‘The Leftovers’ Season 1 Episode 3 Recap: “Two Boats and a Helicopter”

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In The Leftovers, it’s those who have departed who have it easy. People have vanished from the world with no explanation but it’s those left behind who are the ones in a constant struggle. They are the ones trying to make sense of this devastating phenomenon, not just where their loved ones went but why they weren’t among those who departed. “Two Boats and a Helicopter” is a spectacularly disorientating episode (and occasionally reminiscent of Lindelof’s Lost) and it’s also the best of the season so far.

Matt Jamison (the great Christopher Eccleston) is wrestling with the spiritual questions related to the Sudden Departure. Matt is less concerned about where the missing are and more concerned about why they are missing. The Sudden Departure has so many similarities to the Rapture that they are impossible to ignore. Matt Jamison knows that this can’t be the rapture, or anything religious, because why would be left behind? Imagine if, as many people believe, the Rapture would take those who are good and pure up to heaven while the rest continue to wander on earth, forgotten but punished for their sins. The Reverend Matt Jamison would surely be among those who was raptured, wouldn’t he? (Even though, we learn as the episode goes on, that Matt isn’t a good person.) That’s what Matt thinks and why he’s so obsessed with revealing the “truth” that not all those who were raptured were good people.

So Matt has a newsletter, a filthy gossip rag, that exposes this truth about the departed. He finds information on them and shells it out to the masses: the hero that you’re worshipping is no hero, but a thief or a cheater or even a murderer. “If we can no longer separate the innocent from the guilty, everything that happened to us, all of our suffering, is meaningless,” Matt tells a casino manager while trying to pry out information about a departed man. Matt finds this Sudden Departure completely frustrating and unfair; why must he suffer on earth when a violent criminal was freed from his jail cell? Matt also views the Sudden Departure as a test to those who are still here, but it’s a test that he’s not passing.

To make matters worse, Matt is about to lose his church unless he cam up with the $135,000 to save it. He asks Nora — she has money from her three departure benefits packages — but she refuses and tries to convince him to stop the newspaper. Instead, Matt lashes out and reveals to Nora that her husband — her dear, departed husband that she is unable to get over — was actually having an affair with a preschool teacher. In a slimy act of false niceness, Matt tells Nora that it’s the one bit of gossip that he will never publish.

Out of desperation to save the church, Matt goes back to the casino but this time to gamble. He actually wins enough money to save the church. It looks like his victory might be shortlived when someone tries to rob him in the parking lot but a furious Matt beats him and drives away along with a perfect “Love Will Keep Us Together” music cue). As he nears home, he spots a car speeding down the street and a guy leans out the window and chucks a rock at a member of the Guilty Remnant. Matt stops to help the injured man but while he’s on the phone with an ambulance, the car doubles back and clocks Matt with a rock, too. He’s knocked unconscious.

This is when things get really fuzzy. Matt wakes up but everything is warped and accompanied by a high-pitched buzzing. He jumps in and out of settings, situations, and memories. He’s at mass, he’s in a doctor’s office, he’s standing distraught on the street as his wife’s bleeding head is resting on the steering wheel of her car. There are visions of fire, visions of sex, and visions of total helplessness. It’s his subconscious fucking with him, reminding him of his childhood, his misdeeds, and yes, his suffering. What the hell is happening here and what does it mean? Then Matt wakes up, for real this time, in the hospital.

Immediately, Matt races to pay for the church but when he arrives, he finds out that he’s too late. He was in the hospital for three days. The Guilty Remnant are now in possession of the church, creepily smoking those cigarettes while painting the building white. Matt has lost so much in the years since the Sudden Departure including his loved ones, his church members, and even his mind. All he had left was his church and now that’s gone, too.