The Leftovers, Season 1, Episode 3, “Two Planes and a Helicopter”
Written by Damon Lindelof & Jacqueline Hoyt
Directed by Keith Gordon
Airs Sundays at 10pm EST on HBO
What is The Leftovers? A mystery wrapped in an enigma, sure, but what else is on the show’s mind, and most importantly, what does it have to offer as a new series? Now that we have three episodes, we should begin to suss out the themes and make a guess of whether we as an audience want to stick with it, if it’s a show that speaks to us, or is making a worthy statement. What’s odd, though, is that there are too many different shows to work through here to figure out if that’s coming. Further, usually if this happens in a show, it happens with different story lines and characters, but in Mapleton that’s not even the case. It is more like an episode-to-episode shoot of the dice, and not nearly as foregone a conclusion as Matt’s roulette game in this boring and deeply flawed episode.
Predictability is a weird thing. Some have critiqued Game of Thrones, HBO’s treasure, as being predictably unpredictable with its multiple big deaths and bleak destruction of everything we usually root for, but at least with that there is a foundation of surprise. The Leftovers is, unfortunately, weirdly, shaping up to be the exact inverse of that issue: unpredictably predictable. It seems that no matter how many ways a show about a maybe-Rapture could go, it chooses to shockingly infuse it with mundane characters and plots that actually take effort to plug into a fascinating premise.
How does a preacher who needs to come up with the money to keep his church in 24 hours plot fit at all with anything we have seen or been made to care about so far? Are we supposed to understand how this springboards off of Kevin’s journey, or Meg’s? Does Matt (Christopher Eccleston) feel grief and loss like Meg post-Departure for us to know this is a series of characters who are now “left over”? Is he even another side of anybody’s coin? Or is he just off in a movie of his own, three seasons too soon to be enjoyable?
Simply put, someone for some reason gave this episode the dirty job of setting up a cavalcade of character and plot work and it buckled under the weight. Matt is Nora’s brother. Matt had cancer as a child maybe because he prayed for attention. Matt’s parents died in a fire. Matt has a wife who is a vegetable. Matt wants to prove the Departure wasn’t the Rapture. For some reason, this is depicted as a novel concept, when he can’t hardly be the only one. And by the way, who is Matt? Oh, we’ve seen him a couple of times.
But back to him proving the Departure wasn’t the Rapture. I could have sworn that was mostly already the consensus, and people didn’t need convincing. This show is very confused-in-the-bad-way about how it’s treating this incident, and people’s reactions to religion after the fact. The churches would be filled, not failing if people thought it was the Rapture. And if they don’t think it’s the Rapture, and are just branding the Departure as a 9/11-esque tragedy like we saw on Heroes’ Day and in the street signs of people’s names we saw being torn down in this episode, why is Matt such a believer in his mission? And does his wife play any part in this, or is she just kind of there?
Questions aside, even if we accept this story as it is, the episode also falters in its execution on it way to telling it. We can’t focus on yet another Nora story if last episode’s issue of her carrying a gun and spilling over coffee cups on purpose aren’t at least hinted at again, from the only person left who knows her the most. She and Matt being siblings and the revelations therein also ring hollow if they share exactly one scene together, and not even two, spaced out. There’s no way to be invested in Matt’s game of roulette when it’s too cryptic where the initial $20,000 bet comes from (yes, it’s from Kevin’s father, but that means…?), or if it’s of real consequence for him to lose it. And finally, there’s absolutely no delight to be had in the Guilty Remnant being the ones to buy the church, when it’s revealed to us in Matt’s dream three minutes before the big moment with the big music.
All in all, The Leftovers is pretty much a mess right now, that feels more like a mishmash of a novel being extremely stretched out, and unused ideas from the Lost writers room. The identity crisis I was afraid the show would have is in full swing, and on top of all that, we have more mysteries in the way of magical gambling birds and buried treasure. There is a chance the show can embrace its craziness, and take the route of another HBO show, True Blood, which also started years after a global change, and it can just pile on the mysteries and polar bears and ignore the real-world implications of its event until its convenient or when there’s time between the sex scenes—but until that tipping point occurs—church is a dirty word.