The Leftovers 2×02 ‘A Matter of Geography’: The abstract and the concrete

The Leftovers 2x02 Cover

“I could sit around and cry about how the world f****** ended, or I could start it up again.” –Kevin Garvey Sr.

Loss isn’t a matter of geography. It’s something that’s seared into your identity for the rest of your life. You might live in the house where your loved one died, and you might feel that loss a little more, but move a thousand miles away and you’ll still feel that pain. People like to think of loss and pain as things that leave scars, but people never really take time to understand the ramifications of being scarred. You can go on with your life, but it’s still there, forever, nagging at you, reminding you of trauma and loss. The Leftovers entertains the idea of growth and creation, but it still centers around the notion that loss is eternal, that we try to fill the hole left by loss with something better. Only we’re flawed beings, and filling the emptiness often does more harm than good.

The Leftovers 2x02-1

Source: HBO

Kevin Garvey sees those around him desperately clinging onto lifelines, but he can’t seem to find his own. He has somebody who cares for him, Nora, the daughter he rescued, Jill, and a new child, Lily, but he continually isolates himself because he doesn’t know how to contend with the trauma in his heart. He pumps dubstep and rock music through his headphones to block out his thoughts, and the more he does that, the less he actually deals with what he’s feeling. Because Kevin wants to be punished for his wrongdoing, for cheating on his wife and hurting Patti in the cabin, for pushing away his family. And he tries to punish himself by digging up Patti’s body and getting arrested, but the cops don’t care that a member of the Guilty Remnant is dead. The world won’t punish him, even when he wants it to.

The Leftovers 2x02-2

Source: HBO

And so he tries to escape. Nora is able to sell her house to an MIT research group for 2.7 million dollars, as they believe that they can research the geographic locations of concentrated Departures to find out what happened. Of course, Nora doesn’t believe that they’ll find anything, even though it’s apparent that she still wants some sort of answer. But, in leaving Mapleton, Nora, Kevin, and Jill believe that they can start new and become whole again. They can leave the old questions behind and exist in a place untouched by loss and pain. Of course, when they get there, they’re awakened to the harsh reality that escape won’t be quite so easy. Kevin’s dog has always been a symbol of hope and change, and when the dog has to be quarantined for 60 days because of Miracle’s policy, he sees that it’s not quite so easy to escape the hopelessness he feels. He also begins to see Patti more and more often, his mental instability taunting him as he becomes increasingly frustrated by the inability to escape. It also doesn’t help that Nora is so desperate to escape as well. After their rental home burns down, she spends her entire savings on a home in Miracle, making their move permanent. And as Kevin sees that permanence and how Miracle has already failed them, he begins to unravel.

The Leftovers 2x02-4

Source: HBO

It’s great how “A Matter of Geography” also takes the town Miracle and elaborates upon it to further show its identity as a tourist attraction. This has a great deal of relevance to the Garvey exodus to Miracle, as we see how, even in a town that labels itself as removed from the Departure, it still feels the full impact of that loss. In fact, it might feel that loss even more intensely, as those in the town ignore the collective pain of the world. At church, they consider themselves lucky, but in private, they harbor the same painful pasts as anybody else. This episode doesn’t feature the Murphys at all, but even if they haven’t lost anybody (until the end of the episode, when Evie disappears), people like John still have questions about life and about their own pasts. But it’s belief that keeps people hoping that Miracle is something more. They’ll pay millions to live there, wait weeks in tents outside the town, because they believe that Miracle has some sort of healing power. But it doesn’t, and if people want to grow and heal, they’ll have to realize that.  It’s as Kevin Garvey Sr. says at the beginning of the episode: You can cry about how the world ended or you can start again.  And starting again means shedding beliefs that keep you in the past, means actually dealing with your pain.

The Leftovers 2x02-3

Source: HBO

The Leftovers has been narrowing its focus even more than it did in the first season, and while that damages this episode a little bit, it makes the characters seem that much more important. There isn’t a character in the series that isn’t treated as being important and having important experiences (a huge difference from shows like The Walking Dead), and it makes the show remarkably more human. Even next week’s episode, “Off Ramp”, changes the show up again, shifting to focus on Laurie, Tom, and Meg. It takes a certain amount of courage to move the central story so slowly, but when the side-stories are so rich and important to the characters, it makes it easy to dive right into a new story. “A Matter of Geography” does sag a bit in areas where we’ve already seen the story from a different perspective, but it helps to know exactly where the Garveys fit into Miracle before the central plot moves even farther forward.

While “A Matter of Geography” lagged a bit, mostly because of how it overlapped with the first episode, it was still a great meditation on how you can’t simply run from loss. The idea of having a town removed from The Departure is brilliant, simply because that removal works to concentrate loss. Those who come to see the town where nobody Departed are bringing all of their pain and their sorrow with them, expecting to unload it all and leave unburdened. But once they realize that Miracle is the same as any other town, so full of grief and pain and history, what will happen then? What will happen when people realize that their beliefs are a big nothing, that you can’t shield yourself from the inevitability of loss?

What did you think of the episode? Are you excited to catch up with Laurie, Tom, and Meg next week? 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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