If the second episode of post-Rapturish drama The Leftovers proved anything, it's that things happen on this show because they happen—with little other explanation. When it comes to the show's more mystical elements, that's all well and good, but when it comes to the characters, it's a huge, glaring problem.
Ostensibly, The Leftovers is a show about coping with both sudden loss and a world whose rules no longer make sense, and each member of the Garvey got their own plot line about this brave new world—with varying degrees of success. The most baffling of the four plots belongs to Tom, who has been working for the horrible guru Wayne. Apparently, the so-called holy man has been sleeping with the underage girls living on his compound (no surprise there), prompting a government raid. Tom ends up shooting an agent who threatens Christine with gun, and serves as her protector as they go on the lam.
Tom's killing of the agent makes sense; Christine is his friend and the scene is a tense, dangerous one. But what isn't clear is why he's following Holy Wayne in the first place. Wayne comes off as both manic and gruesomely disturbed, making out with a dead body one moment and spouting off mystical mumbo-jumbo the next. Supposedly he has some magical ability to unburden people, but it seems that Tom hasn't partaken of this unburdening. We're told that Wayne's followers tend to be stupid college kids, and Tom fits that bill, but there has to be more to him. "You're the one motherfucker I can't figure out," Wayne tells him. Yeah, we can't figure him out, either. I guess now that he's going on a road trip with Christine, we'll have time to get to know him.
Meanwhile, Tom's mother Laurie is being all mysterious herself, hanging out with Liv Tyler in her not-a-cult. The problem isn't really that we don't fully understand the Guilty Remnant—there's obviously something compelling about them, something that draws people to them even though they don't understand why. The problem is that we don't understand the emotional journey of Liv Tyler's character, Meg. There's a nice world building moment when Kevin goes to the GR compound interview Meg, casually telling one of the other initiates that his missing person cases is closed. The police in this world are doing the best they can, but all they have are bureaucratic procedures. They can't re-order a world gone askew. But otherwise, Meg is a bit of a mystery. We know that she was dragging her feet on getting married, but we don't know precisely why. (Perhaps we're just meant to assume that she wasn't ready to move on from the events of October 14th?) Her reasons for joining the GR are as vague as Tom's reasons for following Wayne: "I don't want to feel this way anymore." That and a lot of tree chopping moves her into their circle.
Kevin sits in a sort of funny position in the world, one that's a bit easier to understand, but is piled with mysteries of its own. He accepts that the world has gone funny; he will not apologize for shooting the feral dogs because he understands that the dogs went mad. He isn't exactly thrilled when the dog hunter shows up on his doorstep announcing that he's found another pack, but when his father, who has been hospitalized for apparent mental illness, tells him that the voices who talk to him have sent Kevin someone to help, he's inclined to believe him—and so are we. Much like the cause of the "Rapture" doesn't much matter, I'm not sure that the nature of the voices in the ex-police chief's head needs any sort of explanation or revelation. There's a crack in the world and a lot of potentially supernatural shit has flooded inside. (Or, perhaps the show is telling us that a bagel has gotten stuck in the toaster of the world, and we shouldn't be surprised when we smell smoke.) What does matter is the nature of the relationship between Kevin's father and Mayor Warburton, suggesting that the antagonism between Lucy—who wants Mapleton to move on—and Kevin—who wants to acknowledge that the world has changed—has a familial tenor to it. That's the stuff that we need to understand better, but it's information the show seems determined to hold away from us. Maybe it's supposed to be tantalizing, but the effect is frustrating instead.
The best story of the night by far belongs to Jill, who runs into Nora Durst (the woman whose entire family disappeared in the Sudden Departure) in a coffee shop and spots a gun in her purse. Nora seems to be testing the limits of her martyr status in the town—deliberately breaking a coffee mug and then watching the barista light up in apology when he recognizes her—and it's no wonder that Jill and Aimee would want to spend their day following her around. Jill sense of curiosity and connection to Nora makes sense; they both have experienced loss as a result of Departure Day, even if that loss has taken on different forms. And Nora perfectly embodies what The Leftovers is supposed to be about—how people cope with the inexplicable. Nora's response to Departure Day is to become part of the bureaucracy that is trying to comprehend it; she interviews people whose loved ones have Departed, gathering data in the hopes that it will add up to something that makes the slightest bit of sense. These interviews feel necessary, but they're also incredibly traumatic for some of the interviewees, who won't receive government benefits until they answer questions about the number of sexual partners their loved ones had. Nora's kinship with these people affected by Departure Day is overshadowed by her participation in the system that's meant to provide answers—answers that she probably suspects will never come.
More stories like Nora's, please. In a show that's centered around an unexplained event, we need concrete people to hold onto. We need to understand something of their motivations, of their responses to Departure Day. The responses don't always have to be logical; they don't always have to make complete sense, but The Leftovers is being far too coy with most of its characters when it should be asking us to connect with them.