Post a-plot-all-cryptic drama

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - Reviews -

UK Broad­cast Sky At­lantic, fin­ished

US Broad­cast HBO, fin­ished

Episodes Re­viewed 2.01-2.10

Re­mem­ber magic eye pic­tures? Those ab­stract pat­terns that only formed an im­age if you “re­laxed” your eyes? Sea­son two of The Left­overs is sim­i­lar. It makes more sense if you stick your fin­gers in your ears and close your eyes al­to­gether.

The show has been re­ceiv­ing rap­tur­ous re­views, even from the likes of The Guardian. It seems be­ing wan­tonly weird can cut you a lot of slack. Are some crit­ics scared to ad­mit it’s rub­bish for fear they’re “miss­ing the point”? Pos­si­bly. Much of the time it’s just ob­tuse for the sake of it.

Sea­son one was de­cent enough. Quirky, in­ven­tive and play­ful with its sto­ry­telling, sure, but very watch­able. The show started with 2% of the world’s pop­u­la­tion van­ish­ing overnight but it was never con­cerned with the why; in­stead it in­tel­li­gently ex­plored how peo­ple coped in the af­ter­math. It also had a fan­tas­tic grasp of vis­ual sto­ry­telling with many in­ge­nious mon­tage se­quences that said so much more than reams of di­a­logue.

Sea­son two kicks off with an ut­terly point­less ex­tended se­quence with a cave­woman pee­ing in a river; it’s bor­ing, over­long and in­tro­duces more un­wanted fan­tas­tic el­e­ments that muddy the strong, sim­ple cen­tral con­text. Then the plot moves to an en­tirely new lo­ca­tion with a whole new bunch of char­ac­ters – a town called Mir­a­cle where no­body van­ished. Fi­nally, some char­ac­ters we re­mem­ber from sea­son one show up but events seem to have moved on sig­nif­i­cantly. From then on in episodes move back and for­ward in time to fill in gaps and play plot­ting tricks on the view­ers.

Tricks be­ing the per­ti­nent word. The writ­ers prob­a­bly think they’re be­ing bold and ex­per­i­men­tal. Mostly they’re just be­ing ir­ri­tat­ing. The ef­fort that you as a viewer put into keep­ing track of the weav­ing, back­track­ing sto­ry­lines is rarely re­warded with a de­cent rev­e­la­tion.

There are mo­ments that work, when a plot twist de­liv­ers a gut punch or the post-rap­ture world re­veals some other grisly di­men­sion of grim­ness. It’s stylishly shot and im­pec­ca­bly acted. But ul­ti­mately it’s an ex­er­cise in elab­o­rate smoke and mir­rors. Dave Golder

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