I was blown away by the first season of The Leftovers, but at the same time, I knew how divisive the show was. It was a series full of the supernatural, one which revolved around a single incredible event – the instantaneous and mysterious disappearance of 2% of the world’s population – and yet had no interest in explaining what happened or why it happened. It was a bleak series, one that explored depression, grief, and loss in unflinching terms. It looked at religion, faith, and morality in fascinating ways, gave us broken and damaged characters, and simply watched. And for that reason, a lot of people hated it, or simply couldn’t handle it – because make no mistake, the first season of The Leftovers is punishingly, crushingly bleak. And while the emotions it raised, the themes it explored, the characters it created – while all of that was masterfully done and beautiful, it could be a hard show to watch, emotionally.
And then came season two…and the show felt entirely different.
Here’s a quick example of how different the show felt. Here are the opening credits of the show in season one. They’re ominous, dread-soaked, and oppressive.
And now, here are the opening credits of season two, which couldn’t be more different in every imaginable way.
A different song, different images, a different tone…all of which might leave you wondering if this is the same show. And it is…but it’s also not.
Season two of The Leftovers takes place in a small town in Texas known as Miracle, because of the fact that, on the day of the Departure, Miracle lost no one. Not a single soul. And in the years since the Departure, Miracle has become a national landmark, a park where people flock – maybe for answers, maybe for safety, and maybe just for hope. It’s the new home for some of our main characters, who left Mapleton after the end of season one in the hopes of getting a fresh start.
And then three young girls disappear in truly bizarre circumstances…to the point where people begin to think there must have been another Departure.
That’s about all of the story I want to get into here, but suffice to say that the disappearance is the point around which the entire season revolves. That’s an interesting choice, and one which gives the season a bigger narrative hook than the first season ever had. It’s a mystery that we think might have an answer, one that seems less daunting than the Departure itself. And as we start to question the role of various people in that disappearance – as well as the nature of Miracle itself – the season feels less abstract, more directly compelling than the first.
And yet, for all of that, this is still The Leftovers. There may be more “plot” to grab onto. There may be a less pervasive sense of hopelessness and despair. There may even be hints of a sense of humor (as well as a wonderfully meta tone at points that allows the show to take jabs at itself and answer some of the complaints about the series). But this is undeniably the same series, with the same preoccupations: death, loss, grief, healing, religion, faith, doubt, madness – all of them and more. And by the end, it becomes clear just how much the show is still dealing with the same material, even if the approach is different. This is still a show that deals with heavy material, and does so unflinchingly when it needs to.
But it’s also a show that’s given itself permission to be daring, and audacious, and even funny – to say nothing of gleefully weird. There’s a plotline about an odd hotel, for instance, which manages to be part Lynch film, part Sopranos homage, and entirely, wonderfully odd – and completely captivating, as well as unmistakably part of the same show. And that doesn’t even get into the fact that one character may be hallucinating a a dead visitor who seems to enjoy nothing more than taunting him at all times. Beyond that, though, the show shows a willingness to answer some questions, even ones you don’t expect entirely – and given some of the weird details about life in Miracle, there’s quite a few. And there’s even a willingness to play with the season’s structure, telling an overlapping story through a series of rotating perspectives that makes for a fascinating, compelling plotline.
The Leftovers still isn’t a show for everyone, and that’s okay. Indeed, that’s part of the joy of the show – a refusal to compromise, or to fit in, or to accommodate everyone. Even the show’s re-invention this season feels organic, less a choice to attract a bigger audience and more a choice to tell a different kind of story. But it’s still a show about big, weighty issues, one with an incredible cast, a willingness to take on big ideas in an intelligent way, and a beautiful sense of style and purpose that’s hard to ignore. And while it can be a rough watch, and even an emotionally draining one…but it’s also among the best shows on television. And given how much great TV there is these days, that’s no small thing.