SPOILER WARNING: Do not read on unless you’ve seen “The Leftovers” Season 2 premiere, titled “Axis Mundi.”
HBO’s mysterious drama “The Leftovers” — starring Justin Theroux and Carrie Coon — returned for its second season tonight, with its main characters transplanted to a new home in Jarden, Texas. Variety talked to creators Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta about some of the biggest questions raised in the premiere.
Talk about the opening sequence, which was a nearly ten minute long sequence featuring a cavewoman giving birth. What was your motivation behind starting the season that way?
Damon Lindelof: We don’t want to unpack too much about what our thinking was there. We acknowledge there would be a fair amount of head-scratching and what does this mean and why did they do this. Our hope is by the end of the season you’ll have a lot more info than you have now. I don’t want to get into specifics of whether it was literal or figurative or mythic, but we wouldn’t have done it if it didn’t feel really important to us. Without being pretentious, this show is about what things mean. Does this have significant importance? Is this religious or supernatural or is it mundane? The idea that people are in a world where (the Departure) had great spiritual significance and some people are in search of new religions, and other people are like, “I have to pay my taxes and go back to work.” This felt like was an interesting and important piece of storytelling that we wanted to do in the second season. The hope is that as frustrating as it may be for it not openly declare itself, it will provoke conversations as to what it means and why we put it there.
Tom Perrotta: It’s an overture. This woman is a leftover. It’s a part of the human condition to find yourself, to try to figure out how to survive a huge traumatic event and keep going. She’s not so different from the modern day characters we meet afterward.
Lindelof: I’ve always been a firm believer in that the audience is incredibly sophisticated and intelligent and you should try to write up to them vs. write down to them. We also acknowledge that we knew when we wrote it that certain members of the audience would say “f–k those guys.” Our hope is that many others are engaged by this opening and feel like they like it and are engaged by it.
You take some risks in the storytelling, introducing a whole new set of characters, including all the townspeople in Jarden. We don’t even see the Garveys until 45 minutes into the first episode.
Lindelof: That was our intention, starting the episode the way we do. It isn’t until Matt Jamison gets introduced in the church (that we see a familiar face). We were very excited by that. Obviously there’s a risk attached to telling the story that way. But one of the shows that Tom and I worship is “The Wire,” which was effectively able to do that season to season. And you were never worried. You were still in Baltimore. And the characters who were pivotal became background players and vice versa. That storytelling shift was just amazing. I’m not saying we’re “The Wire.” But it proves that kind of storytelling can work.
Do you think this season is more otherworldly than last?
Lindelof: The show is definitely flirting with genre in a more purposeful way than it was in the first season. Just by saying a focal point of this season is going to be the disappearance of these three girls. If we were just watching “The Killing” or “The Missing,” there’s only two possible explanations: They ran away or something befell them. But in our world, our show offers a third possibility: That they departed. 140 million vanished into thin air. Who’s to say it couldn’t happen again? The real premise of season 2 is there is a town where no one departed from. What would happen if someone did? Clearly there seems to be some causality between the Garveys’ arrival at the precise moment when this happened. That may be coincidence or something else. Either way, there’s more of a plot drive to the second season that didn’t exist in the first season. That plot is attached to what you’re defining as the potential for otherworldliness. We’ll begin to see the characters discuss and debate it. We already have a character who says there are no miracles in Miracle, who drags psychics out of their house and burns them down.
“The Leftovers” Season 2 airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on HBO.