‘The Leftovers’ Review: “Axis Mundi”

The Leftovers
Season 2, Episode 1: “Axis Mundi”
Air Date: October 4th, 2015

So much of the fun – and frustration – of The Leftovers’ first season was the ambiguous line it drew between the mystical and the actual. Viewers were treated to no shortage of would be faith-healers, messiahs, prophets, cults, and “departed” 80’s sitcom stars (more on that later). Combined with the teeming symbolism and religious allusions were deep character studies into how we cope with loss and what motivates someone to actively engage in a world that can be so downright merciless. Not to mention, it was just fucking weird. If viewers were expecting anything different from season two, the first episode  “Axis Mundi” should shatter those expectations.

Instead of picking up with our protagonists, the opening sequence takes place in prehistoric times, depicting a pregnant mother’s separation from her tribe courtesy of a well-timed rockslide. The prologue is brutal and reminiscent of the start to 2001: A Space Odyssey. Of course, said mother gives birth and struggles to survive while protecting her newborn, only to die as result of snakebite. Yet, just as all seems lost, another woman rescues the child before the setting transitions into the present day: welcome to Jarden, Texas.

leftovers

In Jarden, situated within the confines of ‘Miracle National Park’ (so designated because of its dubious claims to exclusion from the departure event), we are introduced to the Murphy family, whose contrasts and similarities to season one protagonists the Garveys are immediately evident. The patriarch of this Baptist family is John – yes, John the Baptist – a rather unorthodox fireman who appears to have a strong distaste for spiritual hucksters and apparent frauds that exploit the town’s privileged spiritual orientation. While at first good natured and warm, we later see this man burn down the house of his palm-reading childhood friend Isaac and voluntarily disclose his imprisonment for attempted murder (he “didn’t try hard enough”). Yet, in the wonderfully vague world of The Leftovers, this guy could actually be our new hero.

The Murphy’s are rounded out with John’s doctor wife Erika and two children Evie and Michael. The former is a fairly typical teenager, playing athlete and choirgirl to her parents, while mischievously sneaking out behind the scenes. The latter seems an earnest Baptist in training. Although he sells vials of the town’s water to tourists, he emphasizes that they’re only souvenirs in response to one prospect’s eager inquest “Will it save us?”

Almost as afterthoughts, we eventually see some familiar faces. Reverend Matt Jamison and his wife Mary have moved to Miracle, (in part, it seems, to help cure Mary’s paralysis) and have tipped off the newly stitched together iteration of the Garveys, who buy a house in search of a fresh start.

leftovers

In the wake of the Sudden Departure, so many people are prepared to believe in anything or anyone who make authoritative claims on how to find peace, realize salvation or, alternatively, the inherent meaninglessness of life. In choosing not to explicitly weigh in on the legitimacy of these transcendent characters and institutions, the show seems to suggest that they don’t really matter. What’s important – as seen through the ultimate growth and progression of the Garveys and their allies – is our relationship to other people and salvation through empathetic community. Having exhausted the original source material last year, it’s uncertain how much the show will push the limits of its spiritual resilience in season two, but I have no doubt I’ll be interested (and hopeful) in seeing them try.

Parting thoughts:

  • We were gifted not one, but two TGIF references in this episode.
  • It turns out Eddie Winslow has a knack for reading palms and yet he couldn’t see Urkel’s Toweljitsu skills.
  • The second was a cameo by Mark Linn-Baker of Perfect Strangers and a call back to last season’s joke that the entire cast had been raptured.
  • There’s a lot to unpack in this episode. Repeated references to water, sneaky crickets, and earthquakes. Start making a list of metaphors now, because they’re only going to grow.
Tim Flynn
A content junkie of the highest order. New Jersey native transplanted to San Antonio. Will watch anything with Abe Vigoda.

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