Review: The Leftovers (Season 2, Episode 1)

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Brilliant

This is HBO drama at its finest, i.e. drama at its finest! If you loved Season 1, then Season 2 promises to give you just as much pleasure!

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Any big or small screen adaptation of a literary work inevitably faces one gigantic problem: what do you do when you run out of written story? The superlative Under the Dome, based on one of Stephen King’s latest books, recently fell afoul of this problem and has been sadly axed. The Hobbit films attempted to counter this issue by bloating a simple children’s story with contrived action scenes, excess lore and shameless LOTR tie-ins, with horrendous results. The sad truth is that, with the exception of Game of Thrones (nothing’s stopping that train!), cinematic and televised literary adaptations are palpably finite.

Imagine my surprise then, when I learned that HBO’s The Leftovers was returning for a second season! Based on Tom Perrotta’s book of the same name, dealing with the aftermath of an unexplained event in which 2% of the world’s population (that’s 140 million people) simply vanish, the first season exhausted all the material of the book and I simply assumed that the show was meant to be a miniseries. However, with a simple change of setting, an introduction to a smorgasbord of new characters and a heap of new unanswered questions, Season 2 is gearing up promisingly to be just as astounding as the first season.

This is one of those shows that you will either love or hate. Needless to say, I absolutely love it! The showrunner and chief writer is Damen Lindelof… which doesn’t sound like the most promising of starts! I never cared for Lost and I find his film scripts maddening. But for The Leftovers his style just works so perfectly. Part of the secret is the presence of Perrotta himself as a co-writer on the show, keeping Lindelof’s eccentricities a little in check. The first season was strange, sad, serine and deeply moving from start to finish. Episode 1 of this season promises a similar tone.

I don’t want to give too much of a synopsis, because part of the joy of this show is discovering the mysteries for yourself. But I will talk about the start of the episode, in an attempt to give you some idea of what we’re dealing with. So firstly, there were the revamped opening credits, a work of genius all of its own: a montage of family photos with people missing, accompanied by ‘Let the Mystery Be’ by Iris DeMent. The choice of song is simply inspired, basically saying to the audience “Hey, you know all those questions we didn’t answer at the end of Season 1? Well, they don’t need answering, and we’re not going to answer them. Hope you’re ok with that! ON WITH THE SHOW!” I was laughing out loud. Then the episode itself opens with a half-naked, Neolithic woman losing her entire tribe to a landslide, giving birth, defending her new-born from a rattlesnake, getting bitten in the process, dying and having her baby taken in by another half-naked, Neolithic woman, all whilst being watched over by an eagle soaring high in the sky… no, really. That’s the first ten minutes of this episode; a self-contained mini-narrative with no dialogue, breath-taking cinematography and that glorious piano theme by Max Richter that just makes me sob whenever I hear it. I was in heaven!

The episode goes on to introduce us to the main setting for Season 2, the town of Jarden Texas, now named Miracle due to the fact that, during the event, none of its citizens disappeared. We’re also introduced to the Murphy family, a new set of key players for Season 2. Both the Murphys and the town itself feel distinctly off! It’s a testament to the new setting and new characters that, by the time characters from Season 1 start re-appearing, you’ve practically forgotten they existed. Not that the return of a particular character didn’t have me pumping my fist in the air with glee!

The Leftovers airs on Sky Atlantic on Mondays at 10pm. 

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A BA English student with a love of film, tv and all things screeny!

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