As The Leftovers returns with its second season, we break down what’s weird, what’s mysterious, and what’s simply the fuck? on HBO’s intriguing, frequently puzzling, never dull show. Without further ado, let’s dive into the sixth episode, “Lens.”
What’s Confounding: Nora’s attitude towards Erika. You’d think Nora would understand Erika’s plight — a missing child who is never coming back — and use it as a basis for friendship and bonding. But as usual, Nora surprises us by reacting in a way that counters what we expect, yet seems organic and natural once we get there. That tense scene in Erika’s living room when Nora walks her through her questionnaire and the two women make each other cry is goose-bump worthy. As the episode progressed, I had almost forgotten about Nora throwing a stone through the Murphys’ window at the beginning — maybe it was just a strange image that would remain unaddressed like most things on this show — but Erika replicating it at the end sent a clear, chilling message: There will be no bonding between bereaved mothers. Stones are being thrown. I don’t know which performance was stronger or which woman you’d be less keen to mess with.
What’s Intriguing: Nora’s conversation with Laurie. WHERE IS TOM AND WHAT IS HE DOING? Has he established his own commune full of underage girls? Has he run off to Australia, where he’s now living the peaceful life of a sheep farmer? Has he gone off the deep end even further and become a serial killer whose M.O. is to leave his victims wearing olive-green knit hats? I need to know!
It was a brilliant touch, on several levels, to use a phone call as a device to link the two disparate storylines. It got us amped about Tom and Laurie — I have never been more eager to check in with them — and it got Nora and Laurie, two fascinating women connected by the same guy, to share a scene. Phone call scenes can easily dissolve into a cliché split-screen situation, but the way the shots paned closely between their tense faces (Laurie taking up smoking again, with electrical-socket-shock hair; Nora’s initial aggression morphing to unwilling concern) created a feeling that anything could happen. Laurie could show up in Jarden, Tom could show up with his Hug Squad, Nora could curse Laurie out, Nora could confide in her: the tension arose from the fact that two highly unpredictable characters in spirals of self-destruction are sharing a screen together for the first time, and anything could have conceivably arisen from there.
WTFs to file away for the future:
- The demon Azrael. Just when we think things are getting intense, there’s a bit of highly unexpected humor to keep this show from becoming bleak. Tricking the audience into thinking the scientist would be some new, significant character was pure trolling on the writers part. Well played.
- How much time has passed since the last episode? Matt seems fairly established in the strange purgatory shantytown outside Jarden
- “I’ve been seeing someone.” Kevin, like Jon Snow (“I killed Mance Rayder!” he tells the Wildlings in “Hardhome,” without bothering to first specify that Mance was already being burned at the stake) really needs to learn the art of conversational context.
- Is it weird that in spite of everything, I find Kevin and Nora to be one of the most oddly endearing couples on TV right now? They truly get each other – Nora handcuffs him to the bed every night, no problem, and Kevin raises his eyebrows when he sees her stealing papers from someone’s briefcase, but looks away with a shrug. They tolerate each other’s eccentricities, no questions asked, but they also aren’t afraid to call each other out when it’s necessary. (“You’re handcuffing me to the bed every night and acting like it’s normal!”)
The Final Verdict: The Leftovers is making every other show on TV look like an amateur student film right now. And anyone who thinks it merely operates on mysteries it has no intention of solving can swallow their words, because this week, we got actual answers to three different puzzles. We know that Virgil is Erika or John Murphy’s father, we know what Erika has been doing with those dead birds in the box, and we know Nora is finally in the loop about Kevin’s hallucinations. We even have some speculation about the Departure with that fascinating lens theory. Sure, it’s speculation this show will most likely not answer, but as usual, the show is serving up some delicious food for thought and leaving us divvy it up as we will.
A lesser show — and even this show last year — might have drawn out the “Kevin is crazy and hiding it from everyone!” plot line as a means to manufacture drama, but The Leftovers has too much real meat to concern itself with bullshit drama. The beauty of that final scene was twofold: Justin Theroux’s stunning performance and two characters actually communicating with each other — a rare sight on TV. Week after week, this show has yet to deliver an episode that doesn’t make me want to go back and watch it again, puzzling over each beautifully crafted shot, each storytelling angle. If this show doesn’t get renewed for a third season, we’ll know that the world is truly being run by the Demon Azrael.