After last week’s superb and surreal episode of The Leftovers, I was eager to see where this show would go next. The focus on just one character, the strange dips in and out of reality, the smartly dissected Christian themes were all right up my alley. This week’s “B.J. and the A.C.” wasn’t nearly as thrilling or interesting (it was a little too on-the-nose at times) but it was broken up by a handful of truly great — and chilling — scenes.
Truth be told, I was definitely apprehensive about “B.J. and the A.C.,” not just because it had a super high standard to live up to after “Two Boats and a Helicopter” but also because it was an episode that wasn’t sent out to critics with the first handful of screeners. We got episodes one, two, three, and five — I only watched the first three which meant I was totally, 100% enamored with the show — and this exclusion of Episode 4 made me worry that it would be terrible. It wasn’t, not at all, but it is the worst of the short season so far.
Whereas the religious themes in “Two Boats and a Helicopter” (and the show as a whole) have been explored in a curiously cautious way, one that was almost hesitant, here it is totally in your face — complete with Kevin literally tossing the Baby Jesus (B.J.) out of the car window. It was the Jesus that Jill stole from the Nativity Scene (I appreciated this, as someone who used to jokingly steal the Jesus from my parents’ front yard Nativity scene every year, though my intentions were far less sinister) but got a case of cold feet when it came time to give him a viking funeral. Instead, the cute-and-dopey twins return it (and they hilariously lack stealth in their getaway) and Kevin tries to return it to the scene but the Reverend has already replaced it. So he throws it out the window. OK.
The heavy-handed religious stuff runs throughout Tommy and Christine’s story, too. She’s pregnant with Holy Wayne’s sacred child — think the Virgin Mary but without the actual virgin party because, as the show has established, Wayne is nothing more than a sick pervert — and I’m pretty sure the A.C. in the title must refer to the Antichrist, right? And therefore her baby? This show! She’s now traveling with Tom who has promised to keep her safe even though the baby isn’t his (think Joseph but a lot more screwed up). He keeps his word as she is attacked by a half-naked sort of-prophet but then bails in the hospital when the nurses obviously think he’s the one who caused the bruises on her stomach. He has a crisis of faith … but his faith in Wayne is restored with a spam telephone call. Tom is so desperately looking for something that he will take anything as a sign.
What I did really love about this episode were all of the sly reveals and the necessary push toward moving this overall plot forward. There is Christine’s pregnancy, and I’m sure you probably saw that coming even if you hadn’t read the book. There is an odd, powerful showdown with Kevin and Laurie. She shows up (with Meg, of course) to his door around Christmas and, through Meg, reads him a letter asking for a divorce. During their one-sided screaming match, we learn that Tom isn’t Kevin’s biological son. The devastating desperation in both Laurie and Kevin is hard to take; the two of them in the same room is almost impossible to watch. To cap it off, Jill walks in and silently hands her mother a Christmas gift before retreating to her bedroom. The gift? A lighter, with “Don’t forget me” etched into it. She tosses it down a grate.
Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the hallway scene with Nora and Kevin, one that’s dripping in a mixture of sadness and sexual tension. That’s going to end well.
The Guilty Remnant are in full force in “B.J. and the A.C.” as they first creepily stand on the perimeters of the school during an adult dance. Kevin warned them not to come, stating “I’m not going to protect you.” They come anyway but technically aren’t on school property so they aren’t trespassing. But Kevin, who is always on the edge of breaking and who has been transformed into a darker and more complex character from the book, goes after them anyway, saying it’s his word against theirs (which is maybe the funniest line he’s delivered so far). The G.R. are hauled to jail but Patti’s wry smile suggests it’s not over that night.
The Leftovers, at first, felt like a quiet and subtle show (even during last week’s crazy hour!) but a lot of scenes in “B.J.” were a little trying. The bodies on the road wrapped in white, the Baby Jesus flying out the window, Laurie doubling back to get the lighter but her fingers being just out of reach, the layers behind Tom gravelly saying “I was abandoned by my father,” and so on. But, as I said, it wasn’t a bad episode. And it did have one of my favorite scenes so far: Guilty Remnant snuck into people’s homes and took away their family photos, so when they woke up the next morning every frame would be empty. It’s so creepily unsettling, which is what The Leftovers does best.