Pop quiz: You’re a religious leader and 2 percent of the world suddenly disappears for maybe a rapture-like event on October 14. You:
a) Dutifully offer your services week after week, regardless of how this incident shakes everyone’s faith and attendance plummets.
b) Stop making payments on your church when donations dry up and hope for the best.
c) Publish and distribute a creepy newsletter exposing all the flaws of loved ones who disappeared because “people need to know the truth” and also you might be jealous that they were chosen to depart and you were not.
d) All of the above.
The Rev. Matt Jamison, the focus of Episode 3 of “The Leftovers,” has emphatically chosen option D, and boy, is his life a mess — which makes him far and away the most interesting character of the show so far. That’s a bad sign only because he’s not really one of the main characters, a.k.a. the Garvey family. Kevin, Laurie, Jill and Tom were barely in the episode at all this week, and we have to say we didn’t miss them.
But let’s not think about what sort of doom that could spell for the show, and instead dive into the weird, riveting world of Matt Jamison. The reverend very quickly becomes a PSA for how not to handle yourself after a rapture.
It all starts innocently enough as he’s delivering a sermon (to a very tiny audience in his church) about a boy who was very envious when his baby sister was born and took up all his parents’ time and energy, so he prayed to get attention focused back on him — and then he wound up being diagnosed with cancer. That boy was none other than the Rev. Matt himself, who ties it all together by saying that he was cured, though that was obviously a life lesson that shaped him.
Then, as he starts to tie it all together by asking for attention again — only this time, to pray for a little girl, Emily, who was critically injured falling off a swing — when a random man storms into the church and attacks the reverend. As he beats Matt to a pulp, he holds up a newsletter that has the headline “SHE SOLD DRUGS” with a picture of a departed woman. The guy stuffs the newsletter into Matt’s mouth.
Later, in the hospital, police chief Kevin comes to visit Matt. It’s clear this is not the first incident. The star of Matt’s newsletter this week is Amber Johnson, a pharmacist trainee who stole drugs from her job and sold them to community college students. Kevin helpfully points out that the assailant probably knew Amber and didn’t appreciate his little newsletter.
Kevin offers this advice: “Stop pissing people off.”
Matt disagrees. “They need to hear the truth,” he protests. “Your dad understood that.”
Kevin is not impressed. “Look where it got him,” he says. The mystery of Kevin’s dad will continue another time, though it’s used to drop the helpful hint to Matt that Kevin and Jill now live in his dad’s house.
Matt confirms he doesn’t want to press charges against his attacker and says “See ya next time, chief.” Apparently, this is a regular occurrence, but it won’t prevent Matt from publishing his awful newsletter.
Matt goes about his daily routine, which includes ignoring calls from the bank. He stops in to check on Emily, the little girl who fell off the swing. He’s thrilled to find out she was discharged from the hospital and is fine. Is it because his congregation prayed for her this morning? “She woke up last night,” the orderly coldly informs him. Ouch.
Next on the list: Collect more dirt for the next newsletter, which happens by accident when a man shows up, desperate to baptize his baby son. His wife doesn’t believe in religion anymore after the departure, so the man had to wait until she was busy getting a manicure to sneak over to the church. Matt eagerly complies — after a short service with the adorable baby, he tells the man that the only payment he requests is that the family come to church on Sunday. The man doesn’t think his wife will go for that, but he offers another form of compensation: a tip about a guy he used to work with named Andrew, who used to get drunk and drive out to the casino and wound up cleaning out his kids’ college funds.
Like a good reporter, Matt drives over the casino, and we see how he digs up information: He plays the “departed loved one” card, which seems pretty sick. Matt approaches a casino worker and asks if he lost anyone in the Sudden Departure. Yes, as a matter of fact, the staffer did — his 9-year-old niece. Matt holds up a picture of a guy named Albert, a child abductor, who disappeared on Oct. 14 from his jail cell. “This man, this monster, is on the same list along with the others who left us,” Matt explains, including the casino employee’s niece. Matt goes on to say he feels he must expose these people for who they truly were — otherwise, you can’t separate the innocent from the guilty, and what’s the point of mourning them?
Matt’s pitch works, and the guy goes to look up some security-camera footage of Andrew gambling away his savings. While he goes, Matt sees (hallucinates?) some pigeons landing on a roulette table nearby. More nonsensical animal symbolism, but this will again become important later.
Meanwhile, Matt’s hard at work on this week’s newsletter while the Guilty Remnant shows up to eerily stare at the church. Matt tries to ignore the white-clad cult members while he types up the article (Headline: “HE GAMBLED AWAY HIS CHILDREN’S MONEY!”) but then decides to head over to the bank.
It’s there that he hears the bad news — while he was ignoring his banker’s calls, there’s been an offer on the church. We learn that Matt hasn’t made payments on the church in weeks, and the deal was he could stay in the building as long as no buyers came forward. But now a mysterious wealthy buyer put down a $135,000 cash offer. Sensing Matt’s desperation, the banker offers a deal: If Matt can come forward with a dollar more than that — in cash — in 24 hours, he’ll keep the church.
That doesn’t seem likely, so Matt pulls the ultimate jerk move and goes to his sister’s house to beg for money. That’s because his sister is Nora Durst (the tragic story who lost her husband and two young children) and she got a big payout from the Sudden Departure fund — lots of it, since she lost three family members. Nora is rightly horrified, but Matt begs her to consider and says it’s just a loan. “Things are changing,” he pleads. “People are ready to come back.”
He then tries a family angle: “This is our family church,” he points out. No, Nora says, it was their parents’ church, and they died in a fire a long time ago. (Note: Whenever a character perishes in a fire, it’s usually part of a longer suspicious story.) Finally, Nora snaps: Sure, he can have the money. Just stop publishing his terrible newsletter.
That stops Matt in his tracks. He starts on his usual rant about how people need to know the truth. Nora interrupts that she knows the newsletter is all about “the accident” and something about a judge — no word on what that exposition means. “I love you, Matt,” she tells her brother. “But what you’re doing with your paper, the church … it’s not working anymore. It’s not making things better.”
Matt decides to respond to her rejection with the lowest blow of all: He tells her that her husband, Doug, was having an affair before he disappeared. With the kids’ preschool teacher. They had sex at her apartment and at the plaza hotel in the city. “He was smart enough to use cash, but I have the receipts from the ATM in the lobby,” Matt explains. Nora sits there, stunned. “It’s the one story I will never publish,” Matt promises. If he’s trying to convince her he’s a really good person, that was a horrible way to prove it: Shockingly, the strategy backfires. Nora just starts laughing hysterically, the kind of laughter right before you start crying.
And apparently because we need to feel sympathy for every character, we get a glimpse of Matt’s home life. We’ve heard of his wife, Mary, but now we see her for the first time: She’s bed-ridden and has clearly suffered some sort of injury, as she’s immobile. Matt’s so broke that his housekeeper/Mary’s caretaker threatens to quit because she hasn’t been paid in weeks. Matt gives her all the cash out of his wallet and then tenderly picks up Mary (played by Janel Moloney, known for her role as Donna from “The West Wing,” so that’s jarring) and tenderly gives her a bath. Then he lies in bed and starts weeping. So, he officially has the most depressing life ever.
All of a sudden, lying in bed, Matt has a sudden brainstorm about how to fix everything. He calls his wife’s caretaker and begs her to come back, promising that when he returns from a mysterious journey, he’ll pay her everything he owes. He then heads over to Kevin Garvey’s house, where he promptly runs into Laurie, Guilty Remnant member extraordinaire, sitting solemnly outside. Hmmm — maybe she misses her old life more than she lets on? Since she can’t speak, she holds up a note that says: “Please don’t tell him I was here.” Matt says he’ll keep quiet if she will (wink wink) and promptly goes into the garage.
He digs up an old peanut butter jar that happens to have a huge wad of cash inside. It’s wrapped in a newsletter with the headline “THIS JUDGE TOOK BRIBES,” about the “dishonorable Roy Hader.” Is that the judge Nora alluded to earlier? Probably, but no time to analyze. The cash also comes with a note attached that reads, “Rev. — You deserve this. — KG.” So apparently Kevin Garvey knew that his dad kept massive amounts of cash buried in the ground and that Matt would come looking for it. Okay.
Where does Matt go? Ironically, predictably, the casino where he was earlier. He exchanges the cash for chips ($20,000 worth) and heads over to the roulette table where the pigeons were sitting earlier. Apparently they were lucky pigeons, because after a very dramatic roulette sequence (where he chooses red every time), Matt cruises out of the casino with $160,000. The church is saved AND he gets to keep an extra $25,000. Minus whatever he owes that long-suffering housekeeper. And after he pays back the peanut butter jar.
Unfortunately, Matt’s good fortune at the casino table attracted some creeps who try to steal his money. Matt, on a roll and high on adrenaline, bashes the guy’s head in. The envelope money is stained with blood but Matt doesn’t care. It’s a Monday night, baby, and he’s alive! Until he gets out of his car to help a Guilty Remnant member hit in the head by a rock, and then a car drives by and a guy smashes Matt in the head with a rock as well.
Matt begins to hallucinate in his injured state, and we see him imagine his church is full of people. There’s also a flashback to him and Nora as children, watching their parents’ church burn down. Then we get the backstory on his wife: Remember the car that crashed in the very first scene of the pilot on Oct. 14, when a driver disappeared? The car collided with Matt and Mary’s car, and Mary suffered a brutal injury.
It’s all very devastating and just as Matt hallucinates that his hands are fire, he wakes up in a hospital bed. His phone is dead but all he knows is that it’s 4:30 p.m. and he has to get to the bank by 5 p.m. to deliver the money to keep the church. He manages to get there in time (and somehow, the envelope of cash is still sitting in his car) but there’s bad news. He was unconscious for days — he went to the bank on Monday, and it’s now Thursday. The deadline passed, and the mysterious buyer has possession of the church.
Dejected — but still carrying a huge wad of cash in a bloody envelope — Matt walks over to the church. Who’s the new owner? Why, none other than the Guilty Remnant. The cult members are busy dismantling the sign and painting the church the same white shade as all their outfits. Gauntlet, thrown down. It’s Matt versus the Guilty Remnant, and if the ominous music playing is any indication, it’s not going to end well at all.