After a pair of episodes that wandered through the people of Mapleton, The Leftovers delivered a single, cohesive, character-driven story last night, focusing on Christopher Eccleston's sad sack reverend. It was by turns suspenseful, tragic, and downright grim—and it was just the sort of story we've been hoping The Leftovers would tell.
The promise of The Leftovers is that we would see what life is like after a sizable portion of the population has vanished after what some people are calling the Rapture. While the second episode left us feeling a bit cold and distant from the characters, whose reactions were sometimes vague and non-specific, this week, we got a very clear and very specific story about one man's existential crisis in the face of the Sudden Departure.
When we first met Matt Jamison, he was handing out fliers about the sins committed by people who disappeared, assuring the townsfolk that what occurred was not, in fact, the Rapture. Now, we get to see him in his usual element, his church, where the congregation has dwindled but he still keeps services going. On the surface, he seems like a man who is trying to be the good reverend in spite of it all. He prays to see a little girl healed. He's delighted by the chance to perform a baptism. He's being targeted by the Guilty Remnant, but instead of abusing them like so many people do, he offers clothing donations and speaks to them frankly and kindly. It just so happens that he's obsessed with the ill deeds of the Departed, and it just so happens to get him beat up.
But, while Matt is in a nearby casino hunting down information on Departed gambling addict, the reasons behind his obsession become clear. He can't cope with the seeming randomness of the universe. If God ultimately rewards the good and punishes the evil, then how could this be the Rapture? If it was the Rapture, why have thieves and murderers and child abusers vanished and not him? And that dense of despair goes beyond the Departure. When he learns that a little girl his congregation prayed for came out of her coma, he's delighted, until he learns that she came out of that coma before his prayer. The universe has plenty more slights for Matt.
Then Matt has a meeting with his bank manager that sets the events of the episode in motion, as he needs to raise cash quickly or else be evicted from his church. What follows is a character study that proves that Matt isn't nearly the good person he thinks he is and that the post-Departure world may not, in fact, be random, but it certainly isn't working in his favor. Matt is surprisingly cruel when he visits his sister, Nora—the woman whose whole family vanished in the Departure—asking her for the money. He has convinced himself that the truth is the ultimate good, and that people will be better off for hearing it. He reveals to Nora that her husband was having an affair with her kids' nursery teacher, something she would have been much happier never knowing. When he believes that his winning the money he needs for the church is fated by God—thanks in part to an omen involving pigeons—he violently smashes in the face of a man who hopes to steal his winnings. And yet, when he sees a member of the Guilty Remnant assaulted with a rock, he stops to help and is assaulted himself.
We learn over the course of the episode that Matt's life has been marked by tragedy. He had leukemia as a child and his parents died in a house fire when he and Nora were quite young. But in a dream sequence Matt experiences after being struck int he head with that rock, we truly understand the heartbreaking reason behind his obsession with the Departure. In the very first scene of The Leftovers, we hear a car crash, and it turns out that Matt and his wife Mary were in that crash, struck by a car whose driver Departed. The accident left Mary badly brain damaged so that she could no longer speak or care for herself. While some people called the Sudden Departure an act of God, the event left Matt's life irreparably broken. What kind of God, Matt has to wonder, would do that?
Apparently, the kind of God—or just the kind of universe—that would allow the church to fall to the Guilty Remnant after Matt was unable to buy out the church because he stopped to help an injured GR. It's a perfect ending, and one that's going to have lasting consequences for our reverend and his feelings about goodness and reward.
It was also nice to see members of the Garvey family, namely Kevin and Laurie, swing in and out of this episode without taking it over completely. They still got to have their nice character moments in the middle of Matt's story, and we finally got to see just how much the Sudden Departure has messed with the characters' heads.