Every week Colton Royle discusses the newest episode of HBO’s new show about a new kind of rapture, The Leftovers. You can also read our review of the book the show is based on.
Many spoilers ahead.
The Leftovers stares religion in the face with the new episode focusing entirely on Matt Jamison, Mapleton’s minister, as he pushes the line between madness and divine power that arises as a theme once again. Where the previous two episodes have felt frayed at the edges and had us viewers grabbing for a metaphorical bucket dropping into a well, here was an episode that felt tight, feverish, and much more indicative thematically.
Matt Jamison preaching to a near empty church was an interesting and unexpected turn when you consider how much emphasis is placed on the rapture in Christian doctrine, and this brings up a theme of the episode which to me was ambiguity in suffering. I mean here is a guy who lost his congregation and now he’s gonna lose his church, and he can’t get the money from his sister and he eventually does get the money but he almost gets mugged and THEN he gets hit with a rock and misses the deadline and his wife is…I mean WTF, I don’t even know if I have a heart left after all these emotional stab wounds straight to it.
Three arrivals of the pigeons in key locations and colors for a massive gambling success only to have him miss the deadline to buy his church back by three days establishes the point Nora (his sister!?) makes that even with all the “good news,” or even divine help, does it make the situation of life, life in the modern world, any better? To me, The Leftovers is starting to make some massive questions very concrete in this episode, and even the varied tones in which they depicted Matt, from beautiful and serene during the baptism scene, to his eventual nightmare in the hospital and his jagged anger in chiaroscuro lighting, leads us to question each of these characters in multiple settings. It’s not simply binary; it’s not just this and that, but rather a polyphony of reactions.
All this I say, yet when the Guilty Remnants buy Matt’s church, it builds a rage in Jamison that is building all through Mapleton that is very much an “us and them” story. Will it turn violent for the cult? Tethered to all this melancholy and hysteria is this building desire from the citizens for all of post-departed life to mean something more, and with that comes “responsibility” and “retribution” and “redemption” and a bunch of other five dollar words to say that these people want it to matter. So while The Leftovers builds ambiguity and uncertainty, it also meddles with characters who are trying to push against it. Case in point, when asked “what denomination?” in reference to casino chips and Matt (the minister) replies, “does it matter?” we start nodding and going, “okay now I get it.”
This is interesting. It’s interesting to me because at the heart of it is storytelling in general and what television takes for granted in particular and the friction between plot development and real life coming to a head could lead to some super interesting and way too academic analyses (see previous 507 words).
But really this episode was gripping and really hurt and had some more reveals (“Roy, you deserve this” –K.G.) that will make you butt-bump up and down on the couch and clap. You want to see other people (not just us) try and make sense of life in erratic and strange ways? Follow follow follow follow…
Colton Royle is a reader of mostly American fiction and non-fiction. He is currently teaching in Fort Worth, Texas.