For a show that's all about a world unsettled by a massive, inexplicable change, perhaps it's appropriate that Season 2 of HBO's The Leftovers is all about the changes. Many old cast members have been dropped; even more new ones have been added; the show has shifted location from upstate New York to rural Texas; the characters have stopped wallowing in their misery and started trying to move on. But, there's another change that, while it occurred quietly behind the scenes, may have big ramifications for the future of the show. Between seasons, Janel Moloney — who plays Matt Jamison's wife, Mary — was promoted from her recurring role in Season 1 to a full-blown main cast member in Season 2. But, why? What's going to happen to Mary Jamison this year that's so important?
Moloney, most famous for her role as Donna Moss on The West Wing , appeared in only four of the 10 episodes of The Leftovers' first season. Ever since we met her, Mary has been practically comatose, confined to a wheelchair since an accident on the day of the Sudden Departure. (The car that she was in with her husband was hit by another car whose driver had been taken.) This was quite the departure (pun intended) from Tom Perrotta's novel, in which Reverend Jamison's wife had left him before the story even began. Despite being played by an actress as recognizable as Moloney, there was no indication that Mary Jamison was going to be very important to the show... until now.
So, what's her deal? Before we start formulating crackpot conspiracy theories, let's acknowledge the mundane possibility: that a semi-well-known actress with a good agent managed to renegotiate her contract for the second year of a prestigious HBO drama. Basically, that the promotion was purely business and had nothing to do with the actual story. But, that's boring, right? Surely there's got to be more to it than that.
In fact, last week's Season 2 premiere, "Axis Mundi," gave us a hint that there is something about Mary. While introducing himself at Jarden's local church, Matt started to say that he had something to share with the congregation about something that happened to his wife... before the preacher cut him off, clearly afraid of what John Murphy might do if he suspected Matt of being an attention-seeking charlatan. (He had previously witnessed John burn down Isaac's house for claiming to be psychic — even though it turned out the man's prediction was correct.) When John approached Matt after the service and asked him to finish his sentence, Matt simply stated that for the first time in a long time, they felt safe.
Clearly, Matt was going to say something else before John intimidated him into vague platitudes. But what? Has Mary been cured? If so, why did she seem as comatose as ever in the Season 2 premiere? Did she have a brief moment of clarity before slipping back into her coma? If so, why was Matt so happy about it? It would be nothing short of miraculous if Mary were suddenly to stand up and start walking and talking again (yes, that's a West Wing reference) — but she and her husband did move to Miracle National Park, after all.
If Mary does find herself on the road to recovery this season, it will tie in perfectly with the show's motif of supernatural ambiguity. Did Holy Wayne actually have magical powers? Or was he just really good at reading people and telling them what they wanted to hear? Is Isaac actually a psychic? Or was it just an easy guess that something bad was going to happen to a guy who makes a habit of burning down other people's homes? Is Mary's recovery actually a miracle caused by her relocation to Jarden? Or is the timing coincidental, and would she have eventually healed anyway if she and Matt had stayed put in Mapleton?
These questions bring to mind a poignant scene from Season 1. In the freshman season's best episode, "Guest," Nora Durst attended a conference in NYC. During one of the panels, a speaker was discussing a phenomenon called the Prophet's Dilemma — also known as Post-Departure Delusion Disorder:
For most of humankind's existence, certain individuals have come forth as self-professed interpreters of the world's mysteries. But, what happens when those conversations with God go wrong? Following a catastrophic event or circumstance, let alone one that defies scientific explanation, the incidents of prophetic delusion rise dramatically. And, this isn't just megalomaniacs who make the news for a week. This is happening to our friends, our neighbors, our own families. This belief that a higher power is speaking to us — whether through dreams or signs, even voices — is a powerful coping mechanism. And, if left unchecked, a very dangerous one.
Are all of these people — Wayne, Isaac, Matt — reading into things that don't actually exist? Are they seeing miracles where there is only happenstance? Is arsonist John Murphy actually the sanest person on the show?
Maybe. But, there's at least one indication that, in the world of The Leftovers, miracles are real: The bird that Erika Murphy dug up out of the ground was very much alive. If a creature as fragile as a tiny bird could survive being buried alive... maybe there really is something miraculous about Miracle. And, if Mary were to suddenly rise out of her wheelchair like John Locke on Lost, maybe she would finally have some answers.
Or maybe she'd be just as mystified as the rest of us. Who knows? This is a Damon Lindelof show, after all.
Images: Ryan Green, Van Redin, Paul Schiraldi/HBO