There’s a manic quality to Carrie Coon’s performance throughout this hour, a madly grinning mania that feels like she’s trying desperately to accept this strange but welcome turn that her life has taken. If you remember, at the end of Season One, she was ready to leave town after having been shocked into disarray by the Guilty Remnant’s Memorial Day stunt. Now, she’s tied again to Mapleton, with a new baby to look after and a version of a nuclear family to be a part of.
That strange buzzing energy that thrills under her skin is the force that drives this second installment of The Leftovers’ new season. It’s infectious, which is why Kevin is enamored with her and Lily feels so comfortable around her. And it’s what gets humming inside all three as they decide to pull up stakes and move to Jarden, Texas, sight unseen.
It’s hard not to see the appeal. Kevin can shut the door on the terrible events of the previous season, and hopefully move past this unsettling urge he has to put himself before the judgement of his peers by digging up Patty’s body and turning it over to the police. Jill can completely cut off ties with her mom, even at the expense of losing her relationship with her brother. For Nora, it’s a chance to feel, as Jill puts it, “safe.” Which is just what anyone who has been through what she went through would want to feel. Hence, it’s no surprise that she’s willing to spend all the money she earned from selling her former family’s home in Mapleton to buy a house in Jarden. If she’s going to make this leap into the unknown, she wants nothing weighing her down.
Kevin certainly wants the same, but he’s clearly haunted, literally and figuratively. The terror of unconsciously kidnapping someone and having his captive commit suicide, followed by tearing his daughter out of a burning building, weighs on his broad shoulders. Then he starts having visions of Patty following him around and torturing him with constant chatter. Not that his choice of nü metal and industrial rock as a method to drown out his ghost’s intrusions is much better.
The terrifying part was realizing that, even in his fugue states, he intends to do himself harm. At least when he’s awake, the idea is simply to be held accountable for his actions. When he’s not lucid, the intent is apparently to end his life. That’s how we winds up drenched, with a cinder block tied to his ankle, saved only by the earthquake draining the lake of its water. Considering his past sleepwalking misdeeds, it leaves us to wonder if he had anything to do with the disappearance of the three young teens that went to the lake that night (including Evie, the daughter of his next door neighbor). As if we needed another mystery layered on top of everything else.
Those closing moments weren’t even the most maniacal part of this episode. That was reserved for the surreal sequence of the Garveys entering into Jarden for the first time. The extended sequence was reminiscent of the scene in Children of Men with Theo and Kee entering the refugee camp. As the Garveys slowly crawled into the checkpoint to get their wristbands and stick their poor dog in quarantine, everything around them buzzed with hope and danger and desperation. Everyone there is seeking the same kind of safety that Nora so desperately craves, and some kind of spiritual enlightenment that they feel is going to come by setting foot in this miraculous Texas town. It’s the same pull that brings people to megachurches every Sunday, or sends worshippers to Mecca every year for hajj.
Even with the knowledge that no one departed from Jarden, who could rest easy in this town? Who could rest easy anywhere? That’s the fundamental question that haunts everyone on the show, and likely everyone watching the show. Like the residents of this fictional world, we are all searching for meaning or at least seeking out the kind of distractions that will keep us from dwelling on our eventual demise and the issues that plague our planet, our community, and our homes. It’s a wonder The Leftovers can maintain an audience at all as it gives us little relief from our existential woes. As they are sure to prove in the weeks to come, we can shake our heads in disbelief at the people on screen flocking to this made-up town, but eventually we’ll come to realize how we’re all looking for our own version of Miracle, Texas.
Robert Ham is a Portland-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste, and the author of Empire: The Unauthorized Untold Story, available in bookstores now. You can follow him on Twitter.