The Leftovers 2×01 ‘Axis Mundi’: The power of beliefs

The Leftovers 2x01 Cover

People will do anything for their beliefs. They’ll run halfway across the world to preach them to whoever is willing to listen. They’ll devote their lives to professing them to the world. They’ll destroy their relationships to assert them. They’ll die in order to preserve them. For such intangible things, beliefs control our lives. But is that a good thing? Beliefs are relative, existing in a grey area where they’re never entirely true. But we have to believe in something, otherwise we wouldn’t know how to exist. We wouldn’t have a set of rules that we exist by.

The Leftovers 2x01-2

Source: HBO

The Leftovers is a show that has always dealt in beliefs. The Guilty Remnant is a group that established their beliefs based off of the loss of their previous beliefs. Once the Departure happened, they were so lost that they filled that loss with new belief. And that kind of belief is always unbelievably dangerous because it’s not based on logic. It’s based on wild, unhinged emotion. So when the foundation of those beliefs is built on emotion and turbulence, then that’s what it takes to sustain it, a steady diet of emotion, turbulence, instability. When people suffer a major loss, they need to believe in something, anything to mitigate the pain. And while The Leftovers doesn’t offer a real solution to getting rid of the pain, it reminds us that time heals, that normalizing our lives helps to fill in those holes in our lives. Because when we try to do it ourselves, we end up doing more harm than good.

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Source: HBO

Which brings me to “Axis Mundi” and the insanity that was those first ten minutes. The episode starts out with a pregnant cavewoman leaving the cave at night, only to have an earthquake block the cave, killing her entire clan. She ends up giving birth and takes her baby with her, venturing out to find another clan. A snake almost harms her baby, but she fights it off, getting bitten in the process. The poisonous bite eventually kills her, and when it does another woman from a separate clan rescues the baby. This ten-minute vignette is undoubtedly the most risky maneuver The Leftovers could have done going into its second season, but it works beautifully to show the lengths to which people go for their beliefs. The woman loses everything that ever created her identity, all the people in the world that she knew. So she fills that void, the emptiness created by loss, with love for her baby, the only thing that she knows anymore. And she’s willing to die for that belief, that love. But she’ll never know if that belief has been validated, as she dies before her baby finds safety. Beliefs are giant unknowns, unable to be validated, just generating questions upon questions that we’re supposed to dwell on with the hopes that we find some sort of truth. But there is no truth. And that can be terrifying.

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Source: HBO

Almost equally risky is the choice to focus the episode around the Murphy family, introducing only some of the Garveys at the very end of the episode. The Murphys are an instantly-captivating group, with Evie and John representing the more mysterious family members, and Michael and Erika as the more grounded members. Evie’s carefree nature, from her interactions with the man testing the water to her running naked through the woods, all helps to establish her as an almost ethereal being. John, on the other hand, has mysteries rooted in the pain of his past, such as his prison sentence and his hatred for beliefs that aren’t his own. He is easily the most gripping new character, as he commands most of the action within the episode. The episode has a completely new setting as well. The episode introduces the new setting for the season, a town in Texas originally named Jardin but renamed Miracle after the Departure didn’t claim any lives there. It does an excellent job crafting the town and its inhabitants so that the disappearance of Evie and the lake’s water would be all the more horrifying. When that climactic moment finally does happen, it hits hard, and you can truly feel the loss that John feels. It also helps that the episode focuses intently on building a foreboding atmosphere. The chirping of the crickets, as well as the darkness in the sink drain, helps to establish the damage lying underneath the surface of the citizens of Miracle. They don’t quite understand the pain that the rest of the world does, but they feel it nonetheless, lurking in the background.

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Source: HBO

“Axis Mundi” also introduces new mysteries, operating in a similar fashion to the previous season. The town is a bizarre mystifying place, which partially is a result from its self-quarantine from the rest of the world. It’s apparent that nobody really wants to deal with the Departure, even though the town profits immensely as a tourist hub for those who want to see a “miracle”. Those within the town see it as a fairly normal place, as Michael does when he sees the Jardin lake water as normal while others see it as holy or magical. But within the town we can already see absurdity taking hold. There’s an old man on a tower that lowers things in a bucket. There’s a man who slaughters a goat in a restaurant. There’s a woman in a bridal dress watering her lawn. None of these elements are explained; rather, they’re used in a way that suggests disharmony within the community, as well as disharmony with the world at large. Miracle is the odd one out; the rest of the world is reeling from loss while Miracle pretends that there is no loss. But pretending only works so well, and eventually emotion splits a person at the seams, causing them to erupt.

The Leftovers was a show that divided viewers, with some hating the absurdity of its elements and some absolutely loving the mystery and the thematic rhetoric. Last season, I easily fell into the group that loved it, as it was undoubtedly one of my favorite shows last year, if not my favorite show. Here, it’s even better than before, with “Axis Mundi” providing a brilliant return that’s stronger and more accessible than before. But, even with that accessibility, The Leftovers remains a brutal reminder of the mystery of existence, as well as the way that loss creates a permanent hole in our identities, causing us to fill it with toxicity.

Because there’s no way to escape from the loss in our lives. It just goes on and on until the end of our existence. But we still have to live, wading through the unknown until we emerge able to carry on with our lives.

Thanks for coming back for this new season of The Leftovers! I know that I didn’t hit everything that I could have, but I’ll be elaborating on the characters and the town of Miracle further as the season goes on. It’ll be a lot of fun (or maybe it’ll be depressing), so come back each week for what I’m sure will be an awesome 10-episode season.

So what did you think of this new (and improved) season of The Leftovers? Was it as good as last season? Let me know in the comments!

 

Michael St. Charles

is just a Michigan State University grad who loves a good story. If he’s not off teaching the young ones how to solve quadratic functions or to write an expository essay, he’s watching old-school HBO shows, indie horror movies, or he’s playing Resident Evil 4.

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