The Leftovers, Season 2, Episode 5, “No Room at the Inn”
Written by Damon Lindelof and Jacqueline Hoyt
Directed by Nicole Kassell
Airs Sundays at 9pm (ET) on HBO
Perhaps I jumped the gun on spending a previous review talking about how The Leftovers is enamored with the concept of tests, and with emulating the quizzical nature of religious texts, because “No Room at the Inn” takes that idea several steps further. It’s the second time (after first-season breakthrough “Two Boats and a Helicopter”) that the series has honed in on Christopher Eccleston’s perennially put-upon Episcopalian preacher Matt Jamison for an entire hour, and it’s also the first time that it feels a bit like the series repeating itself. “No Room” is structurally and tonally similar to its predecessor, and despite some strong moments and some truly gut-churning moments of emotional torment, it just can’t match “Two Boats” for impact. Just as Matt repeats every step of his first day in Miracle in an attempt to get Mary to wake up again, The Leftovers mimics the arc of that episode almost beat-for-beat, but the effort feels a bit forced.
It’s certainly not for lack of trying. “No Room” piles heartbreak after heartbreak on poor Matt, and piles on an unusually blatant set of references, parallels, and signifiers along the way to make sure that we understand that Matt and Mary are living through a particularly cruel parable. Hell, Matt even admits midway through the episode that his favorite book of the Bible is Job’s. (If you are unfamiliar with the trials of Job and thus are unaware of how that’s an incredibly on-the-nose choice, Wikipedia is your friend.) Still, a few sequences land as intended, particularly the cold open, in which we see Matt go through his daily routine with Mary three times, before he turns to face himself in his night-vision surveillance monitor. The Leftovers is unusually sensitive to color composition as it affects emotional tenor, and “No Room” makes fine use of that visual sophistication throughout. A late scene in which Matt and Mary are homeward bound in the trunk of Nora’s car, bathed in a red glow that could just as easily signal either the comfort of the womb or the light of an alarm, is a particularly canny choice.
Less effective: the encampment. The Leftovers normally excels at worldbuilding and at plausibly justifying what would normally qualify as outlandish or needlessly eccentric, but the sheer wackiness on display as Matt and Mary survey the camp looking for help is, well, a bit much. It’s a problem if we’re meant to feel as though Matt is treading on dangerous ground, but we’re instead reminded of what it might be like to camp out at the Gathering of the Juggalos. It’s also unfortunate that, for all of Matt’s bloody-minded effort to get back into Miracle with Mary in tow, he’d have been better off just waiting for Nora to swing by and save him just as any attentive viewer of The Leftovers knew damned well she would. That knowledge means that the episode can’t ever manage the manic sense of freefall that “Two Boats” conjured; we never feel as though Matt’s fate is entirely in his own hands.
Season two seems to be sticking to a pattern: on the odd-numbered episodes, it focuses in on a particular character or set of characters, then goes broader on the season arc in the even-numbered episodes. (Now that I’ve stated that, watch the series go ahead and break protocol just to prove me foolish for looking for method in its madness). That’s likely due to the incredible viewer response to last season’s standalones, and it’s encouraging to see that Lindelof and Perotta are trying to emphasize what works about The Leftovers. The formal and narrative gambles they’ve taken this season have mostly paid off, but “No Room” stumbles a bit by taking the notion of “go with what we know works” a little too far. We’ve already seen Matt get brought to his knees and have to pick himself up again amidst the violent and cruel whims of fate, searching for signs from a potentially indifferent God. While the denouement here is different—Matt doesn’t get to have a vendetta this time, just a new burden to give himself, in the form of the encampment’s stockade—the blunt-force, operatic sense of misery feels like something newly discouraging: The Leftovers on autopilot.
- While I took issue with the encampment’s excessive weirdness, I give the series credit for once again scoring a victory for peen on the screen in ’15; this time, with celebrity dick! Bless you, Eccleston.
- The song Matt plays for Mary every morning is “Let Your Love Flow” by the Bellamy Brothers, which may or may not be a cruel/funny play on Mary’s suspicious pregnancy.
- “It was anonymous.” Seriously, Nora Durst is objectively the best sister ever.
- Callbacks: The guy with the goat is seen heading off somewhere (presumably the diner), and one camper is spotted next to the creepy Real Doll-esque replica of his departed beloved, as seen last season.