The Garveys Aren't The Focus Of 'The Leftovers' Season 2 Premiere, But Tom Perrotta Wants Us To Be "Patient"
Fans of HBO's rapture drama likely found themselves a bit disoriented by The Leftovers ' Season 2 premiere. Not only did it open with a bizarre eight-minute parable about a cavewoman, but the episode then took its time establishing the season's fresh focal point: Jarden, Texas. Apparently the only town in the world that didn't lose a single person in the Departure, Jarden has been rechristened Miracle National Park. Our entry point into this new location is the Murphy family, who we spend lots of time getting to know. So much time, in fact, that the first time we see a familiar face is when Reverend Jamison pops up 36 minutes in. Last season's protagonists, Kevin Garvey and Nora Durst, don't even make an appearance until 45 minutes into the hour-long episode.
Given our culture's current predilection for anthologies (see: American Horror Story, Fargo, True Detective), casual viewers will be forgiven for assuming that The Leftovers has gone a similar route, discarding last year's characters and plots in favor of a brand new story and cast. But, Tom Perrotta, author of the novel on which the show is based, and also co-creator and co-executive producer of The Leftovers (alongside Lost's Damon Lindelof), claims that option was never even on the table, despite the premiere's Murphy-centric focus. "I feel like one of the pleasures of writing for a series is that connection that you develop with characters that you follow from one year to another," he explains in an interview with Bustle. "I think it would've been heartbreaking to not find out what's going to happen with Nora and Kevin. We left them at a point where they were two people who had been so deeply wounded and were really struggling and they found each other, you really felt the spark of possibility between them. And I think to just abandon them would've been tough for me."
Perrotta and Lindelof didn't seem concerned about alienating viewers with their unusual season premiere. "If we were really worried, we wouldn't have done it," Perrotta says. "What we wanted to do was establish this new place. I think one of the things that happens is, HBO releases the trailer and people know essentially the Garveys are going to get here. So, we have a little leeway to say, let's spend a little time to get to know our new characters on their own terms. We think the place is really interesting and deserves some time to be presented."
Even in this day and age of "peak TV," the author is optimistic that audiences will give the new season the proper time it needs to come into its own. "I hope viewers will be patient. One of the things I think people have learned from watching serialized TV is, you've just got to be patient," he says. "You have to give stories time to unfold."
This might not take all that long, either. Unlike Season 1, which clearly favored character study over traditional plot, Season 2 has a much clearer narrative driving force: The mystery of what happened to Evie Murphy. Viewers will notice that the supposedly peaceful town of Jarden erupts into chaos a mere ten minutes after the Garveys arrive. Is this a coincidence? Or are the two events linked? "That's one of the things that we're going to explore over the course of the season," Perrotta promises. "People start to notice that these people got here and some bad stuff immediately happened. The question in your mind is a question that will occur to characters on the show."
Given Perrotta's attachment to the Garveys, was he ever tempted to keep Season 2 in Mapleton, or was moving to a new location always part of the plan? "We definitely had a lively discussion about that," he admits before teasing, "There are elements of the season that draw directly on last year," and that certain episodes will be true "continuations" of Season 1's plot.
But, Perrotta was more nervous about becoming redundant than he was about trying something new: "I think there was just this feeling that we didn't want to repeat ourselves and that we wanted to move beyond 'Kevin Garvey Vs. The Guilty Remnant' as our main story," the author says. "We got excited about this idea of a place where no one Departed, this sort of American version of a Holy Land, because it allowed us to explore some new religious ideas, which is something that we're really interested in doing on the show."
The author then spoke at length about these religious themes, how they will shape the course of Season 2... and how they might explain the bizarre behavior of the citizens of Miracle National Park:
This is one of the things that we're really looking to examine: What happens to people when you tell them that they're special, that they're chosen, that they're blessed? Miracle has drawn a lot of pilgrims, a lot of people with intense religious beliefs. If you look at the history of a place like Jerusalem, a lot of people who believe that they are in touch with God will be drawn to a place like that. In other words, once a place has this sort of reputation for being special or blessed, it will attract fanatics. A lot of people who were there feel in some inexplicable way they were protected by God. And now they're trying to make sure that that protection continues. So the goat slaughterer — that's an ancient sort of religious ritual to pay tribute to God and invoke God's protection. And the woman who wears the wedding dress, we will find out that there's a backstory for that. There are a lot of people in Miracle whose behavior is based on preserving their special fortune and not rocking the boat; basically, creating a ritual of something that may have saved them at a crucial time.
For those viewers who might feel jarred by the premiere's sudden shift in setting or overwhelmed by the large cast of new characters, there's a good reason to stick around. Season 1's most universally acclaimed episodes notably focused on single characters for an entire hour — one about Reverend Jamison and another about his sister Nora Durst. Season 2 starts off with a similarly narrow focus: The first three episodes occur simultaneously, with each one highlighting the story of a small group of characters rather than trying to jam them all into the span of one hour.
When asked whether that was simply a natural evolution of the storytelling this year or an active attempt to capitalize on what worked last year, Perrotta acknowledges that:
We understood just how successful those episodes were. We had a day where we just said, "OK, let's try and look at what we did last year and what was good about it and could be better." And one of the things we all agreed on was that [episodes] with more limited points of view work really well for us.
Exactly how long should we expect to stick around Jarden, given how quickly things seem to be deteriorating? Will the show shift to a new location yet again in Season 3, if Perrotta and Lindelof should be fortunate enough to be granted another year? "We haven't thought that far ahead," Perrotta admits. "We're right now just putting the finishing touches on the script of the finale. By this time in the season, we're just so engrossed in making this story as good as it can be that we have not been able to look into the future."
That's too bad, because a lot of viewers would probably like to prepare themselves for whatever's coming. At one point in the new season, a character asks a scientist whether the Sudden Departure could happen again. His chilling reply: "Why wouldn't it?"
This season is clearly going to be mysterious and epic.
Images: Van Redin/HBO (3)