Van Redin/HBO

Rev. Matt finds an even heavier cross to bear.

November 02, 2015 at 02:58 PM EST

One of the best episodes from the first season of The Leftovers was “Two Boats and a Helicopter,” which delved into Matt’s backstory, the accident that cost him his wife Mary’s health, his futile effort to save his Church from foreclosure, and his brutal encounter with a smug thief who tries to steal his casino winnings. After he takes a rock to the head, he hallucinates making love to his beautiful wife — an experience that quickly turns into a nightmare that ends with him engulfed in flames.

“No Room at the Inn” is Matt’s season 2 showcase, and it digs even deeper into the minister’s strengths and flaws, his better angels and demons. Matt was the man who discovered Miracle for the Mapleton clan. After spending time in Brazil — long enough to make Rio’s Christ the Redeemer statue his computer screensaver — Matt and Mary arrived in Miracle penniless. But on that first night, Mary awoke and the couple celebrated three hours of bliss before falling back asleep in each other’s arms.

In the morning, however, Mary was back to her vegetative state, and Matt has spent every day since trying to replicate the circumstances that produced the miracle. He videotapes her sleeping every night, hoping for signs of consciousness. He plays the same song when she wakes (The Bellamy Brothers’ “Let Your Love Flow”), takes her for a walk to the same grocery story, and keeps to a specific routine. Rewind, do it again. And again. After awhile, “Let Your Love Flow” feels like “I Got You Babe,” and poor Rev. Matt is living the worst version of Groundhog Day a husband can imagine. Finally, one night, he cracks, pleading with his unresponsive wife to look at him: “Was it a test? You can’t give that to me and take it away from me.”

Now, even at this point in the episode, a reasonable viewer has to ask the question: Did Mary really wake up that night? Or did Matt imagine it? Did it seem so real — and did he want it to be real so much — that he’s convinced himself?

Last season, there was one episode where Mary seemed to stir, but it wasn’t even acknowledged by the characters in the scene. In “No Room,” she does have an involuntary hand motion that she repeats, but I’m still waiting for Janel Moloney to snap out of it and become a livelier part of this show. She was so brilliant on The West Wing, and though I don’t want to completely undervalue what she’s doing as Mary, I’m really rooting for Matt not being insane, just for her sake.  

Not getting the miraculous results he wants, Matt makes an appointment for Mary at an Austin hospital in order to see if there’s been any change in her brain activity. But her scan reports something else: she’s pregnant. One of the hospital’s administrators — likely a lawyer — breaks the news to Matt but doesn’t offer his congratulations — even after Matt explains he and Mary had tried unsuccessfully to have a child for 10 years. He just wants Matt to sign documents excusing the hospital for any culpability in hurting the at-risk fetus, and he can’t even disguise his contempt for the rapist husband he suspects is in his office.

So this is Matt driving home, and it’s the casino winnings from “Two Boats and a Helicopter” all over again. He sees a man broken down on the side of the road, with his young son sitting miserably in the backseat. Good Samaritan that he is, he stops and offers his help, and never suspects that the man will bushwhack him with that steel wrench in order to steal their treasured Miracle wristbands. Matt was blinded by his good news, but hadn’t he just witnessed the chaotic hell on earth outside the Miracle gates, where people risked being Tasered to make it into the promised land? What happened to the guy who carried a shovel in his trunk?

Matt’s more than dazed by the braining, and the desperate man doesn’t hesitate to crush Matt’s hand to pry the wristband loose. When Matt comes to, Mary finally speaks: “You have to get us back in. He won’t last out here. I’m going to lose the baby, Matt.”

Once again, real or imagined?

Matt has to wheel Mary all the way back to Miracle, and getting back in is not going to be easy. The hordes of desperate souls camping at the gates, waiting in this tent-city purgatory, are the opening credits from season 1 come to life: wicked people preying on weakness, depravity and debauchery everywhere one turns. Matt knocks on the gate, and appeals to a fellow Christian, who directs him to the Visitors Center for replacement wristbands. But bureaucratic delays and a tuxedo’d douchbag in line result in a scuffle that lands Matt in jail.

“Is she pretending?” another woman in jail asks Matt, with a wink.

Another man tells Matt, “She says, ‘If you do not get her back inside, he will die,’” seemingly confirming what Mary told Matt.

Good news: Kevin has arrived, and even better news, sorta, John is with him. John controls everything, and Matt and Mary are as good as home. But not so fast. John knows that Mary is pregnant, and he gives Matt the full-Isaac treatment. In other words, There is no magic, there are no miracles, and you’re going to admit that to me now and the town later.

Matt initially and rather reluctantly accedes — “She never woke up” — but he can’t help himself: “You were like this before [Evie disappeared]. You’re angry at this place. What happened to you?”

“Know what?” John says, looking Matt over. “I don’t think I’m going to be able to get those wristbands after all.”

NEXT: Matt sticks his neck out 

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A “rapture” drama from Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta, whose book of the same name served as inspiration for the series.
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