It’s a whole new Leftovers, y’all—in the intriguing season two opener, “Axis Mundi,” we’ve left the dark insanity of Mapleton, New York for Miracle, Texas, a town that’s been re-named as such because none of its residents were raptured on that fateful October 14.
The former burg of Jarden has become a national park, and a destination for those in search of meaning in the post-departure era. It’s also such a desired address that it’s encircled by a fence, and visitors are bussed in and must wear color-coded wristbands. New folks may move there only when the very rare real estate vacancy crops up.
Somehow, season one’s cobbled-together family group Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux), Jill Garvey (Margaret Qualley), Nora Durst (Carrie Coon), and Christine and Holy Wayne’s orphaned infant score one of the vacant houses. But the shell-shocked Garveys—judging from the episode two promo, we’ll soon learn more about their journey from New York to Texas—aren’t the main focus of this season opener. Whereas last season was mostly spent following people suffering from the loss and guilt in the wake of the global event, now we meet people who were ... miraculously? ... untouched by it.
Or so it seems. Initially, the Murphy family appears incredibly normal. Mom Erika (Regina King) is a no-nonsense doctor, and the teenaged kids—popular athlete Evie (Jasmin Savoy Brown), budding Baptist preacher Michael (Jovan Adepo)—are good-natured and well-adjusted. But while quirky father John’s (Kevin Carroll) role in the family is a natural one (sternly reminding Evie of her curfew, etc.), his role in Miracle is shadowy at best. His community-sanctioned job appears to be destroying the lives of anyone he deems a spiritual charlatan; we see him burst right into the house of a childhood friend, Isaac—who makes a living as a palm-print reader, and has recently predicted that something terrible will happen to John—toss the poor man out, and burn the home to the ground. In full firefighter attire.
He is also an ex-con, having done time for attempted murder; we don’t know the circumstances yet, but it’s revealed as being no big secret—though it’ll surely have meaning for what’s to come.
Most of “Axis Mundi” is spent introducing the new setting and characters (the other season one familiar face so far is Christopher Eccleston’s Matt Jamison, who visits Michael’s church as a cautiously welcomed guest preacher), but from what we’ve seen, Miracle is a highly unpredictable place. There may be no creepy vow-of-silence cults (at least, not that we’ve seen yet), but it’s the kind of town where a man with a Biblical beard lives on an elevated platform high above the main street. Where another man strides into the local diner and matter-of-factly sacrifices a goat during breakfast (then sheepishly retreats as the annoyed waitress calls for cleanup, with the air of someone who’s seen this happen a time or two before). Where Erika visits a spot in the forest outside of town, digs up a box, opens it, and a live bird flies out. Where earthquakes are frequent, and the town’s water supply may have magical qualities.
“We are spared. Amen,” Michael tells his congregation. But this episode begins with a prologue that suggests being spared is maybe not the blessing it appears to be; rather, it might instead be a set-up for something much worse to come. In the wordless opening scene, we watch as a primitive woman, hugely pregnant, survives a cave-in and somehow gives birth alone, safely. It’s a Miracle! Then she’s bitten by a snake and dies next to a pond. But then another woman appears to rescue the motherless baby. It’s a Miracle?
We return to that same body of water twice in “Axis Mundi,” a reference to the mythical point where Heaven and Earth are connected. First, just after the prologue, as an establishing shot lets us know it’s the same pond that Evie uses as a swimming hole. We return at the end when John, frantically searching for his missing daughter, realizes she and her two friends—who we see sprinting naked through the woods in an earlier sequence that’s never explained—have seemingly evaporated along with the town’s much-prized water.
Isaac’s dooming prophecy has come true, and The Leftovers now has a new mysterious disappearance to grapple with, and to propel its story into the upcoming season.
As a side note, did anyone else rewind that amazing little background bit—a tabloid news show revealing that Perfect Strangers star Mark Linn-Baker faked his own disappearance on that fateful October 14 and has been in hiding in Mexico ever since? (Vulture shared the context behind that moment.) Could that be an indication that The Leftovers will embrace even more dark humor, less moping this season? Let’s hope so! Even without that, though, the season opener was satisfyingly bizarre and hinted at all kinds of twisted weirdness to come. And that is very promising.