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The Leftovers: “Axis Mundi”

Season 2, Episode 1
Written by Jacqueline Hoyt
Directed by Mimi Leder
The Leftovers airs Sundays at 9 pm on HBO

“We are the 9261. We are spared.”

This review contains spoilers. 

The Leftovers returns with an epilogue set hundreds of thousands of years ago, before recorded human history. A heavily pregnant woman awakes in the night and walks out of a cave to relieve herself. She looks to the moon, spies a hawk and an earthquake throws her to the ground. In distress, the woman tries to free her tribe mates, who are trapped inside the cave which has been covered by an avalanche of rocks. To no avail is she able to free her people and then she begins to labor. Her baby is born, with difficulty and pain; she cradles the newborn in the early morning, while gazing at the rocks which have encased her people in the cave. She is alone in the world with no protection and subsequently dies due to an infected snake bite. By sheer luck, a woman from a different tribe happens upon the dead woman laying next to a lake, still holding onto the screaming infant. She picks up the baby, looks with curious sadness at the dead woman and walks away, cradling her adopted foundling. The scene then segues to modern-day Jarden, Texas where three young woman splash about in the very same lake by which the ancient woman died. Jarden is the post-Departure Garden of Eden(jardin being the word for garden in both Spanish and French); the place were 9261 people did not disappear during The Departure. This place of marvelous exclusion from the pain of The Departure is dubbed Miracle National Park; a locale laced with hope and mysterious happenings.

The tone of this episode is decidedly different than the previous crushing misery displayed in the debut season of the series. The stabbing pain of The Departure remains, joined by elements of cryptic secrets, which reveal themselves through new characters and the town of Jarden. Family is still integral to The Leftovers, with the Murphy’s of Jarden leading the action in episode one. We first meet Evie Murphy(Jasmin Savoy Brown), a quick-witted teen, swimming in the lake with her two best friends. Evie seems to be your typical teen, yet is not in many ways. She has epilepsy, which in many cultures is seen as a conduit to receiving spiritual visions, as well as her name Evangeline in Greek translating to ‘messenger of good news’. A very peculiar scene in which Evie and her two friends are seen running naked through a forest tells us something is going to happen to her or she is accepting it; whatever it is. She and her friends are not running away from anything, instead towards it. As Evie approaches the camera closely, she raises her arms to the sky and closes her eyes. She has accepted something we do not know about and which may cause much pain to her family and her town.

Evie’s brother Michael Murphy(Jovan Adepo) is a good deal different than his sister, as siblings often split to opposite poles. Michael(a name which comes from the Biblical Archangel Michael, leader of the Army of Heaven) is a compassionate, sweet young teen who is a junior minister and helps those in need. He tends to lean towards the nerdy side of life; he is utterly uncontroversial. He is embarrassed by his sister’s cursing and is gentle to everyone; he visits the elderly and prays with them, when other teens would be out goofing off. Michael offers vials of water from the lake to tourists visiting Jarden, for only a donation. He does not want to make money off the water, he wants to entice people to visit his church. Michael’s gentle manner and loving spirit will have to bolster him against the unbelievable event which closes the episode.

The parent’s of Evie and Michael, John(Kevin Carroll) and Erika Murphy(Regina King) are an unusual pair in a highly unusual time and place. Erika is a hearing impaired nurse who raised the children while John was in prison for over 6 years on an attempted murder charge. John is a highly paranoid man, not due to The Departure, due to living incarcerated for so long. His presence is intense and he is highly suspicious of charlatans, so much so that in his present job as a fire fighter he burns down homes of those he sees as con artists. He is on guard all the time against forces that will rip his home from him; as being in prison did for so many years. Erika is a bright spot to John’s anxiety. She knows that he burns down homes and supports his “work”. Erika is hiding something from John though. On an early morning run, she enters the forest and digs up a box. Inside is a live bird! Somehow it has survived and she lifts her head to the sky in thanks. There is a possibility that Erika and Evie discuss this miracle, as they both know American Sign Language and John does not. What does this miracle mean to Erika and Evie and why is John excluded?

The newly formed Garvey/Durst family arrives in Jarden halfway through the episode. As John opens his front door to find a gifted pie, with no note on his doorstep, Kevin, Nora, Jill and the adopted baby of Holy Wayne and Christine move into the house next door. John is suspicious from the start of his new neighbors; they are trespassing on sacred ground in John’s mind. Do they deserve to be there? John intends to find out by taking recon on the family, under the guise of a birthday barbecue. The barbecue is only attended by the Garvey/Dursts; a fact that sets Kevin’s radar off. Matt and Mary Jamison, Nora’s older brother and sister-in-law, have also moved to Jarden, to seek a place free of the misery of The Departure. A possible change has come to the silent Mary, due to the miraculous locale of Jardin.

The ending of the episode is a tremendous shock. The camera pans around the quiet Murphy home in the middle of the night, when everything starts to shake. A large earthquake throws shelving and pictures all around the house; John and Erika run to protect their children. Evie is gone from her bed and Erika is highly upset. “She’s never done this before.” Erika exclaims about Evie possibly sneaking out or worse. Calls are made to Erika’s friend’s families, and it’s learned that her two friends are missing also. Michael tells his father that Evie and her friends might be at the lake, as that’s their hang out spot. When John and Michael arrive at the lake, they find Erika’s friend’s car running, music playing, doors locked, with no one inside. Michael looks to the lake, “Dad, the water is gone!” as dying fish flop about gasping for air. A second Departure has occurred to those who thought they were spared. No one is safe from the force of the unexplained event, no matter what they had believed before that moment. A magnificently scary way to end the first episode of a stunning, entrancing drama.

Note: John burns down the homes of those he views as frauds. His arguement “He’s selling a lie and people are buying it.” is valid, to a point. He does not object to his son being a junior minister, which some could say is selling a lie. He does not seem to mind the man who drags a goat into the town diner and slaughters it, as a sacrifice of some sort. John does not seem concerned with the homeless man who lives atop a tower in the town, keeping watch, who is given food daily by Michael. Is John really a crusader against false-faith for profit or is there another impetus to his decisions on who should be punished?

Fun Note: The one joke big joke from season one has a new punchline. Apparently the entire cast of Perfect Strangers did not Depart. Cousin Larry aka Mark Linn-Baker(playing himself) faked being Departed, assumed a new identity, and moved to Colombia! Best cameo ever!!

Grade: A-

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Leanne Kubicz is a contributing writer for Cut Print Film. She is a native of Essex County, New Jersey and relocated to Kansas City, MO in the autumn of 2013. Leanne is a retired reference librarian and former soccer statistician for the New York Red Bulls. Read her personal take on films at lmkfilmpicks.wordpress.com.

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  • Fisher&SonsFuneralHome

    Excellent recap! I appreciate your sharing the information of the little details (Evie and Michaels names, the cultural belief regarding epilepsy) which I did not know, but have enhanced the story for me as a viewer. Thank you!

    I love this show and am excited and intrigued by the new season and the new location of Jardin. It was absolutely necessary in order to move the plot and characters forward. I invite the new questions surrounding the town and the new characters. Was it another departure or are the teens simply missing? Where did the water go? I want to know more about the anomalies in the town. Also, who did John try to kill?

    I like that the show didn’t immediately pick up on The Garvey’s right away and instead focused on introducing Jardin and the Murphy’s first, before circling back to tell us what we missed.

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