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The Leftovers Season 1: “Two Boats and a Helicopter”

By Andrew Roebuck on Jul 14, 2014 to The Leftovers

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With a television show that revolves around a central mystery it’s impossible to solve the puzzle this early in a season. Instead of focusing on the central puzzle, this episode focuses entirely on one of its pieces. The entire episode is from the point of view of priest Matt Jamison, played excellently here by Christopher Eccleston. In prior episodes we were unsure about the characters’ motivations and relationships. He shows up in the pilot to stir things up at the remembrance ceremony, and is seen briefly in last week’s episode interacting with Nora Durst (the woman who lost the entirety of her family to the event). Here we finally see him for who he is, and the role he plays in the series.

 

The Church

The plight of Jamison’s character is dealing with the place religion has in the aftermath of this tragedy. The episode opens with a great sermon he gives about the importance of suffering, and how it shapes a person, which in the world of The Leftovers is just about the only way you can view religion – as a test. In many ways Jamison’s story mirrors that of the religious tale of Job. Job was a religious man who had tragedy after tragedy set upon him, but still held true to his belief in God without ever being rewarded. Almost everything Jamison does in this story gets him abused or looked down upon, but he never loses his faith. Understandably the rest of the world isn’t too keen on the “all risks and no rewards” version of religion, so his congregation is exceedingly small. With his small congregation he has no donations to save his soon-to-be-foreclosed church. It paints a really interesting picture about how organized religion holds up in times of crisis. The majority of media shows religion becoming more prevalent in the face of adversity so it’s nice to see a different take on how religion would play out in a traumatized world.

 

Home Life

On top of church problems we get a wider glimpse at how the priest’s home life is. We get a few revelations in this episode that I really enjoyed. First we discover that Nora Durst is actually Matt’s sister, and that they have had a strained relationship in the aftermath of the event. It’s really shocking and disturbing to get a good glimpse of how she keeps everything the same in the house. All the family pictures are the same, and the cutlery is unchanged. It’s a disturbing example of someone aggressively trapped in the past. Alongside his sister we get to know more about his wife. In the opening scene of the pilot episode after the baby mysteriously disappears we see a car crash happen in the background, and a man yelling for help. It’s revealed here that Jamison was his wife’s passenger in the crashed car, and his wife has been living in a seemingly vegetative state since. Here again we see his money troubles come into play as he can’t even pay for the nurse to look after her. Jamison is a truly desperate man.

 

Money and Morals

leftovers22__1405379545_109.77.209.252Early in the episode we see Jamison give a baptism to a concerned parent. That parent then tells him the tale of a man who spent all of his money gambling, and then disappeared during the “event”. Jamison tracks down some information about this man, condemning him for the sin of gambling. Yet when times get desperate enough for him, he bets all of his money on gambling. Yes, he wins enough money to save the church, but it doesn’t solve the fact that he has become a hypocrite. He spends all of his money on gambling the same way the man he tracks down did. The only difference is that he wins. It’s an interesting idea that the only time we ever really condemn someone for a reckless act is when it goes wrong. In most people’s eyes if you are reckless and win, the risk was worth it. This is the kind of hypocrisy that really drives this show into new and interesting territory. The thing that finally gets the priest in trouble is not his greed, but his virtue. When he goes out to help someone, he gets knocked unconscious, causing him to lose the church. In the society of The Leftovers, the people who sin are more profitable than the ones who try to uphold old world ideals.

 

The Supernatural

This episode does have touches of the supernatural, but unlike prior episodes it’s not as prevalent. The supernatural in this episode seems to come mainly from pigeons – yes, pigeons. When Jamison investigates the gambler he sees a pair of pigeons sitting on the table he eventually goes to gamble on, as if the pigeons are messages from some higher power. It’s an odd touch, and part of me hopes that pigeons don’t become a recurring theme. Interestingly enough, pigeons are usually referred to as flying rats, and aren’t as highly regarded as, say, doves are. The other supernatural element is that of the dream sequence. The sequence has a lot in common with other dream sequences we have seen throughout the show, with a theme of the character’s ending the dream on fire. I heard a hypothesis that this is a symbol that all of the characters are actually in hell, but I really hope this is just a crazy theory because that would be a really lame revelation.
Overall, The Leftovers continues to be an interesting show. This episode is probably, in my opinion, the weakest of the three we’ve seen so far, but it is still worth the watch. If Jamison is going to have a bigger role in the series moving forward I will be interested to see if this episode is actually more important than it seems upon initial viewing. It’s a nice character study, but it wouldn’t stand on its own merits; other episodes are required viewing for it to have any real meaning.

Here’s a preview for next week’s episode, “B.J. and the A.C.”:

httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A95pEG7IBfY

  • This was definitely the best episode so fa, but it still doesn’t touch the quality of other shows. I’d prefer if more episodes were character-focused like this, although I doubt that will happen much. We finally have a reason to root for a character, which is more than can be said for any of the Garveys (yet), who are, I guess, the leads?

    The last ten minutes were admittedly good, and there were some sprinklings of intriguing stuff before that. But once again, Lindelof is murderously smashing his audience over the head with pretentious symbolism. In the premiere it was the deer, last week it was the bagels, and now it’s the bloody pigeons. Why? Is he capable of writing something without using cheap hooks that exist solely for the sake of mystery? Clearly he is, judging from some of the great episodes of Lost, but unfortunately he has picked up Jackson fever – only in this case, it’s overuse of flaccid symbolism rather than CGI.

    Again with the same piano motif. It was beautiful and poignant the first five times it was used, but when it continuously pops up in every “important” moment, it becomes jarring and annoying, comical even.

    Also, there’s one thing I don’t get in relation to Matt and the Guilty Remnant. They’re both on opposing sides of an argument; their goal to remind the common folk of the new “reality” as they see it. But…the common folk don’t really seem to oppose the views of Matt and the GR, it’s more that they don’t care about them. Matt spends his time proving to others that both saints and sinners disappeared, but no one is actively disputing that or arguing with him, so he just comes off as another asshole in a show full of assholes. The same goes for the GR, although in the opposite sense. I have far less sympathy for the GR, however. Were we actually expected to feel sorry for them in the pilot when the crowd attacked them? Perhaps all of this will be cleared up in the coming weeks? Hopefully, because the trailers make the upcoming episodes look amazing.

    I am interested in where the show is going, however, due to the seeds of conflict sown this week. Hopefully they can be delivered upon.

    • J. Ross

      We had conversations elsewhere, but I disagree that the symbolism used in this show is pretentious or gimmicky. There is a surface layer that is frustrating (i.e. the devices: pigeons, bagels, deer), but the implications of the actions based on symbolism is a deep conversation that transcribes well into our modern culture.

      I agree with others in saying that I was not “washed in the blood” for this show until this episode. The most enjoyable aspect is analyzing the depth of why characters are reacting in odd ways to both real and perceived stimulus in the world where “the departure” existed.

    • Corey Carnes

      With regards to the pigeons and the other symbolic events. I fell like we are seeing what the characters are imagining is the symbolism of these events. That the pigeons are what Matt takes as God pointing the way for his salvation. That throughout his ordeal of getting the money he sees these birds that are sign posts he says as him doing what God wants. Then, in the end, we see that they were simply just birds. That even though he had a string of serendipitous luck. they didn’t aid him in keeping the church. Sure he is a hundred and some thousand dollars richer but it doesn’t mean he was doing “the right thing” in God’s eyes. If anything the fact he lost the church proves the opposite. That God appreciated his devotion and rewarded it, but didn’t want him spreading this message to a congregation. (If God in fact was behind it at all.) I doubt the character will see it that way though.

      Also, was I the only one that saw his dream sequence of the GR being in the church and thought it was confirmation that they were the ones who were buying it? That when he finds out, he seems so surprised. Yet, it was obvious by that point, that they were the ones who’d done it. I don’t know, just a reveal before a reveal or something. Also, this is like the third prophetic dream in 3 episodes. So, is that supposed to mean something? If so, it hasn’t made clear what it is, yet.

  • Jef Dinsmore

    Oh, how to keep my analysis brief!

    First, I must say that this episode is how I expected the show to be structured from the beginning and when the first couple of episodes were not similar I was thrown. Since they story is not intended to explain the Sudden Departure then, it needs to explain characters instead. We now understand Matt Jamison – except for one oddity. Everywhere you look he is listed as “Reverend” Matt yet in the show people call him “Father”, so is Jamison Protestant or Catholic?

    I understood this story line completely except for one facet of it – the title connection. What does “Two Boats and a Helicopter” have to do with it? I’ve pondered this for a while now and have a theory. It has to do with the number 3. The title adds up to three; three times we saw the pigeons, three times was Rev. Matt tested. The problem now lies in simplifying the theory. Jamison is struggling with his beliefs about the Departure, he is dealing with suffering and with the life of his church. A lifeline is offered to him three times (symbolized by the boat & copter reference) His tests are indicated by the pigeons and his tests are set before him.

    Test One – pigeon on stoop as if to say “are you ready to step outside the door of the church today? Are you sure you can handle what comes? He is then tested to sacrifice his calling out of the sinners who “poofed” for his sister’s money. Did he Pass or Fail?

    Test Two – pigeons on traffic light as if to say “are you going to go down this path, really? Don’t you see that the flashing red light might mean No? The biggest test of all may lie ahead?” By now he has proved himself desperate and convinced that he is on the right course of action. He has some money from Mr. Garvey Sr. Was it enough? Did he Pass or Fail?”

    Test Three – pigeons on gambling table as if to say “It has come down to this. The biggest test, but have you sold yourself to the devil because now you are no better than the gambler you condemned before. Do you take the risk, is there no turning back?” Did he Pass or Fail?

    Some lifelines thrown, some warnings unheeded, some suffering along the away and some tests challenged. In the end – he failed as his sister warned him earlier he would.

    I blew through that theory and probably should have converted it into its own post. In the end I say I disagree that Episode Three was a weak episode. It was the best one so far and I hope to see more like it. Finally for those who say they feel no sympathy or concern for any of the characters in this series you should have found your first one in Rev. or Father Matt Jamison.

    Anyone else care to figure out the episode title’s significance?

    • I’m only on my phone now so my full thoughts will have to wait until later, but the title refers to a well known story.

      In the middle of a flood, a man retreats to his roof while the water rages around him. A boat pulls up and offers to rescue him, but he declines and says that God will save him. This happens two more times, with another boat and a helicopter. The man eventually drowns. When he gets to heaven, he asks God why he didn’t save him. God replies, “I sent you two boats and a helicopter, what were you expecting?”

      It’s about noticing the signs in your life and taking advantage of them…which is strange, because that’s exactly what Matt did in this episode!

      • Jef Dinsmore

        Ah, I never heard that story. So my lifelines theory was correct.

  • Thought this was the best episode so far.

    • Eleonora Iafano

      Totally agree with you, Jacob. I thought it was nice to have another episode from another character’s perspective. The dream sequence at the end was very trippy and eerie. I hope this show is successful and that the rest of the episodes pick up steam!

  • Jason Godfrey

    I’ve been trying to give this show a fair chance and was nearly about to give up on it until this episode. The first two episodes I struggled to pay attention and even re-watched the first episode to try to answer the question “What do I get out of watching this?”

    Matt Jamison, who we only got glimpses of in paste episodes, didn’t seem nearly as a flat and dry as the characters that struggled to carry those episodes. The dilemmas he struggled with were more interesting than Kevin’s obsession over feral dogs and dead dogs.










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