‘The Leftovers’ Season 2 Review: Justin Theroux Drama Makes Big Changes But Stops Short of Reboot

Series maintains its dark tone even with introduction of new characters and new location

The first half hour of the season 2 premiere of HBO’s “The Leftovers” may have viewers wondering if they’ve tuned in to the right show. Stay with it, because the extended opening, which seems to be unrelated to the show as we know it, is planting seeds.

The new chapter begins with new characters including Regina King‘s Erika Murphy, a deaf doctor, her husband John (Kevin Carroll), an ex-convict, and their two teenage children. The family lives in Jarden, Texas and while they seem normal and happy, as the hour progresses, we see cracks in that façade. We spend most of the season premiere with this new family but don’t worry, familiar faces (no names as we’d hate to spoil anything) also return when Kevin, Nora, Jill and baby Lily move from Mapleton, N.Y. to Jarden, which is known as Miracle because nobody departed from the town during the Great Departure.

Though we don’t see much of Kevin and Nora in the season opener, they occupy most of the second episode, which gives the backstory of their decision to move to Jarden. We also see their arrival in Jarden and how the fact that there were no departures has affected this new community. While one might think that would make for a happier, more well-adjusted suburb, it’s not the case.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Instead let’s focus on why “The Leftovers” is worth watching: the haunting reaction shots of Justin Theroux, who says so much more with his face than he does with scripted lines; a compelling new couple portrayed by King and Kevin Carroll – keep your eye on Carroll’s John and his checkered past. The drama continues to deal with people trying to find a safe place, if there is such a thing, and if it’s possible to escape the sadness of one’s past. Though we don’t see her in the season opener, Carrie Coon as Nora continues to deliver a strong, moving performance in the second episode. As in last season’s “The Guest” episode, Coon’s conviction never fail to impress and we fervently hope she’ll have scenes with Regina King, another dramatic powerhouse. Given that Kevin and Nora are next door neighbors to John and Erika, this is a safe bet.

Another difference as the show returns: the opening credits, which feature new visuals and graphics set to Iris DeMent’s “Let the Mystery Be.” Could this be a clue from executive producers Tom Perrotta and Damon Lindelof that we shouldn’t question what unfolds, at least not too much? Or is it merely an acknowledgment of the ongoing mystery of life? Max Richter’s beautifully composed musical score continues to deepen the emotional notes crafted by the writers, augmenting the sadness, fear and/or anxiety.

Lindelof has said that viewers should not think of season 2 as a reboot, and after watching the first two episodes of the new season, I understand why. The somewhat morose contemplative quality of “The Leftovers” remains intact. The sense of pervasive sadness has lessened but even with all the new faces and a new town, we still wonder if Kevin, Nora and family can ever find a place to call home.

The ambitious drama addresses a variety of themes and as season two opens, it continues to be a fascinating examination of the nature of grief and loss, the concept of family, and the idea of emotional healing. Few current shows on TV approach “The Leftovers” level of contemplation and as a result, the show stays with you long after an episode ends. Though it’s sobering to watch, it’s also very moving and beautifully acted. “The Leftovers” should not be left behind.

“The Leftovers” season two premieres Sunday at 9 p.m. on HBO.