[This is a review of The Leftovers season 2, episode 4. There will be SPOILERS.]
The Leftovers has been doing something fantastic in season 2, something that goes beyond exploring the idea of how the characters left behind in wake of the Sudden Departure would go on living their lives. The show with an unanswerable mystery at its core is interested in exploring more mysteries – both similar and different – as a way of expanding its story and the audience's understanding of the characters who occupy it. Rather than keep these mysteries entirely sheltered behind uncommunicative individuals, a healthy portion of what transpires is discussed openly in moments of surprisingly frank dialogue. All of which makes the secrets that are still being held by Kevin Garvey or Erika Murphy all the more effective in their potency and potential for revealing a greater truth or a greater danger.
In 'Orange Sticker,' Erika gives Kevin a crash course on her husband John, who spent a good portion of the episode searching for his lost daughter Evie amidst the mystery of the Jarden earthquake and the drained pond that was supposed to be Kevin's final resting place. Of course, things became predictably heated (because John likes to set fire to the homes of those going against his mantra of "no miracles in Miracle") after Kevin inadvertently makes Isaac suspect number one with a muddy palm print on the side of the car Evie was last seen riding in. With John being shot and refusing to go to a hospital, the inner workings of the Murphy clan are put on display in a fascinating scene that is dominated by Kevin Carroll's fiery performance and then tempered by an amazing, understated bit of exposition from Regina King that tells the audience everything they need to know about the Murphys.
The unspoken conflict within the Murphy home – John's staunch no miracle rule seems to be in direct opposition to Erika's tacit association with them, which was seen when she dug up the bird in the box during the premiere – is one of the more intriguing elements brought in by these new characters. Although they've really only been seen in two episodes now, the Murphys have become an invaluable part of The Leftovers narrative, and their intimate connection to what appears to be the Sudden Departure 2.0 gives the series a new angle with which to explore the incomprehensible, sorrowful, and maddening event at the center of the narrative. What's more, the composed yet hopeful reaction to her daughter's disappearance and furtive opposition to her husband's disavowal that anything beyond human understanding is going on in Jarden helps make Erika and Kevin unlikely and implicit comrades in the increasingly confusing world.
Both characters have significant others with extreme, sometimes violent reactions to events that are completely out of their control but shape their lives nonetheless. And each one attempts to acquire control in unique, albeit invasive ways. John burns houses down as a way of shaping his environment, keeping it in line with his beliefs and the things that he can or is willing to understand. At the same time, Nora responds to Kevin's absence following the earthquake by first reacting coldly to him, in a way that feels like an attempt to emotionally isolate herself from the prospect of losing another person she dared care about.
Carrie Coon is predictably outstanding in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, searching for confirmation of her worst fears first on a television with no signal, and then a computer with no Wi-Fi (which is an apocalypse many of us are likely familiar with), finally calling emergency services only to be unable to articulate what it is she's seeking to know. At every turn, Coon demonstrates Nora's internal struggle of trying desperately not to relive the first departure, which results in her encasing herself in an emotional bubble. But the coldness with which she regards Kevin throughout the episode works to the plot's advantage, keeping him out and about, searching for his phone and eventually on an ill-advised outing with John. It also makes the extreme measure Nora takes to pull Kevin back into her emotional bubble and prevent her very acute separation anxiety feel all the more effective and emotionally resonant.
Mostly, though, 'Orange Sticker' simply excels at making use of the new setting's unique perspective, as those who haven't experienced a departure are suddenly faced with the very real possibility the event has happened again, specifically pinpointing the town it skipped over the first time around. It's a confounding mystery, one that likely won't be given any more concrete answers than the initial Departure, but that doesn't prevent The Leftovers from exploring the fallout from another new perspective, as Patti finally gets Kevin (and perhaps the guy in the Miracle tower) to acknowledge her presence.
Ann Dowd is terrific here, as the Patti that's manifested inside Kevin's potentially broken brain is subtly different than the living version from season 1. She's still manipulative and spiteful, but there's a sense of benevolence behind her actions, like warning Kevin not to get into the car with John, or telling him flat-out that the missing girls were indeed taken by another Departure. Like everything that happens in the series, there are questions as to whether or not Patti is something deserving of Kevin's attention – either by his heeding her advice or seeking immediate psychiatric help. These events are intriguing because they feel simultaneously random and yet laced with some larger purpose and meaning with regard to the story. Not knowing Patti's intentions or the veracity of her statements as they pertain to the larger implications of the story helps makes the idea of an imaginary character more inviting than it otherwise would be.
Just four episodes into the second season The Leftovers has been on a phenomenal role. Most of that is thanks to the changes that were made, and the tremendous performances of its expanded cast. But it's also due to the season's structure of allowing its stories to overlap. What sounds restrictive, actually grants the series a new level of freedom in terms of how it portions out character arcs and a sense of a grand, shared storyline, even when the characters are occupying wholly different states – both geographically and otherwise.
The Leftovers continues next Sunday with 'No Room at the Inn' @9pm on HBO. Check out a preview below:
Photos: Van Redin/HBO