After The Leftovers premiere episode, I was emotionally spent. Watching grieving, maladjusted people wallowing in unfair confusion at the disappearance of two percent of the population was hard to sit through for roughly 60 minutes. Watching several characters seemingly drowning in the aftermath of such a tragic mystery felt like I too was short of breath. It’s not that ugly emotions cannot be presented on television and be entertaining, actually tonight’s episode proves that, it’s just that when you’re watching a whole community of people on the brink of insanity, it can feel a bit overwhelming.
That’s why this episode worked so much better. Instead of trying to fit in every sob story that it could muster, “Two Boats and a Helicopter,” (the punchline of a theological joke) scales things back to tell just one man’s story, and that story is quite a doozy. Preacher Matt Jamison has been wandering in the background of the previous episodes, but Christopher Eccleston’s character stands center stage in this installment, and the talented actor makes the most out of the material, breaking your heart slowly every step of the way.
At first, the episode keeps with it’s withholding ways, only doling out Matt’s backstory in small chunks, letting the audience infer before letting them in on the details. We find out that Matt is struggling to keep his church. He needs to come up with $135,000 in a day, and the down on his luck preacher can barely afford to pay the nurse that takes care of his wife, who is in a vegetative state. At first, Matt thinks to go to his sister, Nora, for the money. The two share a nice rapport before Matt asks for money, and then the conversation automatically turns south. Matt wants some of the money Nora received for losing her husband and children, and obviously that doesn’t sit well with her.
She’s angry at the way Matt has been behaving, as are many members of the townspeople of Mapleton. Matt makes newsletters revealing dirty secrets about those who have departed, to prove that the event was in fact not the Rapture, perhaps because he’s bitter he was not raptured himself. Nora and Matt argue about the existence of God, and in an unwise way to prove a point, Matt reveals that Nora’s husband was cheating. The scene might be the best the show has offered thus far, perfectly showing the anger, confusion, and messy interpretations that an event like this would cause.
After a trying day, Matt has a revelation to go look for money that Kevin’s father left him on his property. Why it took gazing astonished at a painting for Matt to think of this money, I’m not sure, but he rushes off to Kevin’s, where he finds Laurie sitting outside. Matt explains his predicament, but Laurie doesn’t care, she just doesn’t want Kevin to know she was there. The feeling is mutual as far as Matt’s concerned, and he retrieves his money with a note attached that clearly indicates that it’s for him. An earlier scene in the episode hints at Kevin Jr. and Matt’s past, but we’re not sure where Kevin’s father factors in.
Regardless, Matt takes the $20,000 to a casino, where earlier, researching another one of his imperfect disappeared people, he strangely witnessed two pigeons on a roulette table. He follows that possible omen back to the same table and bets on red three times, doubling his money again and again to $160,000. He picks red because on the way to the casino, he spotted pigeons perched on a malfunctioning red light.
After someone attempts to rob him, and he fights them off, Matt drives home, but is interrupted when he notices a Guilty Remnant member bludgeoned with a rock. When he goes to help, he receives the same treatment, and it’s here where we’re given the full scope of Matt’s situation. In another expertly crafted dream sequence, we see Matt diagnosed with cancer as a child, lose his parents in a fire, and then on the fateful October 14, we see him and his wife suffer a car accident, the same that was shown in the first minutes of the series. More confounding is a shot of Matt in bed with a woman that looked to be Laurie, but I am unclear if it was her. When Matt awakes in a hospital, he rushes to get to the bank on time with the money, but he then discovers that he’s been out for three days and missed the opportunity to save his congregation. In another cruel twist of fate, he learns that the Guilty Remnant bought his church.
This episode took the elements that worked in the other installments, like the measured unrolling of backstory, dream sequences, and devastating breakdowns, and used them to craft the best episode of the series thus far. This episode introduced new questions, like the meaning of the money Matt received and how he and the Garvey’s are connected, but they’re questions that will likely be answered, so that’s comforting. The series would be wise to do little character episodes like this for all of their main players.