriously, I have no choice but to stan.
Edie: When Virgil empties the vial of “bring you back from the dead” juice as Kevin lays dying, and proceeds to shoot himself. My brain couldn’t take it, and immediately reached for some kind of semi-rational explanation for this: Kevin’s handprint had been matched by the police! Michael overheard his father swearing to find and enact vengeance on Kevin and confessed this to his grandfather, so Virgil decided to redeem himself by murdering the man he thought responsible for his missing granddaughter!
What was I thinking? It certainly wasn’t “I’ll accompany this man to the liminal space between life and death by shooting myself.” But that’s this show for you, there are no easy, true-crime podcast answers. The only true part of my reaction was that Virgil was attempting to redeem himself for the harm he inflicted on his daughter, and I wonder if we’ll find out more about how that situation shaped the man John Murphy became in season three.
Caitlin: Virgil shooting himself after Kevin died in “A Most Powerful Adversary.” Michael’s reaction indicates it’s part of the plan, but the audience has no idea what Virgil’s death means for Kevin’s fate.
Rachel: The season finale, “I Live Here Now,” is so dense. But one of the most vivid and striking moments for me was during the flashback of the Jarden girls late night getaway to join the Guilty Remnant. We know already that Sleepwalker Kevin was there to drown himself, but seeing that moment shockingly play out as a stare-down of epic proportions between Evie and Kevin was astounding. You could see the calculations running through Evie’s head of what she should do if they were now caught. Kevin assumed he would be alone but in his state isn’t really processing what it means that she is there. Kevin ends the standoff by nonchalantly jumping into the water with the cement brick and Evie and the girls coldly walk away, ostensibly leaving him to die.
Sage: Patti Levin is so single-minded, so calculating, and so unstoppable that finding a more dangerous antagonist to replace her feels like it might be a fool’s errand. Cue Liv Tyler’s icy fury and Damon Lindelof essentially building an entire season around it.
Meg’s radicalization happens right in front of our faces but the reveal of the extent of it still packs a punch. After all, we’re introduced to the Guilty Remnant as the most nihilistic cult to crop up after the Departure. We’re frequent witnesses to their cruelty and militant rejection of social norms. And The Leftovers does us one better by producing a character who’s too extreme for the GR.
Just like Patti, Meg is completely at ease in her power. But she’s even more unpredictable, because every subversive act she gets away with only spurs her to take things further. The GR’s mission is to remind, but Meg’s is to terrorize. And her backstory supports that. Meg doesn’t give a shit whether or not the rest of the world is able to move on from the Departure; she’s hijacked the group from the inside for her own purposes. (Miracle is Miracle, but you KNOW staging her Heroes Day stunt there was at least one-third revenge against the Garveys.)
Side note: It has to be on purpose that all of the significant GR characters in the show are women or girls. I hearken back to Meg’s mother telling her that she’s “the most relentless person” she knows. “The most relentless person” ANYBODY knows – and this is science – is a woman.
In conclusion: Let Liv Tyler play the Joker, you cowards!
- Favorite Feature of Miracle, Texas?
Sage: What a feast the writers made out of creating a new setting for the show from scratch. There’s a LOT to unpack in Jarden, a town in which you’d have to be desperate for normalcy not to notice the denial seething between the cracks. (Good thing literally everyone is desperate!) So much is immediately and utterly wrong, yet the population’s slavish devotion to their strange rituals and the maintenance of their post-apocalyptic Disneyland situation goes unmentioned by anyone until Erika’s outburst in the middle of the season. No one even seems to find it bizarre that their folksy town, with its small businesses and swimming hole and street market, somehow ended up with a cold, futuristic visitors center that looks more like a fancy bomb shelter.
The mundanity of what goes on there, the getting of permits and community events and such, doesn’t mask the bleakness of what it symbolizes. The outside world is encroaching on Jarden’s manufactured idyllic peace. And when Kevin happens upon Meg’s followers occupying its looted husk, we know it’s succeeded.
Edie: The audio tour. Every time we get to see people participating in that audio tour I can bitterly laugh about my feelings regarding the 9-11 museum in lower Manhattan and I feel less alone.
Rachel: Miracle has a theme song! And it’s not as celebratory as it might appear to be given how it’s introduced for the first time in “Axis Mundi.” The school choir makes it sound bubbly and bright, like the Miracle tourists are looking for. But it’s really a song of wrath, illuminating the darkness that lives within the Murphy family, and the town overall as Michael recognizes at the end of the season. And as we hear it again at the fundraiser, the brightness is still there in the tempo, but the harmonies are off-kilter, as the main characters’ relationships are starting to unravel. At the end we hear it a third time from Meg and Evie, dripped in the pure cynicism of what Miracle no longer represents.
Shannon: Much like Jerry the Goat Man and Cecilia with her wedding dress, the town song seems quirky and interesting and even a little endearing at first, until it becomes VERY unsettling. Group singing should be healing! Not creepy as hell! But every time the town song comes back around, it’s stranger and sadder and stranger and sadder until it becomes absolutely fucking terrifying. I love it every time.
Caitlin: Something as seemingly futile as a wristband was something people were willing to die for. The Leftovers masterfully evolves an amusement park prop to become a significant storytelling device.
Kim: I am completely endeared by the fact that a town with security as tight as Jarden relies on something as LOW RENT as WRISTBANDS to keep track of their population. Do they not have a database of scanned IDs or some sort of manifest of residents? Or like microchips that they can scan in and out? (That’s biblical, I would like to see it.) No! They rely on cheap, plastic WRISTBANDS. Wristbands that, as we see in “No Room at the Inn” can be easily stolen, AND aren’t tied to their owner. And not everyone has to wear them all the time? Like there’s some sort of wristband expiration date and then you’re good? IT MAKES NO SENSE! It’s like Jarden believes in some sort of honor system in a world that doesn’t have any honor left.
Also, as Sage pointed out during the livetweet, it just amuses me that everyone makes the same gesture when showing the wristband off. It’s like a primal human instinct.
- Best Episode Title?
Shannon: Your friendly neighborhood antiquity representative is back from the Island, and this time I’m here to remind you that “Axis Mundi” is Latin for the line between two celestial poles – ones that mirror heaven and hell, around which the whole of the universe revolves. Often sacred and always pretty fucking notable, an axis mundi is a place where myth meets reality. Where beings can cross between the upper realms, into our plane of existence, and down into the depths of hell. And that’s the name of the episode where we first encounter Jarden, Texas. Purely happenstance, I’m sure.
Edie: “I Live Here Now.” It was clear to me from a glance at this episode title that one of our characters would be making this declarative statement, and Justin Therox did not disappoint me in making this the powerful moment I hoped it would be. I’m seriously impressed with his acting chops as we move through this. Leading man is a tough role to keep interesting in a series like this, which has such rich ensemble offerings amidst a narrative arc that’s the real star.
Caitlin: “International Assassin.”
Kim: I’m going with “A Most Powerful Adversary” because really, is there any better way to describe how large the presence of Patti Levin looms over this season? I think not.
Rachel: “A Most Powerful Adversary” describes GhostPatti & Kevin’s relationship to a tee. And the context of how Virgil says it in the context of the episode makes the language of it even more significant.
Sage: “But I’d reckon that quake happened right before you passed, opened up the ground, emptied out all that water. Spared your life. Which means either you got somebody looking out for you…or you’ve got yourself a most powerful adversary.”
- Best Hero Moment?
Caitlin: While I feel I’ve made it abundantly clear who my favorite Hero of The Leftovers is (Kevin… it will always be Kevin), Tommy saving Nora and Lily on the bridge. At this point in his journey, it’s not clear if he necessarily has it in him. After all, he’s supposed to be a Living Reminder. But he breaks his GR code to save his father’s girlfriend and the baby of the woman he once loved whom he delivered to his father’s doorstep.
Kim: Even though Sage had warned us ahead of time that ultimately nothing tragic would happen to Baby Lily, my heart still skipped a beat when she was ripped out of Nora’s arms during the stampede into Jarden. (See also: my least favorite character.) I don’t think I took a breath during the entire bridge sequence, from the way that Nora started to lose the woman in the crowd to that heart stopping shot of the baby LYING ON THE GROUND crying out in distress as Nora fought to get to her to Nora using her body as a human shield, crouching over her baby as people started to trample over her. I’ve had the experience of getting swept up in a stampede and KNOWING what it feels like to have people step on you and not even care about it, so I had a VISCERAL reaction to Tommy appearing out of NOWHERE, shouting Nora’s name and thrusting his arm through the sea of bodies to pull her to her feet. These two seasons have been a STRUGGLE for Tommy, so it was incredibly satisfying to see him COME THROUGH in this moment, like the good boy that we know he is at his very core.
Rachel: In “I Live Here Now,” Tommy, who has been a lost soul, relegated to being a tool first of his mother, then later Meg, finally comes into his own and steps out of that trailer, saving Nora and the baby from the trampling masses.
Sage: Shannon could probably tell you which painting the shot of Tommy pulling Nora and Lily to safety is supposed to echo, as well as rhapsodize about the reference at length. I…cannot. What I can say is that, like so many things in The Leftovers, it feels divine and human at the same time. It’s a miracle that Nora can get to the baby before anyone hurts her; it’s a miracle that Tommy can get to them before they’re both trampled. But the heroic actions are their own: a mother throwing her body over her child’s and a prodigal son, who’d been drifting without a purpose, making the choice to finally and truly come home.
Edie: Matt Jamison taking the place of the exhausted naked man in the stocks at the end of “No Room at the Inn.” From the moment we saw Matt see that poor soul atop an RV, I just knew he’d end up there himself. That didn’t make his by turns selfish and then selfless journey any less gripping to witness. Do we get a Matt episode every season? God I hope so, because Christopher Eccleston just shines in this role, and I live for every time his bright, sunny smile comes out from behind the clouds of this complicated character.
Shannon: “He’s trying to help? This man is crazy. He killed a goat on October 14 before any of us knew what happened and he was locked up in jail where he should have stayed. But then all y’all decided that Jerry must have saved us, that Jerry knew something. He sacrificed something to protect us. So now he’s a holy man and he gets to walk around here killing goats whenever he feels like it just in case? … No, you let him do it, too. If there aren’t any miracles in Miracle, then why does he get a pass? Cecilia, you were trying on your wedding dress when it happened, huh? So now you put it on every day and you take pictures with the tourists, huh? Number 13 on the audio tour. Well, maybe you were the one that saved us. Maybe, huh? We are the 9,261 and we are spared. We’re spared. We’re not spared. We’re not safe. All this shit we’re walking around here doing, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t work. My daughter is gone. So no. No, Jerry.”
- Favorite Use of Music?
Caitlin: It takes a lot for me not to say Simon & Garfunkel in any question about a favorite music moment. But though an opening credits song is standard fare, it has to be Iris DeMent’s “Let the Mystery Be.” Beyond the stark shift from the orchestral Max Richter piece from the Season One credits, “Let the Mystery Be” cheekily mocks the struggle for answers that all of the characters have faced since the Departure. I had never heard it before The Leftovers Season Two and it’s become a song that I often revisit, not only for the comfort I get from the rather discomforting lyrics but how it brings me back to this magical season of television.
Edie: This is a tough one from a show that knows how to destroy you with its music cues. I’m going to go with Patti rick-rolling Kevin as my favorite musical moment. Season Two seemed to really understand where we, the audience, needed some tension breaks and boy did this one deliver. It also managed to drive home how grating Patti’s appearances must be for Kevin, as we’re never sorry to see Ann Dowd show up and just be incredible all over the place.
Sage: That would be Lo-Fang’s slinky cover of “You’re the One That I Want” playing as Nora handcuffs herself to Kevin so that she won’t “wake up alone again.” Survival, but make it sexy.
Kim: We know from Lost that are few things Damon Lindelof loves more than a good musical cue. (Alexa, play “Make Your Own Kind of Music.”) Season Two of The Leftovers is rife with good music, from the new theme song (a bop!) to the unexpected use of “Let Your Love Flow” to all that Verdi in “International Assassin” to my personal Right in the Feels moment with Kevin singing Simon & Garfunkel. So how do you even choose a best musical moment when it’s SO CLEAR that, much like Baz Luhrmann and John Carney, Damon Lindelof fully understands the power of music? All of those moments I mentioned above cycled through my brain when I sat down to work on this post. They’re all good ones! But ultimately, I’m going with the moment Meg and Evie started singing the Miracle, Texas song complete with pitch-perfectly eerie harmony, while the rest of the newly revealed Guilty Remnant lied on the floor all around them smoking. Friends, my blood ran cold.
Shannon: I have a lot of big feelings about Fight Club and the Pixie’s track “Where Is My Mind.” I’m very protective of it; for me, that last scene is one of the best music moments in film. So when “Where Is My Mind” came into The Leftovers, I got prickly! I comforted myself with the knowledge that it was clearly homage, with Patti acting as Kevin’s own personal Tyler Durden. But when the Maxence Cyrin version came in and then started making repeated appearances, I realized something else was happening.
Cyrin and the Pixie’s versions float in and out of each other, sometimes in the same episodes, sometimes even in the same scenes. It’s mostly used for Kevin, but sometimes for the other Garveys too – and very occasionally for the Guilty Remnant itself. Maxence Cyrin’s version in particular is so haunting, while also speaking directly to the same explorations that make Fight Club AND The Leftovers so complex. “Where Is My Mind” and Tyler/Ghost Patti are not “just” a matter of hallucinations and soul searching. They’re manifestations of what happens to the psyche when societal trauma is so significant, so fundamentally altering, that the meaning of life is called into question. When the world has ended and nothing matters – so you may as well start up a cult to force that fact down everyone’s throat, and to remind them to live. Call it Project Mayhem, call it the Guilty Remnant, the specifics don’t really matter. It’s abject nihilism playing in the same sandbox as genuine hope. Nothing matters – everything matters. With your feet on the air and your head on the ground. Try this trick and spin it.
Rachel: There is a ridiculous amount of great music on this series, both in the score and music supervision, with such brilliant selections and placement. But the track for me that is most memorable in how it compliments the scene is the use of “Take It All” by Ruelle to introduce the Garveys to Miracle, TX in A Matter of Geography. The lushness of the track’s storm with the clear tone of the vocal encourages you to explore everything about the visuals being presented to you here: the people in the encampment, the bridge, the Texas heat, everything. And look at these lyrics! It’s truly a window into Season Two.
Through hell’s gate
The ground shakes
And valor wakes
And so it begins
With all at stake
So it begins
So it begins
Where worlds collide
And blood divides
When darkness falls
This winter breath
Taste of death
Where iron meets flesh
We’ll take it all
- Sum up your feelings on the season as a whole.
Caitlin: For years, I have specifically listed The Leftovers Season Two as my gold standard of television. It has all the misery of the unknown that was established in Season One and that I require, but it was also fun! In that, the possibilities around the unknown opened up. Laurie and Tommy’s cult grift, Meg’s nihilism, Erika’s birds, Nora’s struggle with her own possible power, and Michael and Matt’s belief in God, all add to the magic of Kevin’s resurrection storyline. With the introduction of purgatory, the characters (and the audience) still have no clue how and why we’re here or not here, but exploring that mystery and embracing it doesn’t have to be so dark and scary all the time.
Rachel: Season Two of The Leftovers is one of the most perfect seasons of television to ever have been made. It benefits not only from brilliant storytelling and characterization, but also from the inherent tight ten-episode arc, leaving little room for unnecessary moments and diversions. It once again feels so prescient in these times, picking at the notions of family, community, loyalty, and asks what it means to feel safe in uncertain days.
Much like the Garvey extended clan, who move to Jarden, TX looking for a fresh start, the Murphys who already live there seem to have it together. Miracle National Park, with its fenced territory, gates, and bridge to entry is a protective shell for both families. But much like the cracks in the pavement from fracking, it cannot prevent Kevin from being haunted by Patti, nor let Nora escape from her old family’s disappearance. John is haunted by his past, determined to prove there are no miracles in miracle, while Evie and her friends still run away and join the Guilty Remnant. Michael is right, they are NOT saved.
Ultimately, our friends in Jarden are doing their best to love each other, keep each other safe in the best way they know how, and support each other amongst the greatest uncertainty, the unknown of the future. And that’s all we can do too.
Sage: Season Two of The Leftovers is one of my top five seasons of television ever, full stop. It takes the very best of its debut and sprinkles in more humor, more wonder, more existential questions to ponder, and more characters I want to know everything about. We praise Damon Lindelof so much in these recaps, but I also want to show some love to his co-showrunner, Tom Perrotta, and his elasticity in expanding and reconceptualizing his novel. There’s plenty of ego in The Leftovers, but only the “let’s see what they make of THIS” kind. Otherwise, there’s a captivating sense of curiosity and experimentation. Season to season, The Leftovers is making it up as it goes along, and that makes it alive in a way that most puzzle box shows are not.
Edie: If Season One of The Leftovers is about living amidst an ever-present global trauma, Season Two is about trying to move forward while the trauma you carry inside follows your every step. Kevin can’t ignore his trauma, which takes the form of Patti and near-fatal sleep-walking. He can’t be loved through it, though Nora does her very best to attempt this. Nora’s steps forward include sudden parenthood and impulse buying a home for her new family, but neither of these grand gestures bring her any closer to Kevin or closure. Ultimately, that is something both of these characters have to give to themselves.
It’s no less true for John Murphy, who fights so hard against the idea that his family didn’t recover from his incarceration that he nearly kills his neighbor to deny it. The wounds are there, for both of these families, and though one house has lost relatives to the departure and it’s cult-ripe aftermath while the other was supposedly “spared,” those wounds are deep and threaten to fracture those familial bonds beyond repair.
Kevin appears to confront his trauma head on and accept it, greeting the child-form of Patti in the sort-of afterlife before finally dispatching her from his consciousness and taking responsibility for her loss. He may not have wielded the shard of glass that Patti drove through her throat, but his refusal to address his night-walking led directly to her death. It’s a hard thing for a man who worked so hard to hold his town together to accept, but let’s hope he finally has. Nora returns and seems ready to accept the incredible amount of baggage loving Kevin Garvey comes with, smiling among his family reunion as “I Live Here Now” draws to a close. I want desperately to see what is going on at the Murphy house as John walks in the door. John isn’t as far along the path to self-acceptance as Kevin seems to be, but like most of the characters of The Leftovers season two he’s stumbling in the right direction. Which is really all you can ever ask of anyone.
Shannon: My overwhelming feeling on the second season is that I can’t wait to watch the whole thing over again, and in full context. Even just in revisiting a few episodes for this post, I lost track of the number of things I picked up on that are referred to again in the latter half of the season. (There is SO MUCH RESURRECTION TALK IN “OFF RAMP,” folks. SO MUCH.) Even more so than in Season One, the whole thing feels magnificently crafted in a way I feel certain I can just barely appreciate on first viewing.
Expanding the world into Jarden was both genius and very necessary; our worldview opened up but still fit right into the life we knew from Mapleton. The unification of the two character worlds was done so carefully, so patiently. It’s a rare gift to see a show expand itself that way without sacrificing multiple throughlines and character arcs to suit the newcomers. But season two strikes that balance, with few exceptions.
I continue to be inspired and comforted by the way this show deals with loss, and processing trauma, and getting up in the morning to do it all over again. And now that we’re leaning into the mythology and the magic of it all, my fascination with the world building is at an all-time high. It’s a delicate, intricate, beautiful puzzle, and somewhere in that puzzle is the key to understanding humanity. If I can just watch it enough times to figure it out.
Kim: I think what I appreciate the most about Season Two of The Leftovers is the fact that they were working without a net. They exhausted all the source material in Season One and had to spend the first few episodes building a new world for these pre-existing characters, which, when you really think about it, essentially makes Season Two creator-sanctioned fan fiction. (Believe me, that is the highest form of praise coming from me.) In addition to no source material, they already KNEW they had a niche audience, given the viewing numbers from season one, and yet, HBO said, by all means, make another season. (I’m still shook by the fact that a mere 696,000 people, the equivalent of the population of Washington D.C. at the time, watched the broadcast of “International Assassin.”) They were literally working with nothing…and then came up with ten masterful episodes that when viewed together make one beautiful piece of art.
Because after all, there is a freedom in working without a net, isn’t there? That confidence and sense of creative freedom pervades every episode of this season for me. That confidence starts at the top, with the extraordinary writing, and trickles down through the direction to the top-notch award worthy performances to the music choices and all the way down to the smallest details. It continues to demand a huge emotional buy-in from the audience, and I continue to see how the show might not be for everyone. I’m just SO GLAD that it’s for me.
Featured Image Source: HBO