“There are no miracles in Miracle.” On The Leftovers, that’s the mantra John gives to the faithful in the town of 9,261 who have been spared, where there were no departures. Until all signs point to the fact that his own daughter plus two of her friends and the town lake have disappeared. I’d call that a miracle, wouldn’t you? Or must miracles be benevolent to exist?
Let me get out my online copy of Merriam-Webster dictionary. A miracle is defined first as “an unusual or wonderful event believed to be caused by the power of God” but also “an extraordinary event manifesting as divine intervention in human affairs.” Are there any miracles in Miracle? Not according to the faithless John Murphy. But absolutely according to nearly everyone else.
I have yet to see faith depicted this way on television before, with the major exception of maybe Lost — another Damon Lindelof product. This unrelenting idea of how maybe surrendering to the unexplainable is the most rational thing to do in an irrational world. How true faith in something motivates us more than anything else. Season 2 keeps circling back around these ideas. Kevin Garvey asks his family to take a leap of faith and move halfway across the country for a fresh start. Nora has to believe in the power of Miracle in order to feel safe. Laurie and Tommy are facing off against the radical believers of The Guilty Remnant while having faith that their own methods will work to heal others. Faith heals all in good time.
But not now, not when the town of Miracle evacuates its park residents to clear for a wide search and rescue for the missing girls. Not when a town of zero departures may have had its first one. And that’s what makes The Leftovers so great, story-wise. It pinpoints exactly what makes something tick — a town, a person, an idea — and then tries to deconstruct it and blow it up. Last season, it was grief; this season, it’s faith. It’s the idea of believing in miracles or not. And it makes for some riveting television.
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In this episode, “Orange Sticker, an earthquake occurs, waking up the Garvey family. Nora’s obviously freaked that Kevin is gone and that Lily was almost crushed by a lamp (earthquake proof that house pronto, people), but even more so when she learns that her neighbor is missing. Cue full-on panic attack mode where Nora assumes there’s been another Departure, desperately looking to a TV or the Internet for answers. She finds none until Kevin returns home, covered in mud. And then she calmly takes the baby and goes upstairs.
The ladies of the Garvey household know to assume that Kevin was sleepwalking, but he’s forthright with saying that he was at the lake and saw a missing car. Nora helps him cover his tracks when he lost his phone at the lake and believes he isn’t responsible for everything. But she can tell that he isn’t disclosing the full truth.
If we’re to believe what Patti says to him later, it’s that Kevin went to the lake to kill himself. That’s why he woke up with a cinderblock attached to his ankle. It’s that he can’t tell his family he’s “crazy” or hearing voices because it’s not a family; it’s damage control. And it sort of is, isn’t it? Nora and Kevin don’t know each other that well. Sure, Nora can enable his smoking habit and enable her own drinking, but they don’t know each other. They just need each other because the alternative is too bleak (too season 2). Nora literally handcuffs herself to Kevin when they go to sleep.
The Murphys are So Compelling
Can I make this comparison and then drop it? I’m gonna: John Murphy is Jack from season 1 of Lost. Kevin Garvey is Jack from season 4 or 5 of Lost. And Matt Jamison is Locke seasons 1, 4, 5 and 6. A man without a faith, a man with a destiny and a man with faith.
It’s the man without faith who’s the most fascinating in this episode. “There’s nothing more dangerous than a man who don’t believe in nothing.” How apt. John is the man burning down houses and keeping the peace in a town where there are no “miracles,” but he’s also on edge. He’s determined to find out the identity of the man’s handprint on his car and who took his daughters. It doesn’t even occur to him until he’s been shot that something unexplainable happened, something even more unexplainable than someone kidnapping or murdering his daughter.
To watch Kevin Carroll in this small realization is wonderful. To watch Regina King try to make sense of it is wonderful. To watch them together, without judgment of one another, as Erika stitches up John is fantastic.
The Murphys are just instantly compelling, perhaps because of their no-bullshit policy and dynamic. They are the anti-Garveys; they tell each other everything and trust one another, as Patti dryly notes.
Though we don’t see much of the Murphys together in this episode, we spend enough time with them apart, processing the ordeal. Their son, Michael — who we learn is Evie’s twin who is two months younger — knows it instantly to be another departure of some kind. It’s his faith that gives him this insight right away and it’s his faith that may give him some catharsis. We spend less time with Erika, but there’s sort of this calm knowing that things are gonna change now more than ever.
To be clear: we don’t know if Evie and her friends departed. It certainly looks that way (who knows if we can trust Patti entirely?), but whatever the case, spending time with the Murphys is worth it.
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— This episode takes a breather from the heavy singularly POV character episodes to explore more of Kevin, John and Nora’s POV. It sort of feels like a reset episode lacking the intensity of episodes one, two or three, but it’s necessary.
— Patti is the ultimate troll.
— Nora’s story about the fraudulent cases of the Sudden Departure echo 9/11 very closely. Also, can we call bull on that speech she gives to Jill or what?
— Matt claims that on the first night at Miracle, his wife Sarah was healed momentarily. Matt’s kind of crazy, though, but crazy people on this show are often not.
— Strange encounters: Nora meets Irwin, who has a habit of making people uncomfortable, at the town convenience store. It seems like he can look through her pain. Meanwhile, the guy who lives at the top of the monument town can also see Patti. Intriguing.
— I have more thoughts on Regina King’s character, Erika — like, several paragraphs — but I need more time to think it over. Until next episode.
The Leftovers airs Sundays at 9pm on HBO.
(Image courtesy of HBO)