Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Leftovers 1.03: Two Boats and a Helicopter

I knew that the episode that finally introduced Matt Jameson would be a good one. And it really, really was.

The episode is called “Two Boats and a Helicopter,” which I’m assuming must be a reference to the age-old Christian joke. A man is on his porch during a flood and a woman comes by in a boat and offers him a spot. He says, “No, God will save me.” The water rises and he moves to the second level of his house and another boat comes by with several people in it, and they offer him the ride as well. “No, God will save me.” Finally, he has to move to the roof and a helicopter comes by and drops a ladder. He waves it away and says, “No, God will save me.” Suddenly a rush of water comes by and the man drowns. He goes to Heaven and sees God and says, “I believed you would save me! Why did you forsake me?” And God says, “I sent you two boats and a helicopter, what more did you want?!” This is an episode about looking for signs, and needing to know which ones to follow, and which to ignore, and most importantly, knowing when to help yourself.

Matt Jameson is the minister we’ve seen on a number of occasions handing out pamphlets about the bad people who disappeared during the Departure. We’ve seen him on street corners with people throwing things at him (“occupational hazard,” he says in this episode), and surprisingly, getting a hug from Nora Durst in the previous episode, despite us assuming she’d sock him in the nose.

In this episode we find out that his flock has weakened: during an impassioned sermon where he tells the story of a young boy who asked God for something wicked and then suffered the consequences, we see his congregation consists of eight people who don’t even seem to be paying attention. He’s deeply in debt, unable to pay the full-time caregiver who stays with his wife during the day, and he’s about the lose his church if he can’t come up with $135,000 within 24 hours. So he retrieves a couple of money rolls he has hidden, goes to a casino, and manages to gamble the money at the roulette table to turn it into $160,000. But... he doesn’t make it to the bank on time, and loses the church anyway.

It sounds like a pretty standard plotline, but the greatness of this episode lies in its details.

Why does his wife — Donna from The West Wing — need a caregiver? Because she’s in a catatonic state and needs round-the-clock care. After answering questions about “Mary” with a curt “she’s fine” all day long, we’re led to assume that whoever this Mary person is, she’s at home and depressed and he’s staying out all day as an escape. When he first returns home to find the caregiver sitting morosely on the couch, we think that’s her. But it’s not; that’s Roxanne, the caregiver who hasn’t been paid for three weeks and is pretty pissed off about it. When he does go to see Mary, who is, for all intents and purposes, a vegetable, we see him deal with her with so much love and tenderness that you forgive him everything else he’s done in the episode. So far we’ve seen people who lost loved ones during the Departure, as well as those who are left behind in depressed states. But what about those whose current state of illness rests entirely in the events of the Departure itself? Matt and Mary were driving down a road when the driver of a car coming towards them suddenly disappeared, and the driverless car just slammed right into them. If there were ever a case of shit happens, this is the epitome of it.

But then Matt, the Episcopalian preacher, is suddenly surrounded by people who believe the Departure was actually the Rapture (same letters, just rearranged). They believe that only the good and holy went up to Heaven, and it’s the bad ones who stayed behind. How could an Episcopalian minister be left behind? How could a minister’s wife? Did they do something bad? Who’s going to come to his sermons now that they think he’s a bad person who can’t be trusted; after all, he wasn’t taken up into the sky with the holy ones.

And that’s why Matt devotes his life now to trying to break down that misconception, reminding people that pedophiles, murderers, drug dealers, rapists, and generally awful people were among the innocent, that the Departure had nothing to do with God’s Plan, and instead is an unexplained incident. “If we can no longer separate the innocent from the guilty,” he says, “all our suffering is meaningless.”

He must convince people that what happened wasn’t the Rapture, because he can’t live in a world where he was one of the ones who’d been left behind.

This isn’t a man who’s lost his faith, though; to the contrary, he’s watching everywhere for signs, hoping that God will show him that he’s doing the right thing. He tells his meagre congregation the story of a 10-year-old boy who has all the attention until a baby sister comes along, so he prays to get the attention back. When he is stricken with cancer, he fights it and survives, and then must face the question: was he punished or rewarded?

We can’t answer this question, just like we can’t say why these people suddenly left. Matt can’t offer a suggestion as to where anyone went, but he believes that their Departure was a test, “not for what came before, but after,” as he tells Nora Durst, who turns out to be none other than his sister. “If it’s a test,” she replies, “then you’re failing it.”

He needs to hold onto the church, because he truly believes he can lure his flock back through his pamphleteering. He needs people to believe that what happened wasn’t the Rapture, so much so that he’s willing to hurt people to do so (including Nora, when he reveals to her that her husband had been having an affair). He doesn’t care that he’s alienated most people from himself, and doesn’t see that even if he were to convince them that the Rapture took the guilty along with the innocent, no one will come back to his church because he makes them think the worst of people.

He needs to believe he’s doing the right thing, but is thwarted wherever he believes he sees a sign. He asks his congregation to pray for eight-year-old Emily, who is in a coma in the hospital. When he goes to the hospital to see her, she’s gone; she’d revived and went home. His face lights up. “My congregation prayed for her this morning!” he excitedly tells the porter. “She woke up last night,” the porter replies, reminding him of the futility of everything he does.

When two pigeons get into a casino where he’s “conducting business,” he believes it’s a sign that he needs to go to that roulette table. And on his way back to the casino to do just that, he sees pigeons sitting on a traffic light that’s flashing red. And so he throws it all on red... and wins. And does it again, and again, until he’s up to $160,000. Does that mean it really was a sign from God?

No, because he first almost kills a man who tries to steal the money from him, and then the Guilty Remnants stage an attack so he’ll get laid up in the hospital for so long that he’ll miss the payment at the bank, and his church will be turned over to none other than them, a group he sought to help but who stabbed him in the back in return.

Is there a miracle in Matt’s future? Presumably if they cast Janel Moloney as his wife, they’re doing it because they need an actress in the part with some dramatic heft, and I doubt they’d cast her just to have her lying in a bed all the time. So perhaps his miracle really will come. He’s got $140,000 in his pocket (he returned the initial $20,000 to its container), after all.

The symbols throughout the episode weren’t just for Matt’s eyes; there were several in there for the viewers as well. Let’s do this old school, shall we?:

Did You Notice?
  • The hymn numbers behind Matt during his sermon correspond to the following hymns in the Episcopalian hymnal: 518: Christ is the sure foundation; 656: Blest are the pure at heart; 602: Kneels at the feet of his friends; 376: Joyful, joyful, we adore thee. While the latter two are fairly common hymns in the Christian church, the first two seem to be directly related to the subject matter of the show.
  •  Pigeons aren’t often mentioned in the bible, but when they are, it’s usually involving a sacrifice of some kind.
  • Matt’s wife’s name is Mary, the same as the mother of Christ and Mary Magdelene. Just as Mary Magdelene washed the feet of Christ, in this episode we see Matt, who is set up as a flawed Christ figure, washing Mary.
  • I didn’t mention the opening credits last week, which is when we saw them for the first time, but I wanted to mention them now because they are spectacular. Using Christian imagery, we see the Departure as many of those left behind see it: as some sort of act of God, ripping their loved ones from them. But the violence and agony of the painting begs the question: what sort of God would do this to people?
  • Matt’s coma-induced dream is filled with imagery, from a church filled with people (many of whom are GRs, which is prescient indeed) to a murky-sounding singing as if they’re underwater, a suggestion that he’s being baptized, but into a new world that might not be a good one, to a place on fire where a little girl named Laura (a reference to Laurie?) asks why no one is doing anything, to him having sex with his wife before the accident, and her morphing into Laurie, which then causes his body to catch on fire. Did he have an affair with Laurie? Does he believe Mary’s accident is his fault and he’s going to hell?
  • During that dream, when he first passes into the vestry, you see him sitting on a table and a doctor comes in and says, “I’m sorry, Matthew, but it’s spreading,” an indication to the audience that he, in fact, was the 10-year-old boy who overcame cancer after wishing he could have more attention, and we’re seeing an eerie flashback to his parents finding out the news.
  • And just to link back to Ye Olde Lost days for a moment, did you notice that on the roulette table, the second number, which changed his 40,000 into 80,000 (before that became 160,000), was 23?

An excellent episode! What did you think?


Anonymous said...

This was by far the best episode of the three so far. It reminded of the one-off episodes of Lost where the focus would be on a periphery character(s) like Rose & Bernard.

However - I think if such an event were to happen it would cause a surge of people back to the church rather than the opposite as a significant percentage would think it was proof of the existence of God.

-Tim Alan

Nikki Stafford said...

Tim: that was EXACTLY my thought at the time, and I even wrote in my notes: "fiction: church should be full." But I think it's empty because of the minister: people hate him and are probably flocking to other churches. On the flip side of that, if the ministers and priests are still here, does that mean God didn't see them as worthy? If one believed the Departure was actually the Rapture, then they would believe the priests left behind weren't good enough. I wonder if cults like the Guilty Remnants would become more common; people trying to find meaning through communion rather than listening to one flawed person?

I remember post-9/11, churches were suddenly full again. In times of tragedy we search desperately for meaning. But maybe knowing what Matt's been doing on street corners and upsetting people, he's not the one they want interpreting that meaning for them.

Jazzygirl said...

Loved this episode! And yes, I caught all the LOST references! This episode totally reminded me of LOST...the twists and turns. When we see how Mary came to be in her vegetative state, it felt very LOST-like...a sad twist of fate that's fueling his anger.
Also, Nikki, I'm surprised you didn't mention anything about Laurie hiding in her own back yard, presumably watching her husband? Especially since the previews seem to indicate she might leave the GR and go back home?
And I'm still a little confused about the connection between husband's (damn what is his name?) father and the minister. He seems to believe that the father isn't crazy but was right for telling the truth. Clearly they had a bond if he left him all that money? I think I missed a connection somewhere.

Jazzygirl said...

Oh, and who the hell leaves a casino with all that money, and doesn't ask for an escort? LOL

Suzanne said...

I found this episode to be engaging and thought-provoking. I definitely saw the Lost similarities. However, even with all of that, I am still not sure how invested I am in this show. It hasn't grabbed me yet in the way Lost did. It seems to be missing some key ingredient that Lost had, possibly the humor. I will stick with it all season to see where it goes, though.

Thanks for the great review as always. If anything, your reviews will keep me coming back so I can enjoy reading them after I watch the show!

TomWill said...

This is my favorite episode so far. I hope it will get my wife back to watching (she was turned off by the total despair of the pilot).
This reminded me of "Walkabout" where we got the first idea of how important John Locke would become.

Nikki Stafford said...

Jazzygirl: never be surprised when I leave something out. I write these immediately following the episode at 11:30 at night. I'm surprised they're in English, to be honest! ;) But yes, Laurie sitting in the backyard was great. It's the first time we see a GR watching someone and NOT wanting to be seen.

no soy josé said...

It's so great that you're reviewing The Leftovers I used to visit your blog always during Lost.

I just wanted to say that every time Eccleston appears on a scene I go: "The Doctor!". I wish I could say that I say it to myself but I say it oulloud. Every time.

Jorge Rivero said...

Reading your blog in 2020. I am doing a re-watch.