Matt Jamison (Christopher Eccleston) gets his close-up in another powerful episode of The Leftovers.
Let’s bitch it out…
For a lot of people, the first season of The Leftovers didn’t really gel until the third episode when Matt Jamison took over the narrative in ‘Two Boats and a Helicopter’. The one person focus (also on display in 1×06 ‘Guest’) ended up being so successful that this second season has exclusively featured this approach, to the betterment of the series I would argue.
With ‘No Room At The Inn’, we return to Matt’s story, which can been percolating in the background for the better part of the season. We know that Matt and Mary (Janel Moloney) moved to Jarden / Miracle first, that Matt has been involved in the local church (but discouraged from commenting on the liminal boundary between the spiritual and the mystical) and, most significantly, that Mary came out of her stasis on their first night in town. That final element becomes significant over the course of the episode when it is revealed that Mary is pregnant – a fact that ends up being the root of both Matt’s downfall and salvation.
Much like Matt’s first episode, ‘No Room At The Inn’ is structured like a miniature odyssey, a religious trek that tests his faith in both himself and humanity by throwing obstacles in his path. There’s some fairly obvious foreshadowing about their bumpy homecoming as they wait to leave Miracle – there’s familiar imagery of security on high alert for runners who are eager to break into the park. This reminds us not only about the very strict conditions imposed on visitors entering Miracle (glimpsed earlier in episode 2×02) and reiterates that there is a large contingent of individuals camped just outside of town.
After discovering the shocking news that Mary is pregnant, things become a little more challenging. It’s clear that the doctors don’t believe Matt about Mary’s miraculous one-night return to consciousness, which anticipates John’s (Kevin Carroll) reaction later. The possibility of a child is a driving force for Matt throughout the rest of the episode: he now associates Miracle not only with Mary’s brief return, but also with the possibility of a family. The opening montage of his daily routine – so exhausting and isolated – reinforces how lonely Matt’s life is; despite the continued affection he feels for his wife, it’s easy to understand why he’s so on edge.
The stakes are increased dramatically when Matt and Mary lose their wristbands to vandals on the highway back to Miracle. The encounter is the most predictable moment of the episode, but it is believable considering Matt’s faith in humanity. He has always been a kind man, generous to a fault and naïve in his belief that the world won’t take advantage of him. Thanks to ‘A Matter Of Geography’ we know how difficult it will be to get near the gates without wristbands and the urgency is increased when Matt hallucinates (?) Mary informing him that she will lose the baby unless they return promptly.*
*There’s no doubt in my mind that Matt hears Mary as a result of his head injury and the episode is carefully constructed in such a way that it is never confirmed that Mary ever woke up (there are no flashbacks to that night). If we don’t want to believe Matt is a rapist, it is solely because we want to trust his word.
The journey to re-enter Jarden is the other major misstep in the episode. I don’t believe for a moment that the guard at the gate would allow him re-entry, despite the presence of a woman in a vegetative state and Matt’s ability to list a variety of Miracle-specific facts. We later hear a woman in tent city ask if Mary is faking her disability, which cues us that people have tried numerous different (horrible) techniques to try and gain entry. Even Matt’s familiarity with the town is explainable: considering the power of the Internet (Google street view, TripAdvisor reviews), I’m sure many individuals could convincingly display an encyclopedic knowledge of Miracle’s layout and its residents.
Things continue to go wrong once Matt reaches the visitor centre. It is clear from the offset that he’ll go off on the mouthy groom waiting in line behind him, and we know from Kevin (Justin Theroux) and Nora’s (Carrie Coon) experience that the visitor centre is not staffed by particularly kind or helpful people. When things inevitably go south, violence erupts and it seems like Matt’s faith in the system will end in failure…until John arrives to offer salvation. This disaster/rescue scenario is a repeated narrative trope so it’s no surprise when good things are preceded by bad things and vice versa.
With that said, Matt’s refusal to bow to John’s anti-mystical stance is frustrating. We know that Matt won’t bow down, even when compromise would bring him everything that he desires. And we know that John is so stubborn that Matt’s refusal to do so will cost the man of faith. It’s inevitable and yet oh so frustrating to see these two go to war over this difference of opinion.
The remaining scenes in the tent camp outside the city limits are a painful collage of unpleasant experiences. We’ve known that Miracle attracts a wide berth of crazies, so it’s hardly surprising to see the hippies, the masochists and the religious nutjobs hanging around. Matt’s first attempt with the questionable extortionist – predictably – results in disaster and near death and requires one of the more bizarre moments of the episode when Matt is forced to baptize a large man who demands to be called Bryan with a large wooden oar. Ultimately all of these efforts end in failure and it is only thanks to family (Nora’s appearance) and divine intervention (a car crash that kills the vandal from the highlight) that they are able to sneak Mary back into Miracle. The episode ends on an uncertain note as Mary becomes a defacto member of Kevin and Nora’s clan while Matt is exiled to the stocks to pay his penance in tent city.
- While I wouldn’t describe Mary as a burden, it seems inevitable that the presence and responsibility will weigh heavily on Kevin, who we already know is subconsciously struggling against his family commitments.
- Finally, I’m obviously not a religion major so outside of the obvious elements (such as the title / Mary’s new pregnancy), I probably missed quite a few relevant aspects of the episode. Have at it in the comments if you see something I missed.
Your turn: what did you think of this Matt-centric episode? Did you spot any religious parables that we missed? Do you think Matt imagined Mary’s awakening(s)? What are your impressions of tent city? Should Matt have just agreed to John’s demands? Sound off below.
The Leftovers airs Sundays at 9pm EST on HBO