Post a-plot-all-cryptic drama
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