Fair warning: Today's epistle is about pain and loss. Also the baffling daftness of religion, and the totalitarian impulse that comes often with religious belief. It's about The Leftovers, which returns to HBO for a second season on Sunday.
Also, mind you, it's about the pleasure to be found in challenging and idiosyncratic fiction, no matter how bleak.
A bunch of people simply stopped watching The Leftovers during its first season last year. Some, initially attracted by the spooky premise – humanity reacting to the Sudden Departure, a mysterious disappearance of 2 per cent of the world's population – soon realized that the series had an unsettling message. The message is this: Nothing good will ever happen.
Many of those who stuck with The Leftovers (Sunday, HBO Canada, 9 p.m.) relished a bravura work of rumination on life, death and grief. And the series continued to make even admirers uncomfortable. The crazed reactions to the Rapture-like calamity, as the series portrayed it, would make you weep for humanity, in both sympathy and despair.
The focus was on the plight of the Garvey family. Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux) attempted to hold things together, as father, husband and as chief of police in the town of Mapleton. His wife Laurie (Amy Brenneman) gave up hope and joined the cult named the Guilty Remnant.
The Guilty Remnant made many viewers deeply uneasy. Seeing no explanation for the Sudden Departure, its members resorted to the nihilism of chain-smoking, silence, the stoning of wayward members and to destroying the lives of those who tried to keep going in the world.
That first season was an adaptation of co-executive producer Tom Perrotta's 2011 novel of the same title. He turned it into a HBO series with Damon Lindelof, the main brain behind Lost. The core story in the novel is now exhausted but it lurches forward, less macabre yet scarily chilling.
Season 2 opens with a striking excursion into the primordial. It's the Stone Age. A child is born. The mother dies. Nature has shrugged off responsibility. Sometimes, the vast sky seems to say, really terrible things happen.
In the present we are placed in the town of Miracle, Tex. – a place that claims to have lost not a single person in the Sudden Departure. Miracle is special. Our first glimpses of the locals suggest happiness, even frivolity. Teenage girls swim in a lake and go home to welcoming, smiling parents. None of this would have happened in the first season of the series.
Inevitably, Miracle is world famous as the town that lost no one. People flock to it, hoping for its embrace, clinging to a belief that the town's religiosity is what saved it.
At first, the focus is on a new family – the Murphys. That's John (Kevin Carroll) and Erika (Regina King) and their teenage twins, Evie and Michael. They're African-American and loving people.
But it's not long before much about the Murphys and Miracle seems sinister. It's not just the local business of making money from religion and the vulnerability of others. It's the sense that there's an orthodoxy in Miracle, which is unshakeable and menacing. Also, there's a scene in which a guy drags a goat into a crowded restaurant and slaughters it.
It is to Miracle that Garvey, his daughter, Jill (Margaret Qualley), and his girlfriend, Nora Durst (Carrie Coon), arrive, along with their new adopted baby. The town promises safety. Does it deliver?
The Leftovers is the most serious-minded show on TV. It is skeptical about human nature, organized religion and the ability of any people to do anything good. As such, it is fabulously rewarding storytelling. If you have the stomach for it.
And another fair warning: The Leftovers is the sort of series that critics adore. In part, that's because it is as preposterous as it is brilliant. Not the premise. Just its very existence on TV. Remember, its message is this: Nothing good will ever happen.