Jeff Labrecque
October 05, 2015 AT 07:21 PM EDT

If there was any doubt that season 2 of The Leftovers would have a very different vibe than last season, which faithfully mined Tom Perrotta’s dark 2011 novel, look no further than the new opening credits. Gone are the anguish-of-the-damned paintings and strings-heavy orchestral music. In their place are some random family photos of happier times, with at least one character silhouetted out to represent his or her departure, strung together by Iris DeMent’s upbeat 1992 folk-spiritual, “Let the Mystery Be”:

Some say once gone you’re gone forever

And some say you’re gonna come back

Some say you rest in the arms of the Savior

If in sinful ways you lack

Some say that they’re comin‘ back in a garden

Bunch of carrots and little sweet peas

I think I’ll just let the mystery be

In the Leftovers world, this new credits opener practically feels as chipper as “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”

The show’s creators, Perrotta and Damon Lindelof, have teased that the show is also shifting away from Mapleton, N.Y., where Police Chief Kevin Garvey lost his family in the aftermath of the baffling departure that evaporated 2 percent of the world’s population. Kevin might not be mentally stable, but he finished on a high note, reuniting with his sad daughter, Jill, and potentially piecing together a new family with girlfriend Nora and the orphaned baby of Holy Wayne, the martyred prophet (or fraud).

But before sending viewers to the new home base in Texas, “Axis Mundi” turned back the clock, Kubrick style, to the days of early man. A pregnant cave dweller relieves herself in the water under a full moon, just as a violent earthquake occurs, instantaneously killing her tribe of companions in a cave-in. Then her water breaks, and she gives birth to a healthy baby, but she’s paralyzed by her misfortune and stares helplessly at the pile of death that was once her home. Finally, a distant plume of smoke shakes her from her depression, and she sets out for it. Biblical danger, however, lurks, and she dies of a snake bite, leaving her screaming baby vulnerable in the wild. But another mother discovers the child and…well, that’s the perfect metaphorical bridge between seasons 1 and 2. It echoes the narrative of season 1, with Nora finding the baby, but it’s also a warning, too: Whether it’s a plume of smoke in the distance or the promise of a Texas town called Miracle, really bad things can happen between here and there, things even worse than the catastrophe you’re trying to escape.

Welcome to Miracle, formerly known as Jarden, Texas. Catching up with the Garveys and their extended clan will have to wait, as we get to know the new town, which has become a national shrine after zero of its 9,261 residents departed during the rapture. Is there something magical about the water? Is it the tobacco? Is it the tremors that rattle the town periodically? Whatever it is, it is an oasis that others seek, hence the park rangers who keep a close watch on the tourists who are bussed in to seek peace and understanding. In town, there’s an Homnibus-looking vagrant who lives upon a town-square pillar, a literal axis mundi symbolizing the sacred door between the heavenly and the terrestrial.

The Murphys seem to be Miracle’s Garveys. We meet Evie first, the extroverted teen who swims in the national park’s holy waters with her high-school girlfriends. She teasingly flirts with a nerdy-looking Dr. Goodheart, who’s conducting tests on the water, and she smuggles some home herself, giving it to her brother, Michael. He’s religious and he tries to give the water away to tourists in order to lure them to the Sacred Mission Baptist Church in town. Their mother, Erika, is a doctor, and their father, John, is a…well, that’s more complicated…

When we first meet John, he’s dead asleep long after the day has begun around him. His family rudely wakens him by stacking heavy books on his chest until they topple. Some of those titles from the nightstand: Lenin, Mandela, and The Road to Terror, which chronicles Stalin’s consolidation of absolute power. That’s interesting bedtime reading for anyone — especially if he or she is plotting the violent overthrow of a regime. I don’t think the show that embedded clues in a National Geographic magazine cover would present these books unless they held some important meaning. 

John’s day entails visiting Isaac, a childhood friend who’s making a decent living with painted palm readings that resemble a kindergartner’s art project. Isaac also plans to rent out one of his extra rooms to bring in a few extra bucks, and John lets him know that certain fire-code modifications need to be addressed before Isaac’s rental can be approved. Approved by whom? Just for kicks, John asks for a reading, and Isaac looks like he’d love to be able to say no — especially when he predicts tragedy: “Something bad is going to happen…to you.”

John sort of laughs it off, but he’s dead serious when he asks Isaac if he’s a fraud. It almost pains Isaac to insist that he’s legit, so John pays for his fortune and leaves with an unsettling smile.

Turns out John is a fireman. The fire chief, no less. (Hence his odd sleeping habits.) But the Miracle F.D. is an odd lot. Beware their sirens, because they start their shift by debating just how severely to punish troublemakers…like people who attempt to independently add a rental apartment and then seal their fates by predicting bad news for a powerful man. John’s fellow firefighters throw out numbers: 2, 3, 2 1/2 — but John brings the hammer, 5. Are they discussing the punitive difference between a two-alarm fire and a five-alarm fire? There’s no doubt who they’re talking about: “He’s selling a lie and folks are buying it…so 5.”

NEXT: Where there’s smoke, there’s fire

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