TV

‘The Leftovers’ Discussion: The Book Of Job, And Why Some Refuse To Give Damon Lindelof A Fair Shake

I had expected universal adoration for last night’s haunting episode of HBO’s The Leftovers, “Two Boats and a Helicopter.” To me, it was amazing, riveting television, and that episode provided us with exactly the kind of mindf*ck we’d been hoping for from this series. WE really delved into one of the show’s main characters, Christopher Eccleston’s town pastor, Matt Jamison, and due in part to his tremendous performance, we intimately felt his journey through the episode. A lot of critics — and viewers — agreed that last night’s episode was remarkable television (I saw more than a couple of favorable comparisons to The Twilight Zone) but it seems a very vocal minority also hated it. This group thought it was indicative of everything that’s wrong with The Leftovers, and recalled the worst sins of Damon Lindelof’s Lost past.

I think The Leftovers is suffering from unfortunate anti-Lindelof bias. Like Aaron Sorkin and The Newsroom or even Lena Dunham and Girls, a certain segment of the audience has an axe to grind, and nothing will satisfy them. They want The Leftovers to fail. That part of the audience made up their minds before The Leftovers even aired. And the truth is, if you watch any show with a certain perspective, you can find reasons to dislike it. Hell, you could even make the (very dumb) case that Breaking Bad was not a good show, or that it was the most overrated show ever.

I get it. It’s like getting back together with an ex; even if the relationship is wonderful, you’re still going to be wary, looking for signs of the same bad behaviors. Viewed in a certain light, The Leftovers might also be considered problematic, especially if you’re consumed by parallels between the HBO series, Lost, and Lindelof’s own battles.

But there was nothing slow or boring about last night’s episode of The Leftovers, and while you might be able to argue that some of the turns were tragically predictable — or even inevitable — it didn’t make the events any less devastating. In fact, my own wife bailed on the episode — and the series — when the guy from the roulette table mugged Matt and ran away with the money, noting that she just couldn’t deal with the predictably tragic outcome. It was too sad for her to watch. What she didn’t stick around to see, however, was that while the outcome itself may have been tragic, the events that led to it were decidedly not. The last ten minutes of last night’s episode were, in turns, revealing, hopeful, sad, exhilarating, and ultimately crushing.

Of course in the end, The Guilty Remnant bought the church. We all could’ve predicted that early on. At this point, Matt Jamison also has to seriously be considering joining GR, too. They got the best of him. They took everything away from him.

It was the story of Job: Life put Matt through the wringer, and tested his faith in God. In the end, like Job, he discovered through human suffering the meaninglessness of life! God totally f**ked him over.

What a great, heartbreaking lesson about the pointlessness of it all, right?

Here’s a guy whose wife’s was worse than being lost to the Rapture — she’s in a vegetative state (and my God, Donna from The West Wing looks creepy as a brain-dead woman). Here’s a guy who is regularly getting beat up for trying to prove that it’s the good who were left behind. Here’s a guy who lost his parents. He nearly succumbed to cancer. Here’s a guy that has only one thing left worth living for: A sparsely attended church that he can’t afford to keep.

Does God look out for him?

Nope. God says, “F**k you, Matt Jamison.”

In the end, God made things right with Job, and maybe he will with Matt Jamison, too. But right now, Matt is still being tested. But then, Matt is testing others, too. “If we can no longer separate the innocent from the guilty,” he says, “everything that happened to us, all of our suffering, is meaningless.” In trying to find value in the suffering, Matt is inflicting even more suffering on those who have lost loved ones, cheaply advertising their sins on tawdry flyers. He even worsened the suffering of his own sister, Nora Durst, who could not possibly need to suffer anymore, by revealing to her that her husband was sleeping with the kids’ teacher. What. An. Asshole.

But this all goes back to what the guy in the mayor’s meeting said in the pilot episode: “Why are we treating these people like heroes?” His own departed brother-in-law was a piece of sh*t. But if Matt is trying to prove that only bad people were among the departed, he may also want to ask why he was left behind.

Ultimately, no one expects The Leftovers to provide answers for why “The Rapture” happened, but the series is teasing out a question that is just as big: What is the meaning of life? Is there a point to our suffering? Or is life simply arbitrary, and random, and predictably tragic?

Random Notes

— We found out a lot of details about Matt in the episode. His wife was rendered basically brain dead by the accident that we saw in the background of the series’ opening scenes. His parents were killed in a fire, and that the church was left to Matt and Nora. That Matt suffered from cancer (probably leukemia) and survived thanks to the power of prayer (at least, to his mind). Also, Matt may have killed the guy at the casino, and for a religious guy, that doesn’t seem to be weighing too heavily.

Matt also had a close relationship with Kevin and his father. In fact, it was Kevin’s father who basically left $20,000 for Matt to use. That money presumably came from a kickback provided by a judge that Matt exposed. The connections between the major cast members continue to come to light.

— I love the irony of the GR pulling down the letters to this sign in the end of the episode.

— Speaking of Kevin, we got a brief glimpse of his wife, Laura, who was swinging outside Kevin’s house. Clearly, she still misses her family.

— The painting that Matt saw that helped prompt him into seeking out the $20,000 was indeed a painting of Job, just in case the parallels weren’t already obvious.

— I’m not sure what exactly the pigeons are supposed to symbolize, but I suspect that the pigeons are to Matt what the dogs are to Kevin: Metaphorical signposts. We may find out later that the deer represents Laura’s struggle.

— Fans of Doctor Who must have felt as nostalgic as I did by the look that Eccleston gave when he won the final bet on the roulette table.

— A guy named Keith Gordon directed last night’s episode. He also directed the season premiere of The Bridge, meaning he directed the two best episodes of TV this week. Turns out, Keith Gordon is also a forgotten movie star from the 1980s.

— Speaking of the roulette table, a guy over on Reddit found a connection between the numbers he chose — 3, 23, 25 — and the Bible:

Colossians 3:23-25New International Version (NIV)

23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, 24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. 25 Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for their wrongs, and there is no favoritism.

— Matt was unconscious for three days. It may be fair to assume that his wife’s caretaker left. What became of Mary?

— The end credits song: “Take me to Church,” by Hozier.

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