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Holy Smoke Wafts Through The Leftovers

Some shocking things and people happened on a very religious-y Leftovers this week. Let us count them for you!

The Leftovers continues, this week, to be one of the most curious shows on television, not least because I don't know what it wants from me. Does it want me to get involved in its characters and their individual struggles to continue in a world where the biggest rule of all has been broken? Or does it just want to impress me, like an insecure autodidact, with how much deep thinking it's done? This seems to be the big conflict within the show, and I think it's responsible for the week-to-week nature of how I feel about The Leftovers.

So it wasn't a huge surprise for me to find I loved The Leftovers this week, whereas I didn't so much love the last episode. I've been keeping a casual eye on other appraisals of the show, and while it seems like it certainly does please somebody every week, it's not always the same people.

Anyway, there are some real shockeroos this time around. In an episode where Matt Jamison takes Mary out of Miracle/Jarden -- past the crazy border camp -- to get an MRI, and in an episode that's actually titled "No Room At The Inn," I guess that's to be expected. Here's a rundown of the bigger moments in the show, going from least (or less) shocking to most.

  1. Matt Jamison Has Insurance
    How? Even if it's Obamacare, how does he pay for it? Is he even getting paid by the church? It doesn't seem like a wealthy operation. Where does his money come from? This seems like a lot of questions, but with Matt they're only the tip of the iceberg. Anyway, he uses this "insurance" of his to get Mary scanned at the MRI place outside of Jarden -- and that's where the trouble starts. Leaving Jarden, he gets a glimpse of what's going on at the border, where people are trying to storm the gates and the cops are all too happy to stun-gun the hell out of them. Then, when Matt's leaving the MRI center, they call him back in -- not to give him good news about Mary's brain functions, but to tell him something SHOCKING. Which is....
  2. Mary Jamison Is Pregnant
    Remember that three-hour window when Mary was awake and talking? Turns out she and Matt found some minutes in there for a bit of the ol' Episcopalian handshake, if you know what I mean. Oh, and everyone is creeped out by this, because no one really believes Mary woke up. The one time we actually see Mary speaking, it's when Matt's sustained a head injury. On the OTHER hand, a total stranger tells him information about the baby.
  3. The Extra-Jarden Encampment Is Basically Burning Man
    It is a lawless place indeed -- a place where someone seems to have volunteered to spend his days locked naked in a stockade, and where a chatty, methed-up Swede, it turns out, is not to be trusted! We've seen glimpses of this camp over the four previous episodes, but now we're in the thick of the whole Bartertown experience, and I'm certain I saw stink waves coming off my screen a few times. I'm guessing there are more than a few camp residents who will find they'd rather live a lawless trailer existence than abide by the inscrutable rules of John Murphy's firebug Mayberry. Does John Murphy's firebug Mayberry have a naked guy in a stockade? Not yet it doesn't.
  4. Matt Gets Jumped By A Desperate Dad
    On the way back from the MRI appointment, Matt pulls over to help a distressed motorist -- and gets clubbed for his troubles. Then the guy smashes Matt's hand to get his wristband off, giving Mary's band to his young son. In truth, Mr. Handsmasher is probably better suited than Matt is for life in Jarden.
  5. John Murphy Runs Jarden
    We knew Murphy had influence, certainly, what with the burning down of houses belonging to residents who didn't meet his personal standards. But when he walks in and dresses down the normally tough, rigid border cops for zip-tying Matt, it's very clear that he's something else entirely. Later, Matt tosses his (retrieved) wristband at John and says, "I don't need your wristbands." Does this mean John is the Big Boss? Or does Matt mean it in a more general way, with John as a representative of Jarden's controllers? Either way, while it's Matt's episode, we've learned a little more about John Murphy here tonight.
  6. Matt Loses Everything In A Flash Flood
    Matt pisses John off by asking him what happened to make him such an awful human being, and John effectively kicks him out of town all over again. So Matt earns money by clubbing a religious woman's son across the back with an oar, and pays the aforementioned Swedish tweaker to lead himself and Mary to a gated culvert that will get them back into Jarden. But the culvert is a ruse, and all Matt gets for his $960 is a flash flood and the loss of Mary's wheelchair.
  7. Desperate Dad Dies Dreadfully
    Matt's roadside attacker gets his Biblical comeuppance when he gets in some kind of fatal road accident involving livestock. The crash spares the child -- seriously, the kid is suspiciously un-bruised, and hiding in a field -- and Matt takes his own wristband back while the boy timidly gives his to Mary.
  8. Matt Hands Everything Over
    Matt Jamison, who's surely been the most-tested character on The Leftovers, leaves it all behind in Jarden. He gives the dead dad's kid to John, and bequeaths Mary to Kevin and Nora. (Which also makes him the worst person on The Leftovers, since Kevin and Nora already have a NEW BABY to care for.) But he doesn't do this to escape his responsibilities; rather, he does it to recommit himself to making change. If Season 1 was all about Matt's holy war with the Guilty Remnant, Season 2 is shaping up to be about his quieter, more measured war against the totalitarians running Jarden. One question: when Nora and Kevin rescue Matt and Mary from the encampment, whose car are they driving? They have a truck, and Matt and Mary's car is dead by the roadside ten miles from town.
  9. Matt Jamison, We See Your Wiener
    Matt tells a fellow holy person that his favorite book in the Bible is Job, and it seems appropriate -- Job is very put-upon, and his wife speaks only once. But between this episode's title and the ending image of Matt Jamison, naked and locked in a stockade marked REPENT -- and what is a stockade but a crucifix with options -- he feels a little more like a Jesus kinda guy. Matt volunteers for the stockade, to take the place of the aforementioned nude man, infractions unknown, who's probably going to want to find a can of Solarcaine but quick.

    It's probably worth pointing out that we've seen more dicks than boobs on this season of The Leftovers, and in nearly all genders' cases it's been incidental and in the midst of some action, versus for erotic purposes. (Exception: we did see a little of the Guilty Remnant's swimsuit-friendly stance on grooming when Meg got weird with Tom in the back of the kidnapping truck.) It's good to see this coming from HBO, which so often comes across as the embodiment of a high-minded literary gentleman who can't quite tamp down all the Emmanuelle he furtively ingested as a child. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with sex scenes; I'm saying it shouldn't feel like you have a quota for them.

  10. "Hey, That's Brett Butler!"
    Not what every actor wants to hear, certainly, as many of them like to think they've disappeared into their characters. But you may very well find yourself shouting, "Hey, that's Brett Butler!" as you realize, maybe a minute into her scene, that you are watching Brett Butler in the middle of HBO's prestige drama. And she's great as the religious woman who pays Matt $500 to crack an oar across her son's back while screaming "Brian!" at him. Why the oar? Why "Brian"? No idea, and it's the kind of faux-edgy religious moment from a thousand '90s indie dramas that gets a pass here because Butler fucking sells it. Where's her hour of The Leftovers?

Stray notes:

  • Christopher Eccleston's accent has improved mightily since last season. He no longer sounds like he overshot Westchester County and landed in southern Maine. Which is good, because Carrie Coon has never been doing any recognizable regional accent anyway, and they're supposed to be brother and sister.
  • Also, after Matt insults John and gets kicked back out of town, it's Nora who shows up in the encampment with a plan, Kevin quietly in tow. I'd love to see the scene where Kevin comes home empty-handed and tells Nora how, gosh, he lost her brother all over again, and then she bellows, "MOVE," and grabs her keys.
  • (Dear The Leftovers, I don't really need to see that scene next week or anything. I can't imagine any other show I'd need to say this to.)
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