You know the parable, the one about the man in the flood who turns down the help of neighbors while the waters rise and clings to the steadfast belief that God will save him? Then he drowns and so afterwards, he asks God, “Why didn’t you save me?” And God responds, “I sent you two boats and a helicopter—what more were you looking for?”
In “Two Boats and a Helicopter,” the first episode of The Leftovers not centered around embattled Chief Kevin Garvey, Rev. Matt Jamison (Christopher Eccleston) is tasked with saving his Episcopalian church, whose flock has scattered after the Oct. 14 “departure” and now is in foreclosure and about to be sold to “some corporate LLC” that probably just wants the land to build apartments. Matt is the metaphorical man on the church’s roof while the floodwaters rise. His current mission is exposing the Departures as sinners, in order to demonstrate that they weren’t chosen because of their heavenly credentials, and thus, those left behind aren’t abandoned or cursed. While others mourn their loss and the town marks the anniversary with a Heroes Parade, Matt peppers the town with “WANTED”-style posters that defame vanished local citizens for abandoning their family, dealing prescription drugs, or taking bribes. “If we can no longer separate the innocent from the guilty, everything that happened to us, all of our suffering, is meaningless,” he says.
Eccleston—best known perhaps for his celebrated work as the ninth Doctor on one season of Doctor Who and fierce warriors in movies like Elizabeth and Thor: The Dark World—is a surprisingly convincing beleaguered Man of God. At least 40 percent of that credit has to go to his ears—seriously, have you ever met a priest or minister who didn’t have supersize lobes. Then, combine his hawkish facial features with true-believer eyes, and he has the perfect demeanor of a man who could easily follow the Voice to some dark places.
It must be difficult for Matt, more so than the other Leftovers, as a man of God who didn’t get the call. After all, if you think you’ve dedicated your life to His word and helping others, and then 120 million people vanish in an instant, you might be crushed to still be here, telling the same tired sermons to empty pews. People are looking for answers and meaning in the wake of this global phenomenon, but they’re not turning to God. And Matt’s crusade to demystify and slander the Departures is hardly Christian is it? In fact, his misguided vigilance and growing desperation have knocked him off the path.
His muckraking project invites violent blowback when a rugged relation to the Departure “drug dealer” interrupts mass and pummels him senseless near the altar and stuffs one of his posters in his bleeding mouth. But there are a few who are amenable to his message: A young father sneaks his newborn son into church one morning for baptism—against his wife’s wishes—and then repays Matt with a tip that one of his co-workers was a degenerate gambler who squandered his children’s college fund. Unbowed by his recent violent encounter, Matt hurries to the Indian casino in Connecticut so he can properly “out” this fiend. While there, in that 24-hour den of quick-money and broken dreams, he observes two birds, gray pigeons, frolicking on the roulette table. It is an odd sight, but especially to Matt, who recently encountered similar birds at his church. Is it a promising sign? Or is it merely symbolic of the two Guilty Remnant witnesses who are also stalking his compound?
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