All that prevents “A Matter Of Geography” from being a disappointment compared to the stunning “Axis Mundi” is the understanding that the episodes could have very easily aired in reverse order. In fact, after watching “Geography,” it wouldn’t be that hard to believe if Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta later admitted season two of The Leftovers got off to its weird, wonderful, disorienting start because “Geography” was delayed by a post-production snafu. It’s exactly the season premiere the audience was probably anticipating after the conclusion of season one, and it fills in the gaps between the events of “The Prodigal Son Returns” and the arrival of Kevin, Nora, Jill, and Lily in Miracle. For anyone who liked “Axis Mundi” just fine but wanted more of the characters with whom they’d already bonded, “Geography” makes up the difference.
The thing is, I’m not sure who those people are, or if they even exist. The advantage of making a show about a global cataclysm is the freedom to broaden the world or refocus the narrative at will without alienating the audience. Season one did a fine job of shrinking the Sudden Departure down to a manageable size and using Mapleton as a microcosm of the world’s struggle to adjust with the inexplicable disappearances. After taking an inherently global story and centralizing it to one small town in upstate New York, the shrewd choice is to zoom out to see how the rest of the world has been affected, or how the cultural nuances of a different type of town might yield different results. Even as someone who enjoyed The Leftovers’ first season far more than I anticipated, I don’t know how jazzed I’d have been about more chain smoking and existentialist hand-wringing in Mapleton.
Some places are more significant than others. That’s the major theme of “Geography,” evoked in a fascinating scene in Nora’s Mapleton home. A group of scientists from MIT arrive in Mapleton to bid five times the asking price for Nora’s home because it’s the site where her family vanished. The head scientist explains to Nora that, according to their working theory, her husband and children disappeared because they were in a certain place at a certain time. They were sitting at the dining room table while she milled about in the kitchen. Had she been sitting next to them, she may well have been spirited away too. For a variety of reasons, Miracle is the dining room to Mapleton’s kitchen. It’s a more interesting place to be, and the Murphys are such intriguing characters, I’d completely forgotten about the Garvey-Dursts until they finally arrived in Miracle.
The heartbreaking cliffhanger of “Axis Mundi” demands an emotional investment from the audience, so it’s a bit jarring to watch “Geography” and be transported back to Mapleton, a town I could have easily gone without revisiting. At least it’s a short visit, as Kevin, Nora, and Jill tie up some loose ends before hitting the road for their new Texas home. Structurally, “Geography” is the yang to the premiere’s yin, and it’s reminiscent of so many Lost episodes when the same events would be examined from the vantage point of the central survivors, or the Tailies, or the Others. It’s almost exclusively about the Garvey-Durst family until the John stops by with that damn mystery pie. Of course, Miracle hasn’t cornered the market on mysteries. Kevin is tormented by the ghost of Patti, who doesn’t let up even after he’s pleaded his case to an eye-patched ATFEC agent and moved hundreds of miles away. Jill gets to say goodbye to Tommy, and at least get a final look at Laurie, though it’s completely unclear what lies ahead for those characters. After all these three characters have been through, the show gets to flirt with a hopeful tone for about 15 seconds when Kevin interrupts their fine dining experience to impulsively suggest they get the hell out of Mapleton.
Director Mimi Leder delivers the requisite driving cross-country shots, which emphasize what a wonderful opportunity this is for the Garvey-Dursts to chart a new path after all the emotional suffering they’ve endured. But their actual arrival in Miracle goes anything but smoothly. The house they’d planned on renting has since burned down, and without a place to live, they’ll be stuck with the masses on the outskirts of America’s most magical town. Nora swoops in to purchase a house at a property auction, spending all her profits from the old house in one fell swoop. Kevin is uneasy about all of it, nervous that there will be some consequence of diverting from the plans they made back in Mapleton. But following her conversation with the MIT scientists, Nora is resolute. She’s not going to find herself in the wrong place at the wrong time ever again, and even though she has no control of where she ends up, it’s always nice to operate under the illusion of free will.
None of us knows where we’ll end up, and that uncertainty is reflected in the last few minutes of the episode, which find a disoriented Kevin emerging from one of his sleepwalking spells in the mysteriously drained Miracle spring. He’s got a cinder block tied to his leg, and he was likely there for whatever resulted in Evie’s disappearance. By the time he clambers out of the spring, he finds the car Evie left in, and moments later, John and Michael arrive to search for her. Uh oh indeed.
- Kevin has a weird run-in with the man last scene praying with Michael in the premiere.
- It’s always really cool to see how the writers depict the subtle ways the Sudden Departure has affected the country, as in the scene where Kevin and Nora go to formalize their adoption of Lily, and the adoption guy is like, “We’re actually running a BOGO sale, so I can throw in this white infant free of charge.”
- I always find myself saying “No one should ever use The Pixies’ ‘Where Is My Mind’ in a television show or movie again,” but everytime it’s used, I’m like, “Okay fine, just this one more time, but that’s seriously it.”
- Ghost Patti: “Pie is secure, over.”