The Leftovers, Season 2, Episode 2: “A Matter of Geography”
Written by Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta
Directed by Mimi Leder
Airs Sundays at 9pm ET on HBO
If anyone has already floated this notion as a thinkpiece somewhere, apologies in advance: The Leftovers works splendidly as HBO’s answer to The Walking Dead.
It’s not just that they’re timeslot twins. Both series present a society rended by paranormal events that will likely never be explained. Both feature (ex-)lawman lead characters with short fuses and a propensity, or at least an inclination, towards violence and rage. Both prominently feature the notion of hope as an elusive, even occasionally destructive force. And now, with The Leftovers’ second season, it seems that both series also serve as travelogues of an imaginary America. The principal difference, of course, is that we’ve had sixty years of representations of zombie uprisings, and countless more catastrophic depictions of overt post-apocalyptic landscapes, whereas The Leftovers is as much about inner landscapes; what happens when an entire population has to deal with survivor’s remorse, not to mention a rather extreme case of cognitive dissonance?
The main question of “A Matter of Geography,” penned by series co-creators Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta, seems to be this: in the context of the post-Departure Day world, what constitutes “OK”? When Jill Garvey reunites with her estranged brother, she insists that she, her dad, and Nora Durst are all “OK,” and we’re left to wonder, is she wrong to say so? Nora has been given an exorbitant amount of money for the house she shared with her family because researchers from MIT are becoming increasingly convinced that “matters of geography” define who was and was not taken. (They seem to be referring to very specific geography, e.g. the distance from her kitchen sink to her dining room table, but Nora seems to believe her whole world has been tainted.) Her response is to throw the entire sum at a house she’s never seen in a town she’s never visited, apparently just because it has experienced zero departures. Kevin is driven to desperation by recurring visions (hauntings?) by Patti Lemon, the Guilty Remnant leader he abducted last season, and has turned to brostep and The Pixies to try and drown out her voice. (Oh, and he tries to turn himself in by disinterring her body and throwing it on the bed of his pickup, but that backfires when a mysterious Fed turns a blind eye, along with her good one.) Is this the new OK?
Much has been made of The Leftovers‘ change of locale, along with its jettisoning of some of the recurring cast, but what “A Matter of Geography” makes clear is that Lindelof and Perrotta are more willing to toy with self-awareness and metatextual games than before. Lindelof, of course, has spent much of his professional career defending himself against Lost trainspotters and Prometheus nitpickers (two groups with occasionally valid grievances, it should be added). Many writers and other creative types, when challenged, become petty and reactionary, lashing out against their detractors, within or without the context of their work; based on the early episodes of this season, Lindelof has opted for a more organic approach to reflecting criticism. As my erstwhile podcast partner (and PopOptiq TV editor) Kate Kulzick is fond of reminding us, series teach you how to watch them. The divisive prologue in last week’s “Axis Mundi” seemed to serve as a formal warning: abandon hope, all ye who search for explicit answers; you’ll wind up vulture chow. “A Matter of Geography” is constantly drawing boundary lines, only to show you how illusory they are. Kevin insists that the Garveys (and Nora) will have no secrets, going so far as to tell her about burying Patti, but all three of them conceal information from each other this week – Nora keeps her housing-changeup motivations to herself, Kevin’s visions of Patti are a secret, and so are Jill’s meetings with her brother. The MIT researchers talk a good game about the importance of geography, but there’s no reason to think they’re simply looking for patterns where none exist. And then there’s the greatest misdirection of all, Miracle/Jarden itself, the town “unaffected by The Departure,” even though that statement is categorically false. The Leftovers is constantly instructing us that, at least in the post-Departure world, belief and reality are not conjoined, so perhaps it’s best if we leave behind our associations and expectations, too.
The most obviously destabilizing moment of metatextual play comes via Patti: “Hard to tell if they’re a part of your story or you’re a part of theirs.” She aims that barb at Kevin shortly after he first encounters the Murphy clan, who were of course the central figures of “Axis Mundi.” Less perverse showrunners than Lindelof and Perrotta would have made “A Matter of Geography” the season premiere, especially since it picks up at the final moments of last season, with Nora finding little Lily on Kevin’s porch, but what The Leftovers excels at most is toying with perspective and perception, and the prioritization of the Murphys over the Garveys in the episode order is a prime example. “Axis Mundi” otherized the series’ protagonists, rendering them as supporting characters in someone else’s narrative. (Notably, it otherized the series’ white main characters in favour of a black family in a predominantly black setting.) “A Matter of Geography” is more or less the episode most viewers would reasonably have expected as a followup to last season, as it gets us literally back up to speed with the Garveys (and Nora) and their continuing plight, but the episode’s subordinate placement – as well as Patti’s sly “uh-oh” at episode’s end – should be warning enough that viewers should be prepared to stay on their toes from here on out.
Having recently rewatched patches of the first season, the standout moment was clearly Nora exclaiming “fuck your daughter!” to Kevin in “Guest” after she invites him to Miami. That said, there’s an effort throughout “A Matter of Geography” to make Jill a little more worldly and funny as opposed to pouty and adolescent, and that’s an excellent call.
Scott Glenn makes what may be his only appearance of the season this week, as Kevin’s dad reveals that he’s headed to Australia, as the voices in his head may or may not have instructed him to do. If The Leftovers is bound for points elsewhere from here on out, a look at how Departure Day was handled internationally could be fascinating.
One of Max Richter’s distinctive principal motifs from last season reappears this week along with Mapleton, and it’s joined by a host of new melodies.
“At least it’s big!” Despite her questionable taste in hats and men, Nora Durst remains series MVP.