Review: ‘The Leftovers’ – ‘Orange Sticker’: Never gonna give you up?

Senior Television Writer
10.25.15 55 Comments

HBO

A review of tonight's “The Leftovers” coming up just as soon as I put my baby in a cardboard box…

“You're no safer here than anywhere else. Of that, I am sure. There are no miracles in Miracle.” -John

One of the few downsides to “The Leftovers” adopting an even more POV-driven approach than last season is that it can sometimes elongate story beats past an optimal point. This season's Murphy-centric first episode ended with John and Michael discovering that Evie, her friends, and all the water in the lake had vanished, but we couldn't find out what happened next right away because we had to first flip back in time to show events from the Garveys' perspective(*), then delay again so we could catch up with Laurie, Tommy, and Meg.

(*) To return to the Desmond on “Lost” reference I made in my review of the premiere, this reminds me a bit of how many different times, from different POVs, we had to see Jack and Desmond's meeting in the Swan station before the show could finally move the story along.

I wouldn't have wanted to dilute the impact of each episode by divvying them up in a more conventional narrative structure – “Off Ramp” is as powerful as it is because we're trapped with Laurie for so much of it – but the unfortunate byproduct of that structure is that the continuation of the missing girls story feels weirdly muted, given what a huge deal it should be for this world in general and Jarden in particular. Given the ongoing fear about a second Departure, not to mention Jarden's position as a miraculous safe haven, having three girls and a body of water all vanish without explanation would be cause for a panic, not just for the two main families, but the entire community. And that only somewhat comes across in the sequence where the crowd of onlookers pushes past the barricades the park rangers have set up.

Now, some of that comes from making this another Garvey POV episode, where we only see the Murphys when Kevin, Nora, or Jill is with them, and Kevin's own escapades at the time of the girls' disappearance – not to mention the recurring and incredibly chatty presence of Patti – creates a distraction for them. But even allowing for that, and for Nora's belief(*) that the Sudden Departure was a one-time event, something just felt… off about much of the episode.

(*) This week in Alan Wants A Web Series: “Lost and Found,” a hard-boiled detective drama set during Nora's time as a fraud investigator in the Secondary Departures division.

There were highlights, to be sure. This was another superb Carrie Coon episode, particularly in the opening scenes as Nora grappled with the thought that another loved one might have vanished into thin air, followed by her absorbing the reality that she has built her new life around an erratic man who could disappear in far more mundane ways. The concluding scene, where Nora presents a sadly necessary solution to the problem – the two of them literally chaining themselves together every night to prevent him from running away – had a twisted beauty to it. And having Patti repeatedly sing Rick Astley's “Never Gonna Give You Up” – aka the song behind rickrolling – suggests that either she's trolling Kevin by telling him flat out that the girls Departed, or that “The Leftovers” itself is trolling us by pretending to offer up a concrete explanation for anything(**).

(**) Though Kevin's refusal to ask her to explain things even when she's offering to do so makes him into Jack Shepard 2.0.

This isn't a bad episode, but it's a letdown after the intensity and tightness of the first three. Maybe this show just has trouble with fourth episodes? “B.J. and the A.C.” was probably the weakest episode of season 1 – and was the one that prompted production to shut down for a few weeks so Lindelof and company could try to fix it. And with the story having finally moved forward, I'm curious to see what happens next.

At one point, Jill explains that she had to make up a bedtime story for Lily because they still haven't unpacked the books. “Did it have a happy ending?” Nora wonders. Something tells me Lily's story went in a much happier direction than where “The Leftovers” is heading.

Some other thoughts:

* What a strange role this must be for Janel Moloney, a recognizable working actress who, other than a couple of flashbacks and dream sequences last season, is asked simply to stare off into space. Matt's story of how Mary woke up on their first night in Jarden suggests Moloney might get another chance to speak, but Matt's crazy enough that he might have just imagined the whole thing.

* Nora's tales of fraud investigation also tie the Sudden Departure to real-life calamities like 9/11, where some people used a national tragedy as a means of faking their deaths so they could start over.

* Nice small touch: right after Nora hears that Evie and her friends are “gone” – a word that has a very different meaning for her than it does for Erika – we see a dog running loose outside, giving Nora another reason to freak out over the idea of a new Departure.

* Though John and his firemen have worked very hard to stamp out talk of mysticism inside Jarden, note that Virgil is known around town for upsetting people by seeming to know more about them than he should, and that the man in the tower at the center of town seems to also be able to see Patti.

* Are cops fingerprinted when they take the job? If so, how is Kevin going to avoid getting into trouble for the palm print he left on the car?

What did everybody else think?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com

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