If 2% of the world’s population — call it roughly 140 million people — suddenly vanished one day, the world would change, right? Everything would be different, right? Religion would be shaken for some, as we saw last season on The Leftovers in the third episode “Two Boats and a Helicopter“. Grief, as a concept, would take on a new complexity as in “Guest“. Heck, even the ATF would necessarily expand to become the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, Explosives and Cults (obviously). Three years after the Sudden Departure, Carrie Coon’s Nora Durst lives her life (again, in “Guest”) in what appears to be a normal way: she goes to the grocery store and takes the trash out. But Leftovers unveils something underneath those trips to the grocery store and to the trash barrel, betrays a world changed but changed only beneath the business-as-usual facade.
I expect as much to be the case with Jarden, Texas, a town that miraculously was unaffected by the Departure. All 9,261 citizens of the town were “spared”, turning Jarden into a mecca for those believing it to be the only safe haven on the planet. It’s now billed as Miracle National Park, and tourists flock by the thousands to breathe the air of the place that God saved. The change of location from Mapleton, NY, works on several levels, providing more than fresh faces and fresh challenges. The sparing of Jarden is no more explicable than the Departure everywhere else, and thus we get a fresh take on the world of The Leftovers as well, one where the whole business of “not knowing” is framed as a positive thing instead of a tragic thing. In Mapleton everyone asked what happened, and we talked about how Leftovers will never actually answer that question. Here, in Jarden, whoever asks what happened is met with a chorus of justifications from God saved us to stop asking and just be thankful.
And yet something more sinister is afoot in Jarden (something more sinister is always afoot on TV these days). We meet the Murphy Family, seemingly well-meaning, well-mannered, “neighborly”. John, the husband and father, keeps hearing this cricket sound somewhere in his house and keeps failing to locate it. His wife, son, and daughter hear it too, but they’ve given up looking long ago. They’re never going to find it. Viewers conditioned by the first season of The Leftovers will perhaps recognize the chirping cricket as an analogue to any of the dozen things Kevin and Nora and Matt misplaced in their respective episodes — a constant reminder of the Departure, a constant reminder that some things disappear for good. Even in Jarden.
But before all of that there’s the scene. Season two opens with an extended sequence of a Day in the Life of a Cavewoman, during which this dirty prehistoric human female ventures away from her camp, watches them get crushed by falling rocks a moment later, gives birth, chows down on some bird’s eggs, leaps into action when her baby is attacked by a snake, get bitten by the snake, kills the snake, then slowly dies from the snakebite as her baby squirms helplessly in her good arm. I checked several times during this sequence to ensure I was indeed watching The Leftovers. As Cavewoman #1 expires another emerges from the sunlight and mercifully wraps the baby in her arms, presumably whisking it away to a life of bird’s egg omelets and avalanche-dodging. Then, with a sweep of the camera, we discover that all of this transpired in Jarden, Texas, a few thousand years ago.
Put aside your WTF for the moment. Yes, the sequence was incredibly out-of-the-blue and unique to the show (to any show). We’ll have to see how it plays directly into the second season — maybe the earthquakes, which continue in the present post-Departure timeline, will be a major factor; maybe there’s something particular about that lagoon, as suggested by the geographically-relevant episode title “Axis Mundi”; or perhaps it’s even the water from that lagoon, collected by the scientist at the lake and by Evie Murphy a few days before she disappeared along with the water into a gigantic crevasse in the earth. But on a larger level, we have to attempt to take the scene in the context of the entire series — the past first season, the present second season, and the future seasons to come.
If your first question is why?, then the themes of the show are the answer you’re looking for. A gritty, action-based show about people getting yanked into the sky by aliens is not this show. That’s a different show (Leftoverz) or a shitty movie (The Forgotten). This show is about what happens afterward, and so the past looms arguably larger here than it does in any other current American television series. What happened is on everyone’s tongues, and what will happen is the reason we watch the show at all, and so you can bet your bottom dollar that writers Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta are thinking about the prehistoric woman and her child in a larger context than “Axis Mundi”.
Your next question is how?: how can we take into consideration a show that hasn’t unfolded yet? We can’t, obviously, but we can isolate the larger ideas of The Leftovers and see how that initially-frustrating sequence applies. The question we posed at the top of this review arises again: if a chunk of people vanished from the world, that world would change, right? It would have to change, right? And yes, things are certainly different. But when Cavewoman #2 emerges and helps the stranger’s child one would instantly be reminded of Nora doing the exact same thing in last season’s finale “The Prodigal Son Returns“. Those two scenes are back-to-back, despite the break between seasons, and so maybe the suggestion is meant to draw our attention to the ways in which the world hasn’t changed. Innocents are still adopted by those who care, and though the earth still shakes and swallows people whole as it did a thousand years ago The Leftovers asserts that the best part of humanity will never vanish.