In its third episodes this season, “Two Boats and a Helicopter,” The Leftovers did something very different. It stepped back from the format of its first two episodes, which focused on the Garvey family and their reaction to The Sudden Departure, and gave over the entire hour to a character we didn’t yet know much about: Matt Jamison (Christopher Eccelston). Matt’s life seems to be going from bad to work in the years after the Departure, and “Two Boats and a Helicopter” gave us a chance to explore his particular experience. Hit the jump for why this is all a test.
I would have been more impressed with “Two Boats and a Helicopter” taking the chance to devote one linear episode to a single character’s struggles so early in the season, if Penny Dreadful just did it a few weeks ago. Still, it’s a good impulse, and The Leftovers needed something that felt anything like drive or trajectory in its bleak world.
Things were bleak for Matt, remained so, and then got slightly worse over the course of this hour, though. We knew from prior episodes that Matt is a pastor who spends his days now handing out incendiary literature that lets people know that this was not The Rapture, because the people who were taken were pretty bad. Not all of them, but too many to not notice, which is what fuels his desperation. As he said (to paraphrase): “if the innocent and the guilty aren’t separated, then all of this is meaningless.”
His particular brand of negative slander though doesn’t sit well with the townsfolk, who barely attend his services, and occasionally beat him up. It was in that moment that there was a connection to the Garveys, when Kevin came to see him and absolve him — and offer up some friendship. Matt is on a mission, though, and will not be distracted.
He does come up against a wall with the bank though, who have already foreclosed on his church building (which belonged to his family), and are about to sell it. In Run, Lola, Run fashion, Matt had to collect $135k by the next day at closing, or lose the church. Thus began an emotional whirlwind that started with Matt telling his sister Nora, the face of grief in Mapleton, that her beloved departed husband was a philanderer. His zeal then carried him to the Garvey’s back yard to dig up $20k that Kevin, Sr left him (why? how?), which he then parlays into $160k at a local casino. Taking his winnings back, and braining a man in the process (he will not be stopped!), Matt is struck down, literally, when he tried to come to the aid of one of the cult members. The irony of course is that when he awakens from his minor coma, three days have passed, and the church has been passed on to its new owners — the cult.
That macro story aside, there were many other issues at play in “Two Boats and a Helicopter,” like Matt’s obsession to keep the church at the cost of his relationship and peace of mind of his sister, as well as the life of another man. The story he tells at the beginning about a boy (him) who prayed for more attention and was rewarded (or punished) for it by cancer set the stage for the morality tales within the hour. Matt feels blessed with the pigeons appear to lead him to the magical roulette table where he wins his money, but in the end, it’s all for naught. Was he ever meant to have that money? Or is it that he should be spending it on something other than the church?
Matt’s home-life is even worse than his professional one. His wife was paralyzed on the day of the Departure after a car lost its driver and plowed into them. He owes everyone a monetary debt, not the least of whom is the nurse who looks after his wife when he’s not at home. There might be other uses for that money. Although, no one knows for sure other than the pigeons …
“Two Boats and a Helicopter” was probably the most dismal hour of The Leftovers yet, but it was also the best. It showed how the Departure directly impacted one man, and then went through his response to it. However, the episode also turned on Murphy’s Law — if something bad could happen, it did, and we all saw it coming a mile away. Nearly every plot point was telegraphed, though given The Leftovers‘ insistence that life is Hell on Earth these days, there was never much chance at a happy ending.
Ultimately, the episode gave a lot more insight into the cult indirectly, through Matt’s eyes. It also showed Laurie watching over her old home and her abandoned family. There’s a lot more to the silent white-wearers and their desire to take over the town, and that, so far, is the most interesting thing the show has given us.
Episode Rating: A-
Musings and Miscellanea:
— So the dogs, the pigeons … did the departed all turn into animals? Errrrrr.
— I still have a big problem with the fact that if 2% of the world’s population was taken, how were like 30 people taken on just one block in New Jersey? Or is Mapleton supposed to be some kind of ground zero? Even still …
— Also, no way a casino would let Matt walk in, insist upon a table, octuple his cash, and then walk out by himself into a dark parking lot.
— That dream sequence …
— Takeaway: life sucks. Might as well follow pigeons. Worked for Tesla! (… kinda).