'The Leftovers' Star Kevin Carroll Talks John Murphy & Finding "Hope" In The Bleak World Of The Show
Adding new characters to the second season of a show is far from a unique practice. Every series needs new blood if it hopes to sustain itself over the long run. But, it was the prominence with which HBO's The Leftovers introduced its new characters in the Season 2 premiere, "Axis Mundi," that was so unusual. "How crazy was that?" agrees Kevin Carroll in an interview with Bustle. Who can forget that unique season opener, which focused entirely on the Murphy family — including Carroll's character, patriarch John Murphy — at the expense of Season 1's protagonists? "I thought it was brave and bold, and I think that speaks to the spirit of who [showrunner] Damon [Lindelof] is," the actor continues. "He's really trying to impact the way storytelling happens on television. Well, I don't know if he's trying to do it, but he is doing it."
Lindelof is most famous for entrancing — and infuriating — fans for six years on ABC's Lost. The showrunner's boldness was also exemplified by Season 2's opening scene, a wordless 10-minute sequence in which a cavewoman survived a cave-in, gave birth, and died. "I'm thinking, 'Damon has really lost it,' no pun intended," the actor says. "But, I really applaud his courage. It's challenging television and I think this is the kind of show and these writers are the kinds of voices that should be supported and protected. Not only are they adding to the larger conversation, they're taking risks. I just appreciate them for doing it and I love being a part of it."
The Murphy family is an eclectic bunch. Mother Erika is a doctor who's hiding a secret in the woods; son Michael is quietly religious; daughter Evie is a free-spirit who runs naked through the woods with her friends; and John is a firefighter who, as we learn in the premiere, is determined to protect the town of Jarden at any cost — including burning down the homes of people he feels are taking advantage of the townsfolk, like self-professed psychic Isaac. Who exactly does a firefighter reach the point where he's setting fires instead of putting them out? Carroll speculated on his character's behalf:
People respond to tragedy in different ways. Some people lose faith, some people double down on their faith, and some people maybe even form their own religion. All of these are coping mechanisms to try to make it through this inexplicable event and this search for meaning. John is one of these people who is going to absolutely become streamlined as a response to the insecurities of this world. Things were safe before, and he's going to make sure they stay that way to the best of his ability. I think there are some things that a lot of people would let slide, but at a time like this, in John's mind, we can't afford that. He can't afford to let things slide. He's not a bully, but I do think that he has his own sense of morality, what's right and what's wrong. Taking advantage of people is not something that he's going to stand for and let happen.
In Sunday's episode, "Orange Sticker," after searching vainly for his missing daughter, John informs his new next-door neighbor Kevin Garvey that "there are no miracles in Miracle." But, if John really believes that, then why has he so fiercely devoted to himself to protecting it? Carroll acknowledges the "contradictions" in John's statement. "The fact that there have been no Departures that we speak of is a miracle; but that doesn't mean that everything in Miracle has been perfect."
Did you catch that? "Departures that we speak of"? Is the actor hinting that the citizens of Miracle perhaps haven't been entirely truthful about the miraculous nature of their town? Have there in fact been Departures in Jarden, TX that were covered up? Will Evie's disappearance lead to the unveiling of the elaborate hoax that is Miracle National Park?
Even with the possibility that Miracle is a lie, Season 2 remains a captivating experience, simultaneously keeping everything that worked about the show's first season while leavening it with a sense of optimism. Carroll claims this lightening of tone is entirely intentional — in fact, it was the perceived bleakness of Season 1 that was perhaps unintentional. "[Damon] didn't intend for the show to feel that way, to feel as much like that. The core of the show wasn't necessarily constructed to be that [way]."
The actor ascribes the first season's overwhelming gloom on the frigid conditions in the Northeast, where it was filmed. "I think even in the move of the show, [from upstate New York to rural Texas], that there is a thread of a few things other than bleakness that are in the show, and I hope we're able to find a better balance this season with that," he says.
Carroll's co-star Regina King, who plays his onscreen wife Erika, told Bustle last month that she thought Season 2 of The Leftovers could be summed up with one word: Faith. How does Carroll react to that given that John Murphy is essentially the antithesis of that theme? For him, there's another word that can be used to describe this season: Hope. "It's hard not to agree with Regina and the idea of faith," Carroll muses. "But I also think that as complex and complicated as this is, there's hope in this season. It's by no means easy, but I think that we have to remain hopeful."
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