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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Leftovers introduces another sorrowful mystery

Illustration for article titled The Leftovers introduces another sorrowful mystery

Alan Sepinwall’s HitFix interview with Damon Lindelof prior to the start of season two, was fascinating and illuminating, but also slightly misleading. The headline is pulled from a larger quote about how Lindelof couldn’t discern whether his own depression gave The Leftovers its dour tone or vice-versa, and how he and director Peter Berg traveled to Newtown, Connecticut to immerse themselves in a community dealing with unconscionable loss. Even though Lindelof stressed that he wasn’t considering season two a reboot of The Leftovers, the quotes about the show’s depressing tone suggested they were written when Lindelof was in a state of mind he no longer occupies. Obviously the world post-Sudden Departure isn’t going to be a cheery utopia, but between Lindelof talking like he’d outrun the storm cloud and the relocation to Miracle, I expected something lighter in tone.

Clearly, that’s a show The Leftovers may never be. If there was going to be some respite from the existentialist gloom, it would have come in Miracle National Park, the area so well-known as sacred ground that it’s nearly impossible to get in. But no one in Miracle is having an easy time of it. Not the Murphys, whose daughter vanished, ruining Jarden’s perfect streak of retaining its residents. Not the Garvey-Dursts, who are doing their best to be good neighbors to the Murphys while doing everything to distance Kevin from Evie’s disappearance. Certainly not Matt and Mary Jamison, who get the spotlight in the aptly-titled “No Room At The Inn,” an episode that further complicates the question of whether Jarden’s exemption from the Sudden Departure has a larger meaning or is simply a case of a small town’s luck.

Naturally, Matt takes the view that Jarden is indeed holy ground based on the story he told to Nora in “Orange Sticker.” On their first night in town, Mary emerged from her catatonic state. They cried, talked, laughed, and made love, then Mary suddenly recoiled back inside herself leaving Matt even more perplexed than before. People like Nora, who physically lost people in the Sudden Departure, are in agony, but a different type of agony than what Matt is going through with Mary. While Nora and everyone else has questions but no one to direct them to, Matt has his tragic mystery at his side all day, every day. She’s there, but she won’t look at him, speak to him, answer his questions. She’s essentially a fleshly Loved One doll. Maybe she didn’t run off to join the Guilty Remnant, but she might as well have, since Matt can’t help but think of Mary’s condition as a conscious slight against him.

Matt takes Mary to Austin for her biannual scan to determine whether her condition has improved within the past six months. Nothing appears to have changed in her brain function, but Matt finds out his wife is pregnant after the tryst they had while she was briefly lucid. It’s in a conversation with an employee at the imaging clinic that Matt first gets an inkling that the world isn’t going to understand his circumstances in the same way he understands them. Most people will believe Matt had sex with Mary despite her inability to consent, and won’t accept that she conveniently came out of her catatonic state, got pregnant, then lapsed back into it moments later. John Murphy certainly doesn’t buy it, and when Matt hesitates to go along fully with John’s plan to claim he violated Mary in a moment of weakness, John rescinds his offer to help the Jamisons get back into Miracle after having their wrist bands stolen. John becomes the Jack Shephard to Matt’s John Locke, the emotional man of science who can’t see eye to eye with the pragmatic man of faith.

What’s shrewd about the way this story is being told is how the writers are concealing the truth of what happened between Matt and Mary. It would be easy enough to establish with a flashback whether or not the Jamisons actually had the magical night Matt claims they had. But the story is more interesting with some ambiguity around whether Matt had a real experience with his wife or broke with reality after three years of waiting for a positive sign. When they fall victim to a desperate father trying to get his son into town, Matt sees and hears his wife telling him he has to get them into town lest they lose the baby. Is it an actual conversation, or the hallucination of a man whose wrist was just stomped to splinters? Lindelof doesn’t want to tell a story about the objective truth of what happened, he wants to talk about why Matt interprets it this way and what that means.

It certainly means a doggedness about getting back into town so Mary can have the medical support she needs when time comes to deliver the Miracle Baby. Matt’s desperation leads him to a shifty Swede named Elmer who promises to lead them into town for $1,000. He’s got less than half that on him, but he lucks up on a severe Christian woman (played by Brett Butler) who’s impressed with his scriptural savvy and gives him the opportunity to earn $500. All he has to do is whack her son across the back with an oar and call him Brian. A crowd quickly gathers, because this is the sort of thing that passes for entertainment and worship in the weird world of the Jarden outlands, along with tossing cabbage at a naked man in stocks. The Jamisons trudge through a drainage tunnel, but heavy rains dump them back into the tent village in Matt’s biggest setback since the Guilty Remnant took over his church. The episode’s title refers to a different Biblical couple, but Matt and Mary bear a strong resemblance to the tormented Job and his nameless, mostly mute wife.


All’s well that ends relatively well, with Matt and Mary back in Jarden after being smuggled in by Nora and Kevin. The episode is beautifully conceived and bravely acted as usual, but the show is definitely hitting the ceiling in terms of how many separate stories it can focus on. If The Leftovers is going to continue to be this elegiac, it has to be focused.

Stray observations:

  • Heartbreaking scene with the kid giving Matt the bracelet back. Poor kid.
  • Hopefully the next episode is Murphy-centric, because John needs a little more depth than he’s gotten so far.
  • As much as I’d like the show to focus on the characters it has already introduced, I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t watch a spinoff about life in the Jarden outlands.