[For The Leftovers‘ “Axis Mundi” or any other recaps on Fetchland, assume the presence of possible spoilers.]
Axis Mundi A Texas town in which no one departed becomes a magnet for tourists and people.
If you’re not familiar with the beautiful sadness and polarizing plotlines of The Leftovers season one, look no further than the title of season two, episode one, “Axis Mundi.” Watching the first season was to witness a world’s grieving process; each character mired in messy recovery from the “Sudden Departure,” a global, instantaneous, and unexplained disappearance of 140 million people – two percent of the earth’s population. Season one tangles us in this mystery – where the unanswerable questions live. It’s our own personal Axis Mundi, AKA the celestial pole or connecting place between what is known and unknown.
Speaking of place, season two of The Leftovers takes us to a new location from the start. By necessity, given that season one’s finale literally sent the main location up in flames one suburban house at a time. This fiery cleansing was just what the show needed. It’s a fresh start and there are plentiful new mysteries to boot. Chief Garvey (Justin Theroux) leaves charred Mapleton, New York for a little town called “Miracle” in what was formerly just Jarden, Texas. They call it Miracle because it’s the only place where not a single person departed. Thus, Jarden has become a sort of Mecca that appeals to seekers of all kinds, including Garvey. So, he packs up his freshly minted family and heads down south for a fresh lease on hope. The new intro song ends with the lyric, “Let the mystery be,” and damn it’s some good advice that the characters certainly seem to be taking in season two. Instead of looking for answers about the why and how of the “Sudden Departure” they’re moving forward figuratively and literally.
“Axis Mundi” begins by venturing back to prehistoric times with a heartbreaking and lovely story told without words. The action in many ways parallels the season one finale when Nora finds the abandoned baby and is then ready to commit to love even though she was about to give up everything only a moment before. This all takes place at a spot that transitions from prehistoric into a modern day waterfall and watering hole in the “Miracle” town of Jarden. There’s a shift to a sunny colorful day where teenage girls frolic in the same water where the prehistoric baby was lost and found. Dr. Brian Goodheart collects water into buckets nearby and waves a friendly farewell to the teen girls as they leave. A sign forbids water removal from the area but even though wearing a visitor bracelet, Dr. Goodheart seems oblivious. One of the teens, Evie, also fills her bottle without fear before leaving with her friends.
She returns home, a picaresque place with a seemingly perfect family – the Murphy’s, including Evie’s mother, Erika (Regina King) a doctor, her fireman father, John (Kevin Carroll) and preppy do-gooder bro, Michael (Jovan Adepo.) Michael works in town among the souvenir tables of Miracle handing out pamphlets to tourists. The buses stop there to drop off the fresh-faced hopefuls. This town is all about hope for a better life – a perfect next step for season two after a season one of suffering through grief. Unfortunately the next scene doesn’t quite deliver on that promise when Evie’s father goes to a town prophet. The “seer” reluctantly informs John that “something bad is about to happen to you.” John pretends he doesn’t believe it but the prophet was right about his upcoming birthday… The prophet is clearly a true believer, whether John is or not.
Next, before you can blink, three quick scenes flash onscreen. First, talented Evie sings a song about Jarden with a confident lilt in the gym at school. Then in snippet two, she runs full frontal buck ass naked (not even her glasses on) through some leaves. In the final scene of the brief trio Evie tells her father a knock knock joke. These short scenes are seemingly disconnected, sharing only Evie in her three very different worlds – school, the natural world, and family. After we’re left with John laughing at her joke, he’s at the firehouse. His fellow firefighters are surprised John’s calling for a “five” because he says that the prophet is Selling some lies and BS. We soon find out John means a five alarm fire. The firemen go to the prophet’s house, beat him up, and then torch his place hardcore. It burns to the ground, The Leftovers style.
Erika picks the bits of the prophet’s house out of his scarred and bloody face in her emergency room as he tells her about the warning he gave her husband. The next morning Erika goes for a run, digs up a white shoebox and finds a bird inside. It flies away. She seems to know what’s going on with this and it’s comforting to know somebody does. Then the Murphys go to church where Michael gives a gratitude pep talk, “We are spared!” Right after this the preacher from season one, Matt Jamison (a commanding Christopher Eccleston) fills in as guest preacher for the parish. He’s as enthusiastic as ever, though held back a bit by the outgoing Reverend. We find out soon after that John doesn’t share the rest of his family’s enthusiasm for church.
The next morning the Garveys move in next door to the Murphys and John drops by to meet Nora and baby Lily before inviting them to a backyard barbecue celebrating his birthday. At the BBQ Nora explains that their new preacher, Matt Jamison, is her brother and Jill is Kevin’s daughter. Later when everybody’s warmed up a bit John tells them he spent more than six years in prison for attempted murder, raising Chief Garvey’s handsome brow a bit. Michael and Jill exchange noticeable eyeball attraction upon meeting and later we find out Evie has epilepsy – so teen angst plotlines seem established. When the Garveys leave after a particularly neighborly good time BBQ, Evie hits the road with her friends.
But then at three in the morning they’re all awakened when an earthquake hits the Murphy house and soon they realize Evie never came home from her outing with friends. Phones start ringing and it turns out all her friends are missing as well. John and Michael drive to the waterfall from the first scene looking for Evie. Her phone’s in the car parked by rocks where fish now flop looking like tiny silver wings glimmering in the moonlight. The water is gone and girls are nowhere to be found. John’s shouting, “Evie! Evie! Evie!” and then the scene shifts to Erika crying at her dining room table. It seems that burning the prophet’s house down may not have changed the gravity of his prediction after all. Where’s the water? Where are the girls? This must be The Leftovers because we’ve got questions.
Other mysterious incidents:
Reminiscent of season one’s many wild animal trespassers, the Murphy’s eat lunch in a diner where Farmer Jerry enters with a goat. He throws down a sheet of plastic, slits the goat’s throat, and then with an offhand, “sorry folks” drags the dead animal away.
A woman waters her lawn in a wedding dress and veil.
Michael attends to a bearded old man who lives atop a tower with the word “miracle’ scratched in it with large block letters. He mails the man’s letter, though it lacks an address, and brings him three meals a day using a bucket and pulley system.
Evie gave her dad a gift before she left with her friends and said it was the best gift he’d ever get in his life. He hasn’t opened it yet.
Michael visits a different old man at night, knocking on his door and offering to pray with him. Potential for this man to be Michael’s grandfather because he’s old enough and looks a bit like him.
A cluster of cracks in the road is covered with plate glass, as if a museum piece.
Visitors to Miracle wear neon bracelets much like the kind for hospital patients and the Garveys have them even though they bought their house “so they won’t be bothered by park rangers,” just for a few weeks until they get acclimated.
John attempted to murder somebody and when Garvey asks him what happened he says, “Well, I didn’t try hard enough.”