A review of tonight’s “The Leftovers” coming up just as soon as I get back my copay…
“Will she feel it?” -Nurse
“I don’t know.” -Matt
Last season’s Matt-centric “Two Boats and a Helicopter” turned out to be the skeleton key that unlocked the full, overwhelming potential of “The Leftovers, so it was only a matter of time in this all-POV second season before we got another Matt showcase.
And boy, did we – even before Christopher Eccleston went full frontal and forever changed the way I will look at the Ninth Doctor(*). Even more than “Two Boats,” “No Room at the Inn” was a fascinating, unsettling look at how blurry the line can grow between religious belief and madness.
(*) I’m told “The Leftovers” writers took to referring to that moment as “the sonic screwdriver scene.”
The title, of course, refers to the fate of another woman named Mary who becomes pregnant under metaphysical circumstances. Matt insists to everyone who will listen that his wife woke up on their first night in Miracle, and that the pregnancy is the result of a conscious union between husband and wife, rather than a lonely, grief-stricken, cuckoo bananas man taking advantage of a woman who’s literally incapable of saying no.
Which is it? We know that some form of divine intervention exists in “The Leftovers” universe – not just from the Sudden Departure (and, perhaps, the disappearance of Evie and her friends), but from smaller bits of evidence like Matt’s run of luck at the casino tables in “Two Boats” – but we also know that Matt is a raving loon, desperate for any way to mitigate the tragedy in which he lives every day. His sister lost her entire family, but in a way that eventually allowed her to move on; for all intents and purposes, Mary also disappeared on October 14, only her body lingers like a taunt(**). Could she, like Isaac, Virgil, and the missing lake water, all be proof of magic in Miracle? Maybe. He seems to just be hallucinating her when he wakes up from being attacked on the road to Jarden – because playing the good Samaritan never, ever ends well for Matt Jameson – but when Matt is stuck in the visitors center after he brawls with the jerk in the wedding party, another man claims to be hearing Mary give him the exact same warning about the danger the baby’s in. Like Kevin with Patti, it’s ambiguous enough that you can read it as magic, madness, or something in between.
(**) With the notable exception of Nora (and, depending on what you assume about what the sonogram showed, perhaps Laurie), most of the show’s major characters didn’t lose anyone in the Sudden Departure. But it’s cracked them up just the same, like the way so much of Meg’s anger comes from the way the Departure stole her window to grieve her mother’s death.
We’ve gotten a few glimpses of the camp outside Jarden in previous episodes, but Matt’s frantic attempt to get Mary and the unborn baby to safety gives us our first long look at this strange, lawless community that’s popped up around what’s become the holiest place on “The Leftovers” Earth. What’s wonderful about the camp scenes is how packed with unsettling detail they are. Every single person who walked in front of Matt left me wanting to follow them for a little bit to learn their story, whether the woman in stilettos walking across men’s backs, or the two bros in suits, or Reggie, who for reasons we may never know, needs to be hit hard with an oar while someone screams the name “Brian” at him. These people are all as broken in some way as Matt, or Nora, or John Murphy, but without the special wristband that can get them over the bridge and onto the ground where the miracle took place.
Matt’s time inside Jarden’s borders has been frustrating for him, not just because Mary has yet to wake up (again, or at all, depending on your perspective), but because the local minister has little use for him. He lives in a shack, does odd jobs around the church, spends every day making like Phil Connors when Phil tried to recreate that one Groundhog Day when he and Rita almost had sex, but he’s not needed here. Can he do anything for the flock of lost, angry, violent souls out in the camp? Maybe not. Maybe all he can do is accept his punishment for what he did to Mary, for playing a role in that boy being orphaned, or whatever burden is weighing on his conscience at the moment. But the naked Matt Jameson who climbs onto the roof of the taco truck to take his turn inside the stocks looks as sure of himself and at peace as at any time since the Sudden Departure. Being inside Jarden may have brought him a miracle, or just allowed him to commit a terrible crime, but he doesn’t belong there at the moment. He belongs out with the lonely, the mad, the hungry people in that camp.
Like so many hours of this great second season, “No Room at the Inn” was unyielding in its focus not only on a single character, but one so in the grips of a form of mania that it becomes hard to watch the episode and not feel gripped by it yourself. Last year, Matt receded into the background following his spotlight episode; even though the show’s now doing POV episodes every week, I hope there’s an excuse to have Nora, John, Kevin or one of the other Jarden characters journey out to the camp soon, just so we can see what Matt’s up to – and perhaps whether his sacrifice has inspired others to take his place in time.
Some other thoughts:
* I tend to write my reviews listening to a single song on a loop, so I took special pleasure in the way the opening sequence was scored to The Bellamy Brothers’ “Let Your Love Flow,” over and over and over again. Meanwhile, Regina Spektor’s “Laughing With” made fine closing music, given the episode’s spiritual concerns. (We would have also accepted Joan Osborne’s “One of Us.”)
* When Matt and Mary are hiding in the trunk together, he recites Yeats’ poem “The Song Of Wandering Aengus.”
* That was ’90s sitcom star Brett Butler (“Grace Under Fire”) as Sandy, who eventually gives Matt the money he needs to allegedly buy his way back into Jarden. Which ’90s ABC stalwart will be popping up next? Jerry Van Dyke? Suzanne Somers? Lori Loughlin?
* It doesn’t come up because Matt’s on such a tight clock in the beginning, and then doesn’t want to stay inside Jarden until he’s earned his way back, but one would think the reverend could clear up all his bracelet problems.
* Also, not cool asking your sister – who’s taking care of both a newborn and a crazy husband of her own – to take over round-the-clock care of your invalid wife, Matt.
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org