The first two episodes of The Leftovers have focused on Police Chief Kevin Garvey Jr (Justin Theroux) and the characters within his orbit in Mapleton. One of those characters is a Reverend, Matt Jamison (Christopher Eccleston), whose appearances so far have only been short. Since Eccleston first appeared I’d been hoping we’d see more of him because he’s the kind of actor that has spent his career biting chunks out of movies and television series with memorable roles. Even Eccleston’s short tenure as Dr Who left an impression on the modern incarnation of the British icon. The writers of Two Boats and a Helicopter, Damon Lindelof and Jacqueline Hoyt, answered our Eccleston prayers with a superb faith testing episode for Mapleton’s cleric.
What we know about Jamison so far is that he doesn’t believe The Sudden Departure was the Rapture as outlined in the Bible. He publicly names and shames people who disappeared by printing posters with a photo and a list of their misdemeanours for posting around town. Jamison’s awareness campaign doesn’t seem to be working because his church numbers have dwindled and the relatives of the people he shames get violent when they confront the Reverend. In the opening scene an angry man beats up Reverend Jamison mid-sermon and stuffs a flyer into his mouth that details the drug use of a Malpetonian who drifted away during The Sudden Departure. Jamison is also being stalked by the Guilty Remnant who stand outside his church, and pigeons constantly keep appearing everywhere he goes (similar to the dog assassin and Chief Garvey Jr).
Post-The Sudden Departure life is rough for the Reverend and it gets worse when he gets news form the bank that they have foreclosed on the church and the Reverend must come up with $135,000 in 24 hours to save it. From this plot point Lindelof and Hoyt send the Reverend on a quest to get the money that tests his faith but also allows us to see the ugly side of the character and his religion. Jamison tries to guilt his sister (the gun/insurance lady from last week) into giving him the money by sharing a story from his scandal files about her husband having an affair with the local pre-school teacher – guilt still equals money in the collection plate – but she refuses. A desperate plea to God occurs when it’s revealed that the Reverend’s wife is disabled and comatose, and he can no longer afford to pay the carer who tends to her during the day. The Reverend cries out to a religious portrait during the night and has a moment of clarity.
In the backyard at the Garvey household the Reverend digs up a wad of cash left by Kevin Garvey Sr with a note to put it to good use. Guilty Remnant member Laurie Garvey is also there but they both agree to not tell anyone they crossed paths. The Reverend heads to a casino where he was previously done research for one of his scandal files. He noticed the pigeons that have been stalking him during the episode are giving him hints to play roulette (as well as sitting on a blinking traffic light on the way to the casino that hints at betting on red). Taking gambling advice from pigeons, the Reverend bets all his money on red and wins multiple times. He gets the money needed to pay the bank. What mystical forces are guiding the Reverend? God works in mysterious pigeon ways. In the car park of the casino the Reverend gets robbed and that’s when the devil comes out to play. The Reverend isn’t letting his church money get away so he tackles the crook to the ground and smashes his head on the pavement. Now we now know why the Reverend is one of the leftovers.
The next day the Reverend is feeling pretty good about himself when a person driving past in a car throws a rock and knocks him out. Director Keith Gordon crafts a trippy dream sequence and we see the Reverend’s life flashing before his eyes with several events from his childhood through to the day of The Sudden Departure when he was involved in a car accident that paralysed his wife. This sequence played into the haunting element of The Leftovers that mixes up the show with visceral imagery.
Finally, the Reverend wakes up in the hospital and sprints across town to get the money and pay the bank. The bank manager informs the Reverend that he’s too late because the deadline passed days ago while he was in hospital. The final depressing pile on occurs when the Reverend shows up to the church to discover the Guilty Remnant are the new owners.
Eccelston is outstanding as the battered Reverend grasping to his faith and sanity in a world where his belief system has been obliterated by the Sudden Departure. The shades of light and darkness in Eccelston’s performance is compelling as he moves from generosity to malice in the blink of an eye. Putting religion under the microscope in the context of The Sudden Departure further deepens the intrigue of The Leftovers and the ideas at play. Two Boats and a Helicopter solidifies The Leftovers as one of the best new mid-year shows so far. Jump on board.
Cameron Williams – follow Cam on Twitter here: @MrCamW