‘The Leftovers’ co-creator explains crazy season 2 opening & ‘Perfect Strangers’ gag

As I said when I published that “Leftovers” deep dive conversation with Damon Lindelof last week, I saved a few passages from it to run after specific episodes aired. Today, we get the first of those bonuses, as we discuss (spoilers ho)…

…the cavewoman flashback that opened the season (here’s my review of the premiere), as well as the payoff to season 1’s running gag about the entire cast of “Perfect Strangers” vanishing during the Sudden Departure.

We’ll start there, in fact, and then get to our trip back to pre-historic times.

Why of all shows did you pick “Perfect Strangers” as your pop cultural way into the Sudden Departure? And how did you get Mark-Linn Baker to make that cameo as himself?

Damon Lindelof: After all the writers came on in the first season, I said, “I”m really into these anomalies. Let”s let every writer come in with a couple of statistical anomalies as is related to the Departure.” Tom (Perrotta), in his book, there was a very disproportionate number of celebrity chefs had disappeared, for example – it was two percent of the world’s population, but 40 percent of celebrity chefs have disappeared. And I loved that, and I was like, “What if there was a carousel in Germany, and everybody on the carousel at the time of the Departure disappeared – everybody? And now the place is kind of like a shrine?” Because all over the world, there are going to be anomalies like that. And then Jackie Hoyt, who”s a writer/producer on the show, she just said, “Did you guys hear that the entire cast of ‘Perfect Strangers’ departed?” And we all just burst out laughing and I was like, “That”s the greatest thing I”ve ever heard. We”re putting that in the second episode. Scott Glenn is going to drop that nugget on Theroux.” And it was the gift that just kept on giving.

The second season is moving into this territory of, “Is it a Departure or isn”t it a Departure?” That”s one of the big questions hanging over the season. So we thought it would be interesting to revisit that question through this “Perfect Strangers” gag, and I sent an email to Mr. Linn-Baker and explained what it was we were hoping to do. He was just a wonderful gentleman about it, and totally got it, and had a great sense of humor and came to Texas and shared his brilliance with us. One of the things I”m most excited about. I think most people are going to go, “What?” But for the nine super fans of “The Leftovers,” I think they”ll appreciate it.

You spend the first 10 minutes of the new season of a show that, as you’ve talked about, was incredibly divisive, with this gonzo sequence that has lots thematically but little plotwise to do with the story of last year. Why did you decide that this is how you wanted season 2 to open?

Damon Lindelof: (audible sigh)

“Audible sigh” again.

It felt right. That wasn”t an idea that came out of thin air. It started in a very organic way, and I don”t want to demystify the process by saying, “So and so said this, and then so and so said that.” But once we started talking about it, there were ideas that were swirling around season 2, then it was like, “Okay, so where do we begin?” And Perrotta made the joke: “Well, the show is going to start with ‘Previously, on “The Leftovers.”‘ How previously should we get?” And that was the idea that we locked in on. I think that we were talking a lot about Peter Weir movies, particularly “Hanging Rock” and “Last Wave.” We were talking a lot about Haneke movies, particularly “Cache” and “White Ribbon.” And we were talking about Coen brothers movies, particularly “A Serious Man,” which has an opening that is very similar to what you just described, which is everything is thematically locked in but it seems completely and total disconnected story wise. Like, if you”re watching “A Serious Man,” when”s the Golem going to show up? You”re just not understanding what they”re going for there. So all those things were swirling in our collective imagination, and then we had this amazing consultant Reza Aslan, who is this religious scholar who is also a believer, and he was around a lot and we were talking about axis mundi – which became the title of the first episode – what that meant and how it related to the Jarden, Texas, And he was talking all about a lot of ancient cultures and the birth of religion and what it was like for us now – what it takes for an event to be religious, but before the idea of understanding, every event was religious if you attached meaning to it. And we wondered, “How do we show all this stuff that we’re getting excited about?” And that was our answer.

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com