UK VOD TV Review: The Leftovers Season 1, Episode 3
Ivan Radford | On 05, Oct 2014Reading time: 4 mins
“It was a test. Not for what came before but what came after. It was a test for what comes now.”
The Leftovers has been ambling along for the last two weeks, waiting, like its audience, for a solution to its endless string of questions. Episode 3 is the answer everyone’s been waiting for.
Two Boats and a Helicopter shines a spotlight on arguably the most interesting man in the town: Reverend Matt Jamison (Christopher Eccleston). Convinced that the disappearance was the opposite of the Rapture, he spends his days handing out leaflets revealing the sins of the departed – and his nights being punched in the face by their relatives. In between, he takes to the pulpit to preach about faith in a time when faith has long gone, taking with it most of the congregation.
Up until now, Damon Lindelof’s show has largely avoided the religious question: this, it seemed keen to say, wasn’t exclusively about heaven or hell, an ambiguity given a colourful depth by the sumptuous Renaissance-style paintings in the opening credits. But Matt tackles that conversation head-on: situated at the crux of that debate, he’s arguably the most interesting character in the whole show. It’s a treat, then, to spend time in his company.
Actually, it’s a treat to have time dedicated to anyone who isn’t do-gooder cop Kevin and his family. If The Leftovers has stagnated so far in its own existential, angst-driven juices, the refocus of its subject does wonders to rejuvenate the premise. In fact, this is the best episode of the bunch by far. If you haven’t been watching the series, this is the reason to start tuning in. It’s telling that it would work very well as a standalone episode, as Matt’s attempts to reconcile his own beliefs with what’s happening runs through the gamut of emotions; a microcosm of the whole community, his story ricochets from feel-good and funny to shocking and sad.
It feels like a long time since Eccleston has been given a chance to explore such a complex character on screen and it’s a delight to see him in full flow. In the opening sequence, we see the doubting pastor get the crap kicked out of him, presenting him as a tragic figure determined to carry on his dubious mission. But as we learn more about him – his foreclosed church, his disapproving sister, his relationship with the Guilty Remnant cult – he becomes far more than a one-note supporting role. Sincerely looking into his sister’s eyes, he promises never to reveal her husband’s wrong-doings while he was alive – only to go on to beg her for money to keep his building.
It’s in these emotional moments, not during the Sunday services, that Lindelof slyly slips in his philosophical musings. “It was a test,” Matt decides. “Not for what came before but what came after. It was a test for what comes now.” Between his manic grin and panicked eyes, you can’t tell if he believes what’s he saying or not. But it’s a sign that The Leftovers is capable of raising theological issues without a sermon; a must if this series is going to deliver a rewarding pay-off. Even the idea of semi-cloning someone (the plot of one of Black Mirror’s best episodes) so family can bid farewell properly is casually mentioned in the background. (“Loved Ones,” chirps a TV. “A likeness for burial.”)
Gripping and perfectly paced, if Episode 3 is anything to go by, The Leftover’s strongest chance of redemption is to follow this standalone path: a roulette of individual stories in this well-realised universe would stop the show succumbing to the tedium of Lost or the frustration of FlashForward and provide what really matters: moving, character-driven drama.
Through his seemingly endless purgatory, Matt’s unwavering devotion to his vocation is oddly uplifting. And yet the shepherd only finds potential hope when he turns to the resources of a former criminal and flocks to the local casino; a sinner in a den of sin seeking salvation. The Leftovers, his actions seem to suggest, are not being punished or saved from the damned. Post (non-)Rapture, this is a world where doing bad things is the only right way forward; where doing, rather than asking whether it should be done, is the key. It’s not what came before or what comes next: it’s what comes now that matters. Even then, there is no guarantee that any of these souls will see the light. But if The Leftovers continues this actively brilliant approach, rather than passively pondering the big questions, it can past its own test with flying colours.
Season 1 and 2 of The Leftovers available on Sky Box Sets. Not got Sky? You can watch The Leftovers online on with NOW TV, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription that includes live and on-demand access to Sky Atlantic, Sky 1, FOX UK and more.
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