'The Leftovers' Creators Explain New Ideas And Religious Expression In Season Two

HBO ended their Television Critics Association sessions with a panel on season two of The Leftovers. Damon Lindelof, author and co-creator Tom Perotta, and stars Justin Theroux, Carrie Coon and Regina King were on the panel. As (spoiler) the first season ended with Kevin Garvey (Theroux) leaving town with a new surrogate family, season two finds them in Miracle National Park.

"The premise of this place, Jardin, TX which is Miracle National Park, is there were no departures from this place," Lindelof said. "It has a population over 9,000 and nobody departed, so what would that be and what would happen if there was a departure?"

"In the normal world, if someone goes missing, we think foul play, somebody kidnapped or hurt them, or they ran away. In this world where this concept exists, there's the third possibility. This season is interested in exploring that idea of loss. I think there's a much more immediate sense of something happening, versus the examination of the aftermath of something that happened. We're using this as a lens to bring out the larger ideas of narrative in a plot driven way."

Perrotta added that Miracle National Park allows them to explore the departures in a different way than season one's Guilty Remnant.

"Because it's been insulated from the most significant trauma of the departure, the really dark religious unrest that we explored with the Guilty Remnant isn't happening there," Perrotta said. "It has its own peculiarities that lean in to protect it's special identity. We're looking at a different sort of religious expression. This town called Miracle tries to geographically separate itself and create the sense of psychological, geographical isolation. That creates vulnerabilities, arrogance and an unstable situation. How did the community set itself apart? Saying we're chosen, what does that mean when you do that?"

That's not to say the Guilty Remnant are gone. They've been left behind, to quote another story of departures, but Lindelof says their presence is still felt. "As storytellers, we've said that the dramatic conflict of Season 2 is that Season 1 is trying to get in," Lindelof said. "There's this branch that separates the national park from the outside world. It's very difficult to get into this national park because as you can imagine, it's a much sought-after tourist destination. People are grafting a lot of meaning onto this place. We think that's interesting. What is it about this place? Is it a statistical anomaly or is there something special? Even though Amy Brenneman, who's a regular this season and we'll continue to see her, we really want to see what the next chapter for her is. She and Meg are manifesting different aspects of that Season 1 idea."

Season two will have a somewhat lighter tone. Clips shown in the HBO presentation included people actually smiling!

"The first season of the show we make no apologies for," Lindelof said. "We wanted to ground the world. To many that may have felt bleak and depressing. To us it felt honest. What was important to us was the characters on the show didn't want to feel that way. The idea of people wanting to feel better and gravitating towards ways to feel better, this family wouldn't want to stay in the place where they were, geographically or emotionally. When we started talking about them sitting around a table saying, 'What if we left this place?' ideas started flowing. It opened the show creatively in interesting ways, and created the opportunity to introduce new characters."

One of those new characters is played by King. "I play Erika Murphy," King said. "I am a mother, a doctor who works at the clinic. I'm married. My husband was the man who was kicking through doors [in the trailer clips]. My son is the one that's making eyes with Jill. She's light, she's bright. When I say bright, I mean smart, bright and full of life. There are some things you get to learn about that's behind that smile."

Theroux teased a surprise in store for Kevin Garvey: "I have a surprise in my character."

"It is this big beautiful open sky Texas, this new town," Theroux said. "What I find interesting now, we're halfway through making the show [and] they're illuminating certain parts of the path as we go. The show opens up visually, but it has this other quality because Miracle has such a small population, it literally has fences around it in a way that keeps that population unto itself. They've created this bizarre ant farm where the world is smaller and more intense. That struck me and that came after reading a couple scripts and starting to make the show and see the sets.

"This move, obviously he's not going to be able to take his badge or responsibilities to the people with him. He ends up coming up completely against himself and a woman he doesn't even really know that well. When you think back on it, it's a very spontaneous decision they make together. She's behind the driver's wheel a lot. In a weird way, the pressure's off him there but it forces him to confront all the things he gets when you make those grand wishes for yourself."

Coon added a bit about Nora's evolution in Miracle. "I suppose I was prepared for whatever the transformation in Nora would be taking on this role again as a mother," she said. "Having been defined by her grief, she's stepping into the role of wife and mother again, and what that would mean for her. It hasn't turned out the way I expected it to. [The expression is:] Wherever you go, there you are. I think her Nora Durst-ness is intact. I don't know what's coming. The surprise you're asking about hasn't happened to me yet but I think it's coming."

Spoiler alert for season one, but viewers who did see the entire first season might be surprised to learn that Ann Dowd is returning for Season 2 as well. "Believe it or not, she's still going to be on the show," Lindelof said. "We have a plan. What we're doing hopefully in the second season with her is fairly unique. I think we don't want to use her as a Shakespearean ghost, to say she's just someone there to comment on the action.

She's in the show but we don't really want to talk too specifically about how she manifests. Suffice to say, she's a huge problem that needs to be solved. Not Anne Dowd [but her character Patti Levin]."


The Leftovers returns October 4 on HBO.