With just two episodes so far, Damon Lindelof’s “The Leftovers” has already laid out a strong handful of mysteries, the central one being what exactly happened on October 14th that caused 2% of the world’s population to vanish. But as Lindelof has been stressing since even before the show first aired, that instigating event is not the hook of the series. “If that’s why you’re watching the show, don’t watch the show,” Lindelof recently said. And as I’ve emphasized over the past two recaps, “The Leftovers” is about the characters and consequences, and no better is this exemplified than in this week’s “Two Boats And A Helicopter,” which rewardingly breaks the format.
In their early review assessment, AV Club called this episode “stunning” adding that it “works almost as a very short feature film” and while I wouldn't go quite so far with the superlatives (a couple of more banal plot developments — such as the casino parking lot sequence — seem unnecessarily added just to try and trump up the action while also straining credulity), it's certainly a bold move that pays off in turning Rev. Matt Jamison (Christopher Eccleston) into a three dimensional character that thus far was mostly shaded as a self-serving antagonist.
With a full hour to dive into his story, a much more complex portrait emerges about Matt, a man whose relationship to God seems to have been tested since childhood, when his parents perished in a house fire. That might have been the first time that Matt learned that faith doesn't always equate to benevolence from a loving God. Indeed, in a bitter irony, it's learned that his parents actually owned the church, which is how it managed to come into his hands. Meanwhile, fast-forwarding to the events of October 14th, an accident while driving with his wife has left her bed-ridden, paralyzed and unable to speak. Matt's church is now empty, he can barely afford to pay for a nurse to give his wife the care she needs at home, while his crusade to reveal the sins of those who have departed isn't endearing him to the community. Lastly, the bank informs him that an unnamed hedge fund is offering to buy the land the church is on, and unless Matt can come up with $135,000, they're going to foreclose, and he'll lose it all. And oh yeah, he's only got 24 hours.
The ticking clock is a bit clumsily established but it works in pushing an already desperate character to even more desperate places. Matt's first stop is to see Nora (Carrie Coon), aka the Heroes Day Speech Woman, who we quickly learn is actually his younger sister. In the episode's solid cold open, Matt gives a sermon about his childhood jealousy of Nora, and how he prayed that his parents would redirect their attention from their newborn back to him. And whether it was God punishing him for envy or rewarding him with a perverse new appreciation for his life, Matt soon developed leukemia, which he survived. Now he's in her kitchen asking Nora to use her claims money from October 14th to give him a loan to help save the church. She refuses and suggests, out of love, that perhaps it's time to let go of the church, that his work and mission simply isn't coalescing. And in turn Matt informs Nora that her husband, who has become central to her narrative as Mapleton's ultimate victim, was actually cheating on her, but "it's the one thing he will never publish." This is something he too tells her out of love, perhaps hinting that after three years it's time to face the reality that Doug might not have been the person she thought he was.