By Josh Axelrod
That’s more like it.
The First two episodes of “The Leftovers,” HBO’s ambitious new drama about the aftermath of two percent of the world’s population randomly disappearing, were intriguing but rough. The character introductions were confusing, their relationships were murky and the story was just generally all over the place.
I hope episodes like “Two Boats and a Helicopter” become the norm for this show. Instead of jumping around between multiple storylines, this episode focused on one character and his struggle to keep on going in the wake of an irreparably changed world. Something tells me this format won’t stuck, but in the immortal words of “Django Unchained’s” Calvin Candie:
This story followed Father Matt Jamison, played by former Doctor Who Christopher Eccleston. Whovian’s, don’t expect any camp in this performance. Eccleston’s Reverend is all intensity and desperation, mostly out of necessity.
The man has been trying to champion organized religion in the shadow of an event that defies both scientific and divine explanation. He has also been handing out pamphlets around town reminding people that some of the disappeared were drug dealers or corrupt judges.
The episode opened on one of Jamison’s sermons to a tiny congregation, where he tells them of a boy who prayed for attention and got leukemia (spoiler alert: he was talking about himself). His sermon gets interrupted by a man who marches up to the pulpit and, unhappy with the way Jamison’s pamphlets portrayed someone he knew, proceeded to kick his ass. It sets up a theme throughout the episode: everytime Jamison gets a win, it’s followed immediately by a punch to the gut.
After helping a young father baptize his son behind the mother’s back (NBD), Jamison is informed that his foreclosed church has a buyer. He has slightly over 24 hours to raise a ridiculous sum of money to keep his home.
He goes to visit Nora (Carrie Coon), who is apparently his sister, and asks her for money. This leads to an argument where Jamison blurts out, in the most assholish way possible, that Nora’s disappeared husband Doug was having an affair with their disappeared children’s preschool teacher. To which Nora let out what can only be described as an Arya Stark laugh:
With that option exhausted, Jamison has some sort of epiphany that leads him to a decent chunk of money left for him by Chief Garvey’s (Justin Theroux) father (Scott Glenn). That relationship was left intentionally hazy, so hopefully we come back to that connection.
Anyway, Jamison takes that money to the local casino, where his luck finally doesn’t betray him. He has to leave a potential mugger for dead (nice backbone!), but he exits the casino with more than enough money to buy back his church.
Of course, that would’ve been too easy. Jamison witnesses a man throw a rock at a member of the Guilty Remnant, a cult that doesn’t speak, wears all white, and spends its time creeping people out around town while puffing on cigarettes. As he calls for help, a second rock strikes his head, knocking him unconscious.
This leads to a coma dream where we learn a few more things about Mr. Jamison, specifically that he is sick (something is spreading), he and Nora’s house burned down when they were children and his wife was left non-responsive after a car accident — which turned out to be the car accident in the background of the first scene of the first episode! That’s some tight plotting right there.
When he wakes up, he rushes to the bank reclaim his church. Unfortunately, it turns out he had been unconscious for three days and missed his deadline. To add insult to injury, the Guilty Remnant bought the church and had already begun to paint it white. The final shot of Jamison snarling with rage at the GR’s leader Patti (Ann Dowd) is terrifyingly perfect.
This episode benefitted from a streamlined story, a tour de force performance from Christopher Eccleston and the lack of the annoying Garvey children. I invested in Jamison’s journey, and to see it end so poorly for him was heartbreaking. Yet we get the feeling that Jamison has a lot of fight left in him.
The show will probably go back to following multiple storylines next week, but in an ideal world, it would continue following one character at a time as they go about their personal quests. Think “Arrested Development” Season 4, but with more interaction from the main cast.
We’ll see what happens next week. But for now, “The Leftovers” is showing that it has the potential to become HBO’s next big drama.