The Leftovers “Axis Mundi” Review (Season 2 Episode 1)

I’d like to give a hearty welcome to those of you that not only returned for season two, but who also kept watching after that bizarre opening scene! Yes, The Leftovers is back and as obtuse as ever, but “Axis Mundi” proved that the show has seemed to find a new sense of purpose and direction in its second year, even if it’s going to remain as nihilistic and strange as ever.

I was up and down on the first season of the show, which I still feel was too wrapped up in depression and cruelty to be classified as enjoyable. That said, once the show began to give the characters more to do than stumble sadly through life, starting with the particularly excellent “Guest” focused on Carrie Coon’s Nora. So my main hope going into season two is that the show would continue to show the Garvey family unit growing closer and recovering from the Sudden Departure.

What we got, though, was an even better episode than I’d have expected, one that sidelined the entirety of the main cast in favor of introducing us to Jarden, Texas, the town of nearly 10,000 that didn’t experience a single departure. Now known as Miracle, the town has become a holy land of sorts, and we experienced the town’s various locales and details through the eyes of the Murphy family. And what a breath of fresh air they proved to be.

Grown on me as the Garveys have, their misery during the first half of season one made them a hard group of characters to get attached to, especially with the violent, spiteful ways they lashed out at one another. Here, though, we’re meeting a family as their seeming domestic best, and every member of the Murphy clan is a likable character that makes you want to spend more time at them. It’s an effective trick, one that works quickly enough that you stay connected to them even as their darker, uglier secrets come to light.

John in particular is fascinating, as his group of vigilantes seems dedicated to doing awful things in order to keep what they see as the proper faith in Miracle as more and more self-proclaimed religious figures and hopefuls descend on their now-gated town. He’s willing to burn down a childhood friend’s home in pursuit of his goal, but his sense of desperation and love for his family make you wonder what exactly has happened to bring out this destructive ideology.

At any rate, what’s important is the strength of the character work, as that’s ultimately what The Leftovers wants its viewers to focus on. With a new theme song called “Let the Mystery Be,” it’s clear that even as weird and strange events begin to occur, the show is more focused on how that affects the characters than giving the audience any concrete answers as to the cause of the events themselves. Of course, if “Axis Mundi” is any indication, it should be an interesting season that offers more compelling material upfront than season one ever dared.

What did you think of this week’s episode? Let me know in the comments!