Where’d Miracle come from? Which new characters were most fun to write? Will each season be its own, separate “novel”? As Season 2 approaches, we sat down with the show's creators - Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta—to answer all these questions, and much more.
HBO: When did the idea for the town of Miracle come to be?
Damon Lindelof: Last year we were always talking about world-building. We would have these conversations about The Leftovers world at large. In the pilot, there’s this senate hearing where this guy Denziger says, “We’ve gathered all the world’s greatest scientists and essentially we don’t know what the f**k happened.” He lists a couple of things, like the Brandenburg Carousel, that are anomalies and in those conversations, we very casually threw out the idea: What if there was a town somewhere where nobody disappeared?
Tom Perrotta: It was supposed to be some place we visited last year. We just never got there, but it stuck with us.
Damon Lindelof: Maybe like Tom [Garvey] and Christine were passing through?
Tom Perrotta: Right. We had a very ambitious sense of their road trip, which it turned out there wasn’t room for in the show but that idea kind of stuck around.
Damon Lindelof: And then it was like, “HBO wants more.” When Tom and I first got together, it was like, “This isn’t a movie, it’s a TV show,” and then we got to the end of the first season, and it was the ending of Tom’s book, more or less verbatim. We both felt that it was a good place to end things—it’s not a cliffhanger, it sort of feels like these characters are better off than we left them: Laurie is on a trajectory out of the Guilty Remnant, Kevin and Nora and Jill are going to be something, this baby is going to fix things.
So, are we going to do that thing on TV where they have a moment of Zen and you mess everything up all over again? The more that we talked about what life was going to be like in Mapleton for them, it felt like more of the same to us, and the conversation became, “What if they moved?” Right on the heels of that was, “Hey, remember that idea we didn’t do last year for Tom and Christine? What if they moved to this place where nobody departed from? What would that place look like?" And that was the birth of Miracle.
Tom Perrotta: The show is so much about: What would the religious response be to an event like this? This allowed us to approach religion from this whole other angle, which is: Rather than the world is damned or the world is devastated, what is the sociology of a holy place? What does a holy place look like in contemporary America?
HBO: Tom, what has the exercise been like for you since the story continues past your original book?
Tom Perrotta: I never would have written another book. [Laughs.] I would have stopped where I was, so this has been the adventure of keeping it going. This is a real-time act of creation. It can be overwhelming and there’s a lot of pressure that I don’t feel usually. There’s also this exhilarating feeling in that we have a deadline that’s approaching, and there’s a lot of pressure, but it almost forces you to work in a high gear. It’s exciting.
HBO: Which new character was the most fun to create?
Tom Perrotta: I'm really interested in Michael Murphy and his evolution. To have this quiet, religious kid who's also got some heat with Jill, and then he's got a very complicated family situation that starts to be revealed, and then he ends up playing a crucial role in some other...well, I don't want to get too ahead of things, but actually both Murphy kids.
HBO: Damon which character is most fun for you?
Damon Lindelof: I like characters who believe themselves to be heroic, and I try to look at every character as they believe themselves to be acting heroically, so even Matt Jamison—when he was handing out fliers to disparage the Departed—he believed that that was a heroic duty. John Murphy, too. I think ultimately John refuses to accept a degree of personal exceptionalism—he doesn't want to be living in a town that was spared. He doesn't understand what that means.
HBO: Where does the science in the show come from?
Damon Lindelof: We don't have a scientific consultant in the show, but we started the pilot with the Denziger Report saying, "All the scientists in the world throw up their hands." The fact of the matter is that just because Tom and I have said that we're never going to answer what the Departure was—or where these people went—the people on the show don't know that.
Even though our characters don't care about pursuing that specific answer, there have to be characters in the world who are pursuing it, and I think the audience wants to see that pursuit, even if they know it will lead to nothing.
Tom Perrotta: Well, here is the issue: When we talk about science on the show, we talk about what theories get spun when science doesn't provide an answer. And that's part of science's job, right? To test ideas, so it's not unscientific to have a wild idea—you just have to try and find a way to test it. We have it right now: There's a rise in autism and it's really troubling to society. Nobody knows why. So many factors go into it, and people start to spin out theories. We're in that level of science. When nobody has a clue and people are throwing out wild theories, that's the science we're really interested in on the show.
HBO: How do you go about wrapping up each season when writing?
Damon Lindelof: I think that when you're working on the final couple episodes, you have a storytelling decision to make. I don't think we sat back and said, "Which decision do we want to make?" We just started talking about story, and then you look and see what you did. Clearly having come from a show like Lost, where the finales were designed to be cliffhangers, you have to pilot the following season in the finale.
I think The Leftovers will always work best if we just look at each season as another novel. I think the Harry Potter books, for example—which I love—did this very well. There is a larger, serialized construct in the mythology, in terms of the characters you're engaging with, but every book ended and you felt like, "Oh they solved this mystery, they beat back Voldemort this time." So our instinct is, no spoilers but to not end the seasons with cliffhangers or shocking revelations but for our finales to feel like there is a bit of a culmination of a season-long arc, so it feels more like an epilogue in a lot of ways.
Tom Perrotta: There's something about 10 hours that allows you to get your arms around the whole thing—that is something we really worked on. Let's try and tell a complete story.