Not many have been watching, but the second season of The Leftovers has been a triumph — a marvel in narrative and tone with jaw-dropping performances. That said, it might not be for everyone, as its strongest traits might also be keeping viewers from engaging with it. While most of us were invested in the character of Breaking Bad’s Walter White, as he spiralled downwards we were quick to keep our emotional distance — to appreciate him just as a character that would occasionally drop some bad-ass lines or move the plot forward. The Leftovers doesn’t allow for that distance. The atmosphere and themes of fear, loneliness, guilt, and depression are incredibly relatable — and the mysteries that showrunner Damon Lindelof became famous for on LOST are used responsibly, not as carrot-on-a-stick cliffhangers that go nowhere, but as mechanisms (that are often explained, unlike his past work) that let the audience feel the same confusion, fear, and wonder as the characters.
The Leftovers’ first season took place three years after the “Departure,” when two per cent of the world’s population (140 million people) disappeared. Not much time is devoted to explaining how it happened or where they went; that isn’t the focus of the story. Instead, the story deals with those left behind, and how they handled their grief (or lack thereof). Many are drawn away from mainstream religion or science, which all fail to give sufficient explanation for the Departure, and instead gather around heretics or cults such as “the Guilty Remnant,” chain-smoking mutes who wear all white and refuse to let people move on. The show follows Kevin Garvey Jr. (Justin Theroux), who by the second season is a former chief of police trying to resettle his family in Jarden, Texas. He struggles with his slipping sanity and a loss of control, which are brilliantly captured by his performance and the show’s writing. You’ll find yourself losing your mind with him. His girlfriend Nora Durst (Carrie Coon), who had her entire family taken, is terrified it might happen again, and is that the impetus for the move to the town known as “Miracle,” because no departures took place there, as she clings to anything that will make her feel safe and rid her of the guilt of being left behind. One of the standout performances in the show comes from Christopher Eccleston as Matt Jaminson, a devout and convicted Episcopal reverend whose favourite book of the bible is Job. I don’t want to give away too much, but watch the show and it will become apparent why.