One of the highlights of the divisive first season was “Two Boats and a Helicopter”, and a favourite of season 2 was “No Room at the Inn”. The link? Both focused on Reverend Matt Jamison (Christopher Eccleston) and told stories that tested his faith by taking him to hell and back, thanks to a series of unusual events and coincidences. So I was understandably excited to see the show’s third Matt-centric hour, “It’s It’s a Matt, Matt, Matt, Matt World”, which like the end of this character’s arc in many ways.
The Leftovers always touches on the divine, but revels in blurring your opinion about what’s going on. We appeared to get unequivocal proof that something otherworldly is at work last season, but these five episodes continue to keep plant doubt in your mind. Matt has been the most devout of believers from day one, and is the man who wrote ‘The Book of Kevin’ after hearing about his best friend’s miraculous return to life, but after the events of this episode I’m not sure what’s going on. And it seems that Matt’s now moved past his obsessive need to drag Kevin back from Australia for anniversary of the Great Departure, to have make a kind of peace with himself and his own mortality.
The opening sequence explained the ‘explosion’ we heard about at the end of “G’Day Melbourne”, which halted flights in and out of Australia. It was another strange and meticulous set-piece The Leftovers does so very well. A naked French seaman aboard a nuclear sub, for unspecified reasons, set in motion a one-man plan to detonate the vessel’s deadly arsenal — with the help of a yoga stretch to turn two launch keys simultaneously. A mushroom cloud duly appeared somewhere in the South Pacific, becoming global news, and undoubtedly will get interpreted in numerous ways by those fearing or hoping the coming Departure anniversary is going to be a special one.
For Matt, the image of that yellow mushroom cloud seemed to herald that something big is on the horizon, so he set about flying to Oz by private plane to bring Kevin back home. Joining him on this trip were his fellow believers John (Kevin Carroll) and Michael (Jovan Adepo) — comprising the “three wise men” — with dubious Laurie (Amy Brenneman) tagging along to his consternation. The latter is similarly keen to bring her ex-husband Kevin home, but only because she thinks he’s having a relapse and needs psychiatric help. It was very interesting to see Laurie in this mix of religious men, as she knows more about the situation with Kevin involving a sighting/hallucination of John’s daughter Evie, which was a secret that naturally didn’t last long when emotions ran high.
For the most part, “It’s It’s a Matt, Matt, Matt, Matt World” lived up to the inspiration behind its title — madcap road trip comedy It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963). It wasn’t as kinetic as that classic movie, but it involved another ensemble of eccentric characters determined to get from point A to point Z, as life seems to delight in throwing obstacles into their way.
Matt’s chartered plane to Melbourne got diverted to Tasmania, so they had to hitch a ride on a ferry transporting a “pride” of hedonists celebrating the lineage of a lion named Frasier, who’s on a tour of the world spreading his fertile seed to various lionesses. Rather amusingly, this meant the stoical Matt was trapped aboard a ship teeming with half-naked partygoers in African tribal dress, fucking each other in celebration of a lion’s virility.
Adding to this weirdness, Matt soon became aware of a bearded Australian man named David Burton (Bill Camp), who silently hands out cards marked ‘YES I AM GOD’ with a handy list of FAQ’s on the reverse. We later learned that Burton has a resurrection story similar to Kevin’s own, and is now a local celebrity in some people’s eyes. But by the end of this hour it seems he was just a dangerous conman who threw someone overboard during the night. Or is he? Mr Burton has previously appeared in later season 2 episode, during Kevin’s trip to the afterlife, where he was the mysterious “man at the bar” and “man on the bridge”. He was also the addressee on the package Pillar Man gave to Michael to send to Australia. I can accept that the crazy Pillar Man had heard about Burton’s story and wanted to correspond with him, but how would Kevin know about Burton to imagine him into “hallucination”? It therefore provides a smidgen of evidence that Burton really is God. Or maybe Kevin had seen Burton on TV, so his image had been stored deep in his subconscious.
A climatic scene where Matt had kidnapped Burton, to interrogate him for answers, was a deft piece of writing. Matt initially treated Burton as a blasphemous killer trying to avoid justice, pressuring him to confess his crime to the cops, but soon slipped into addressing the man as God, and seemed to be asking his Creator for answers by the end. So the conversation went from hostility to curiosity, and a loose kind of acceptance.
And even if Matt didn’t totally buy into the idea this man was God, does it matter? What’s important is he believed so during their conversation, however briefly, so the answers he received still mattered, made sense, and had a positive effect. He’s now more rational like Laurie. When the four Americans all finally arrived in Melbourne, “God” was eaten alive by the escaped lion after trying to evade arrest for murder, and Matt was happy to accept a long delay to his travel plans to aide the authorities. Not only that, Matt came clean and told everyone he’s actually dying, achieving a kind of peace in this honesty. Maybe the drive to believe Kevin’s the Messiah was more something to keep Matt going? He had to give himself another “mission” once his wife Mary’s catatonia has passed.
As Matt realised through the wisdom of speaking with “God”, he hasn’t ever done anything unselfishly to help others. His acts of charity and kindness are more about him, as he felt pressured to be a good man after the Departure, to prove to God that he’s deserving of his grace, and shouldn’t have been left behind. By admitting this to himself he can move forward, because he’s going to depart anyway. He’s dying. The act is pointless now. It just remains to be seen how Matt’s arc will progress in the remaining episodes, if he doesn’t believe Kevin’s “the Messiah”, or doesn’t much care either way. Will Nora and Laurie be proven right about Kevin, or are John and Michael correct? Is he insane, or divine? It seems this episode foreshadowed the answer: does it even matter?
Four days left ‘till the anniversary…
- Anyone else get a slight whiff of Noah’s Ark when Matt, John, Michael and Laurie got onto the ferry (two by two?) and saw the lion being loaded on?
- That was a nightmarish sequence with Matt being disbelieved by the partygoers about a murder being committed, who were more interested in carrying out a bizarre sexual forfeit on Matt involving a voluptuous woman performing a sex act, and a glowing fake lion’s vagina attached to a pipe.
- So what do you think? The show clearly wants to keep us guessing about how much the Biblical overtones truly mean something, or if characters (and by extension us, the audience) are interpreting random events as something greater. Is Kevin special? Is he special in a secular or theological way? Can his “miracles” be discredited? Can the show really explain how he survived poisoning and a gunshot to the chest? Will anything happen come the anniversary? Is the world going to end? Will the remaining 98% depart? Will the 2% return? Will nothing happen? There are only three episodes left until we get answers, or an ending of some description.