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 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.
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
Early 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.
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.”: