The repetitious, punishing nature of the opening also reinforced the fact that The Leftovers itself is often repetitious and punishing. Three episodes into the first season, viewers spent an hour with Matt, seeing him do many of the same sorts of things he did in this episode, with the takeaway being that the guy is extremely faithful and extremely gullible. (There was even a predictable and awful violent encounter with a desperate motorist in each episode.) When, this time out, Matt said that his favorite bible story is Job’s, I nearly groaned. We get it. Someone’s already written a blog post called “10 Ways Rev. Jamison Resembles Job.”
Which is not to say this episode didn’t advance the show’s larger themes or plot at all. The encampment outside of Jarden is a bit Mad Max and a bit Burning Man, but amid all the junkyard opportunism and libertine behavior were people obsessed with the idea of self-punishment. I took the “Brian!” guy and the man in the stocks to be on similar spiritual missions, atoning for nebulous crimes by denying themselves freedom, comfort, dignity. Matt, obviously, has the same martyrdom impulse, choosing to put strip naked and enter bondage at episode’s end. But if you think about it, the rest of the show is also full of people punishing themselves in one way or another; what’s the Guilty Remnant about, if not that? (Kevin and Norah have of late tried to move past the cycle of self-flagellation, but it’s not resulted in any great spiritual gains so far.)
Mary’s not-quite-immaculate conception certainly shall pose a new conundrum to the television-think-piece industrial complex (guilty!) that evaluates depictions of rape. Matt, from all indications, genuinely did believe she woke up and that their sex was consensual. I want to believe, too. Janel Moloney does an excellent job imbuing Mary’s vegetative state with the slightest flicker of what might be consciousness—or maybe she doesn’t and I, like Matt, am too quick to see signs where there aren’t any. Maybe Mary’s really gone, or maybe her mind is off in another dimension, where people connected to the Departure communicate through mediums and visions and sassy ghosts like Patti. But as with all seeming-supernatural phenomena on this show, there’s an equally compelling case to be made for drab reality and delusions being to blame.
In any case, when Mary starts to show her pregnancy—as the ever-more-vindictive atheist John predicts—people are going to start looking at Matt with skepticism, and then perhaps horror. If they judge him a rapist instead of a prophet, the question will become what they can inflict on him that he himself and God haven’t already. Sophie, how’d you feel about the episode? Redundant or revelatory?
Gilbert: Neither? But I did find it really, really, really hard to watch in a way that recalled the earlier episodes of season one, when lots of people swore publicly off the show forever, citing excessive bleakness. I’m glad you mentioned the first Matt-centric episode, “Two Boats and a Helicopter,” which followed Matt as he desperately tried to find the money to save his church from foreclosure. Then, as now, he seemed thwarted at every turn by his own naivete and by some kind of sick cosmic humor: He won the money he needed against all odds at the roulette table after seeing a “sign” to bet on red; was almost robbed by two drifters he initially trusted but then savagely beat one of them (maybe to death) and got his money back; then he stopped to help a Guilty Remnant member on the way back and was hit by a stone, which knocked him out for three days. By the time he woke up, his money didn’t matter—the GR had bought his church.