Holy hell, what an episode. Solely focused on town outcast Reverend Matt Jamison (Christopher Eccleston — the Ninth Doctor!), The Leftovers showcases mastery storytelling capabilities in only its third episode.

Confession/disclaimer: I haven’t rooted for a character like this in such a long time. Not a pedantic reverend preaching how those who disappeared deserved it because they are sinners, but someone so flawed and layered. The reverend who calls for damnation and purpose, could have easily been a thinly drawn stereotype, but instead the writing, editing and the great Christopher Eccleston make a man desperately clinging to purpose, even if it’s lost on everyone else. 

Speaking of lost, Lost often played with flashbacks (and later flashforwards) focusing on entire characters. The structure works so well here that I can’t wait to see the next installment of these “character” episodes. If The Leftovers can deconstruct Reverend Matt Jamison into a very complex man with basic desires, I am excited to see how it will dive into other characters (Laurie’s would be particularly great). But first, let’s review this, quite frankly, phenomenal episode.

The Curious Case of Reverend Matt Jamison

Reverend Matt Jamison starts with a story — two, really. A little boy of about 10 is told he will get a little sister soon. But an only child cannot handle the diverted attention of a younger sibling (can confirm: am a younger child) and begins to pray for attention. It comes in the form of cancer. He survives, but was he punished or was he rewarded? A little girl is playing in the park, on the swings. She loves them because she loves to go as high as possible, suspended in the air before gravity pulls her down, only now it’s a little too hard. She’s in a coma. Her name is Emily. So that little boy is asking for attention for his sister now. Let us pray.

The Leftovers starts with this story because all Matt is asking for is some attention, a sign that things can get better. Unfortunately, it’s a bit of a journey. Mass is nearly empty when a man swings open the door, punches the Reverend and shoves a crumpled flyer into Matt’s mouth. (The flyer says something like, “She sold drugs.”)

At the hospital receiving some attention, Garvey visits Matt, asking if he wants to press charges this time. Like it’s happened before. The Reverend and Garvey Senior and Junior were probably friends once, with Garvey mentioning he and Jill (!) live in his old man’s house now. People need to understand the truth and the Reverend is responsible to give them this truth. 

Since he’s at the hospital anyway (Matt does not fare well this episode), Matt goes down to visit the little girl Emily, who woke up from her coma (though is it just me and is it implied to have a more sinister ending?). His faith seems partly renewed.

Baptisms and Rebirth

Back at the church, Matt prepares/cleans the church when a man who used to come in all the time comes in with his child. He wants his son to be baptized (secretly). It’s just this really beautiful moment, paired with a great music selection and pretty cinematography. The man even gives Matt some information about another departed sinner — a co-worker who stole money from his kids. Matt tracks it down by going to the local casino, where he notices a table with a pigeon on it. Huh.

See, the Reverend’s doing all of this because he thinks someone needs to expose. All of our suffering is meaningless if we cannot separate the guilty form the innocent in the departed. The Reverend is all about purpose, much like the Guilty Remnant, though their purposes greatly differ. Of course, two of Patti’s underlings stalk him, but the Reverend counters, telling them he’s made it this far. Patti must think he’s weak. 

And the Reverend is weak on one front — he can’t afford his church. FDR Bank has foreclosed his church, though he can still use it until there is a buyer. He has until the end of the day tomorrow to summon $135,000+ in cash. 

The Reverend then turns to Nora — the woman who lost all of her family in the Departure — because the two of them are friends? Related? They have a familial-like history that’s alluded to. Matt asks Nora for a loan, but she only agrees if he will stop printing the papers/flyers. And here it comes: the big fight. Matt defends himself that he has to do this to prove a purpose, to expose those who have done wrong. Nora counters that no one has any idea where her family went, what it even was, but Matt insists that it was a test for what comes after, for what comes from it right now. It’s a nice philosophical debate between the two, but Nora says it doesn’t matter.

That is, until Matt announces that Doug was having an affair with the kids’ preschool teacher; he’ll never publish that story. Nora laughs like a crazy person and basically tells Matt to blank off.

As if there wasn’t enough problems for Matt to juggle, we learn that his wife Mary is catatonic and very ill. Since he can’t afford a housekeeper, he bathes her, sleeps in a different bed and cries alone. Before an idea comes about thanks to a pigeon. 

The Last Hurrah

Let me pause for a second to say that one of the reasons I love this episode so much is that it is a last chance story. Last chance stories have the highest stakes involved because it’s all-or-nothing; it breeds a level of desperation that fuels Matt that I haven’t seen for a while. I’m rooting for him, is what I am trying to say.

Matt runs over to the Garveys’ house (remember: Garvey Senior used to own it) and he runs into Laurie, stalking the outside of it. Laurie asks Matt to not say she was here. Likewise, he cracks. The Reverend can joke! The Reverend searches for a Jiffy box of peanut butter with tons of money in it. And a flyer with a note that he deserves this money, signed K.G. (Garvey Senior, most likely). As Matt drives, he notices a pigeon land on a blinking red light.

At the casino, Matt cashes his $20,000 for chips to play roulette. He bets it all on red on the same table where a pigeon landed once before. The ball lands on Red 3. He’s doubled his money. He gambles again for Red 23 (Lost fans can appropriately freak out with me!) and doubles it again. $80,000. Even when a girl bets against on black, it lands on Red 25. He just made $160,000, enough to buy back the church and pay back his housekeeper! (I’m oddly invested in secondary/tertiary characters like this.) 

Back at Matt’s car, the man cheering for the $160,000 victory comes by his car and asks for some money, but ends up stealing it. However, this is a last chance story, where all men — even those who are “holy” — can become desperate. The Reverend knocks him to the ground repeatedly — possibly killing him — and grabs his envelope of cash. He screams. He steals a few signs (I think they have some of the “sinned” departed’s names on them) before he witnesses a group of men drive by, throwing rocks at the Guilty Remnant. As he runs to assist, they nab him in the head with one, knocking him out. 

This part is about to get Twin Peak-y.

The next scene has one of the GR before they were a GR, dressed normally and talking fine, ushering in Reverend Jamison. It’s a full church. With a time-lapsed camera, he walks to the back room, watching himself get this bad news: a doctor comes by and says it’s spreading. Then the fire alarm goes off, sprinklers on. Cut to the fire, a little girl holding his hand. “Are they burning in there?” Why isn’t anybody doing anything? Because it’s a dream. Then we cut to where the Reverend was for the Sudden Departure, in a car accident near the woman and the missing child in the pilot. Mary, Jamison’s wife, is in a car accident, which explains her catatonic state. Cut to a scene of them having sex, but now he’s having sex with Laurie. He looks down to his hands, which are on fire. It spreads on the sheets and to his house.

He wakes up at the hospital. 

It’s 4:30, and the Reverend still has until EOD to get the money to the bank to save the church. He runs back to his car, the money still in there. He arrives to the office and security lets him in, but it’s too late. The deadline was three days ago; the Reverend was knocked out for three days. The new buyers took possession yesterday. These new buyers? They are the Guilty Remnant, painting the church white and clearing it out. Patti and Matt face down into a stare-off and this glorious episode/story ends.

Other Thoughts

  • I did not see the ending kickers about the Guilty Remnant. I feel a little silly.
  • I am not sure how Nora and Matt are related, but it looks like Nora has the worst luck. Her parents were killed in a fire when she was 7, her husband cheated, her whole family departed on her.
  • I’m curious to see if Matt’s theory about the departure is correct — if it is sinners. How do children/babies factor into this? Does any of this even matter?
  • Phenomenal use of editing in this episode. The dream sequence was so wonderful, but the other montages of Matt preparing for a fruitless day at work were great too. We got to give some love to Henk Van Eeghen, the episode’s editor, and the episode’s director, Mimi Leder. 
  • What is the group opposing the Guilty Remnant? The ones throwing stones?

The Leftovers airs Sundays at 10pm on HBO.

(Image courtesy of HBO)

Emily E. Steck

Contributing Writer, BuddyTV