THE LEFTOVERS Recap “Axis Mundi”

HBO’s THE LEFTOVERS began its second season with the episode “Axis Mundi.” The name of the installment refers to a focal point, a connection between Heaven and Earth. Presumably, that’s what the town of Jarden, Texas, the ‘miracle’ city where not a single one of its 9,000-plus residents disappeared in the Sudden Departure, is. This is the new setting for the series, but the location is far from the only thing that’s changed.

“Axis Mundi” begins with a cave woman, presumably Native American, who is separated from her people by a landslide, gives birth in the open, and tries to protect her baby. She dies, and another woman rescues the child. What is the meaning of this extended sequence, done without dialogue, that makes up a huge chunk of the beginning of the episode?

Well, there are parallels we can draw between the cave woman and characters on the show. Perhaps she represents Nora (Carrie Coon), who lost her entire family, then picked up a baby that isn’t hers. If so, does that mean Nora is doomed? Or is the woman meant to represent the fierce spirit of human beings? Or maybe her sequence is commentary on life and death?

While it’s nearly impossible to say for sure what the cave woman means (unless the show’s staff come forward and tell us), this does fit within the framework of THE LEFTOVERS. It is a slow-paced, emotionally-moving series that dwells on depth of feeling, at times so much so that it becomes purposefully uncomfortable. While the cave woman may not be a familiar face, her piece does not feel out of sync with the overall tone of the program, and I like that it makes us think, as other episodes have in that past. The show is often about not having answers, and this opening lets viewers feel what the characters feel in that regard.

After her, we meet the Murphy family, who have joined our principal cast. There’s: John (Kevin Carroll, Being John Malkovich), the fire captain patriarch who seems to want to protect the town, and may or may not be a villain; his wife, Erika (Regina King, American Crime, Southland), an almost-deaf Doctor who is complicit in whatever her husband is doing; their spiritual son, Michael (Jovan Adepo, The Youth); and their multi-faceted, adventurous daughter, Evie (Jasmin Savoy Brown, Laggies).

It takes forty minutes for a familiar face from season one to show up, so the Murphys are our protagonists for most of “Axis Mundi.” I didn’t find myself minding, though. It’s not that I don’t like last year’s leads, many of whom will continue to star in the show (though a number of them have been dropped). It’s the fact that getting to know the Murphy family is a great way to introduce us to this place, as they are involved in the community in a myriad of ways, and they are supremely interesting in their own right. Next week, we can go back to the Garveys and their friends, but for now, I am satisfied to be fully immersed in this place before they even arrive.

Jarden, or Miracle, is a very intriguing town. It has a new tourist industry based entirely upon its reputation, and that brings with it its own share of problems. Isaac Rainey (Darius McCrary, Family Matters) is the perfect way to examine this. He’s a fortune teller whom John goes after. Is Isaac for real? What if he is? What if he’s not? Whether he is or not, does John have the right to force him to stop? Does Isaac represent the best or worst in human nature?

Despite numerous changes, from characters to setting, THE LEFTOVERS remains essentially the same show, so its fans should be happy with “Axis Mundi.” Once more, we’re left to ponder questions that don’t have clear answers, while fully immersed in human drama that is compelling and authentic. Excellent start.

THE LEFTOVERS airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.