Tea & Review: The Leftovers – It’s a Matt, Matt, Matt, Matt World

Included in every season of The Leftovers, nestled within the grand, cosmically surreal narrative of the series proper, are more intimate stories dealing with the minutiae of the central characters’ lives. The most consistent and consistently entertaining of these have been focused on everyone’s favorite religious zealot, Matt Jameson (Christopher Eccleston), with each installment adding more depth to the preacher while testing bringing his faith to the brink of oblivion.

Season One’s “Two Boats and a Helicopter” was structured almost as a dark joke, placing Matt in the midst of a series of misfortunes as he battled the Guilty Remnant and tried to raise funds for his Church, ultimately losing almost everything. But still, his faith remained strong.

Season Two’s “No Room at the Inn” was more harrowing than wry, turning Matt into a sort of martyr figure taking on the burdens of the outcasts living outside Jarden, Texas. And though all signs pointed to him having become dangerously delusional, he was vindicated by the end of the season, his faith never wavering.

And now, with “It’s a Matt, Matt, Matt, Matt World,” his personal arc has finally reached its climax.

The episode melds the smaller scale of its predecessors with the otherworldliness of gems like last season’s “International Assassin,” finding empathy through the metaphysical in a way only the most existential works of art can. In doing so, it distinguishes itself as perhaps the most exciting and emotionally resonant chapter of Matt’s saga, and the only to truly bring his faith into question.

We pick up seemingly where “G’Day Melbourne” left off—an nuclear explosion in the South Pacific has led to the grounding of planes, leaving Kevin and Nora stranded in Australia. Matt, who believes Kevin must return to Jarden before the seventh anniversary of the Sudden Departure, is intent on rescuing his messiah. And he has recruited John (Kevin Carroll) and Michael (Jovan Adepo) to help him out, while Laurie (Amy Brenneman) tags along against his wishes.

A series of setbacks leaves the four of them on a boat populated by an orgiastic lion-worshipping cult heading from Tasmania to Melbourne. And things only get stranger from there.

Funnily enough, God is also on the boat, and He turns out to be a middle-aged Australian Olympic bronze medalist named David Burton (Bill Camp). And he’s also a murderer.

Matt convinced this self-proclaimed deity is an impostor despite having proclaimed his own deity on shakier ground, learns that Burton, much like the younger Garvey, died and came back to life. (And what he doesn’t know, but we do, is that Kevin actually met David in what may or may not have been the afterlife.) After witnessing God throw a passenger overboard, Matt becomes intent on proving him a charlatan.

What follows is both unexpected and inevitable.

Matt ends up knocking Burton out with the butt of an ax and tying to him to a wheelchair placed in front of a cage with a lion in it. He then interrogates Burton, both about the murder he witnessed and his apparent divinity. And it looks like Burton might be willing to talk; he admits to the murder and doesn’t seem to hostile toward his captor.

But then, as should have been expected, the man passing himself off as the lord of all creation manages to talk himself out of a tricky situation. He gets Matt to reveal that his childhood illness has returned and that he’s now dying. And when Matt makes it clear that he believes this plague to be the scourge of God Himself, Burton realizes he isn’t dealing with an ordinary man; he’s dealing with a true believer. And what he reveals to Matt—not some great secret about the universe but an absolutely mundane truth about his own life—cuts him to the core:

“Everything you’ve done, you’ve done because you thought I was watching. Because you thought I was judging. But I wasn’t. I’m not. You’ve never done anything for me. You did it for yourself.”

So Matt lets him go, ostensibly because he promises to cure him of his disease, but more likely because he no longer has any reason to keep him restrained. He no longer has any reason to do much of anything, because the massive weight bearing down on him since his childhood has suddenly been lifted.

Or has it?

The episode ends with David Burton running from the police, who’ve found evidence of his crimes, straight into the arms of a freed lion who proceeds to maul him to death. What are we to make of this, apart from laughing hysterically at the reversal? Has Matt’s faith been rewarded with the evisceration of an arrogant con-artist? Or has his loss of faith been punished with the brutal death of a truly divine man on Earth? Or has his new understanding allowed the world around him to become more logical in turn, doling out fitting consequences where before there was only mockery?

Whatever the case, Matt seems to have become more accepting of what life has to offer…which, given the world he lives in, may not be the most reassuring turn of events.

Additional Notes:

  • John, Laurie, and Michael didn’t have a whole lot to do in the ep apart from play off of Matt, though Laurie and Matt’s back-and-forths were fun.
  • The opening sequence, with the French mariner rather elegantly launching the missile, was a nicely horrifying vignette. The prayer heard over the opening credits apparently clarifies his motivations a bit.
  • The look on Matt’s face after Burton claims Jesus wasn’t God’s son was priceless. As was the closing line of the episode—”That’s the guy I was telling you about”—spoken as said guy is mauled and the lion doing the mauling is shot.

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