Matt comes face to face with God.
Credit: Ben King/HBO

How is your French?

Before we can get to Matt Jamison’s audience with God on the Carnival Caligula cruise, I know you’re probably wondering about the French voice-over that replaced a song during the episode’s opening credits. Yes, the whispered prayer was undoubtedly the handiwork of Flexible Naked French Sailor before he stripped down and sprung into slow-motion action.

“I am the only hope

The last defense

of a species on the brink of extinction

The warlocks warned us

These sage seers of the truth

They said that this creature would come

Seven years after the first were taken

Seven years after the Departure

But we were blind, God.

Blind to what we didn’t want to see

Now, we teeter on the precipice of extinction

Once this monster is born, we are finished

Because this monster will put an end to man

With its seven heads, and seven mouths of flame

We only have one hope…

“The egg.

From the warlock maps, I have found it

Hidden in his nest, a volcano in the sea

Thank you God, for technology

In our pride, we made the weapon to end all weapons

The nuclear bomb.

Now this terrible power may be our salvation

If the explosion can break the brittle shell

And melt the demon inside

God, let this missile fly straight and true

Let it find the nest in the volcano

And let the egg there be unhatched

So that this unborn beast may be destroyed

Before it wakes and rises to destroy the world.”

I’ve loved how The Leftovers has sprinkled in Biblical metaphors and parallels, especially the apocalyptic Book of Revelation, but I honestly never considered that the show might drift into Godzilla territory. Flexible Naked Sailor (named P. Lyon, ha!) ambushes a sub-mate, steals his launch key, and fires a nuke at an unpopulated South Pacific volcanic island while Charles Aznavour sings “Je Ne Peux Pas Rentrer Chez Moi (I Can Not Go Home).” That’s the blast that shut down all flights in Melbourne, stranding Kevin Garvey after his brutal hotel dust-up with Nora Durst. Now, with only four days before the anniversary of the Departure, Matt Jamison mounts a desperate rescue operation to bring his messiah home.

With all flights grounded, Matt’s only course is to persuade Arturo, a loyal congregant whose mother is dying, to fly him to Melbourne. Matt knocks on the front door with a casserole, but he closes the deal with a $20,000 bribe. “God has placed an obstacle in our way, but he wants us to overcome it,” Matt argues. “He wants us to demonstrate our faith.”

Arturo agrees to the rescue mission, but at the airport, Matt is chagrined to learn that the Three Wise Men — he, John Murphy, and Michael Murphy — won’t be the plane’s only passengers. Laurie is adamant that she join them, since she’s the last person to speak with Kevin and suspects that the Wise Men’s decision to tell Kevin about his gospel was what sent him spiraling Down Under in the first place. Matt can barely hide his disdain for Laurie, who to him will never wipe her hands clean of being part of the Guilty Remnant. “Did you bring your whistle, Laurie?” he needles her on the runway. “Because it seems like you have to blow off a little steam.”

Laurie returns his contempt, and mocks the idea that her ex-husband is some messiah. “He used to look through all our cupboards before he found the wine glasses, he has a tattoo that’s misspelled, and he s—s four times a day,” she says once they’re airborne. “So I refuse, Matt, to believe that he’s the second coming of Christ!”

Blasphemy! The plane is rocked by turbulence. Matt grins nervously, with a hint of satisfaction: See! Later during the flight, while the others sleep, Matt reads the Book of Daniel, specifically the passages where Daniel was spared from the lions because of his faith in God. But Daniel is also the most apocalyptic book of the Old Testament, with images of four monstrous beasts emerging from the sea to consume the world.

Matt’s reading is interrupted by drips of blood on his Bible. His nose is bleeding, and though high altitude occasionally has that effect on fliers, it wouldn’t be The Leftovers for a bloody nose to be just a random travel symptom — especially after Matt fibs to Michael about the allergy pills he quickly swallows.

Matt’s plan to sneak in to Australia as a non-profit mission bearing supplies is rejected, and Arturo veers the plane to Tasmania, an island south of mainland Australia. Their only way to Melbourne now: an 11-hour ferry ride, if they can persuade the hedonistic cult that has privately booked the boat to let them aboard. The revelers in line look like they’re on their way to Mardi Gras, and not far away a caged lion is pushed aboard. When Matt gets to the front of the queue, the woman with the clipboard and a lion headdress immediately recognizes he doesn’t belong. “I’m 91 and I’m having a son,” she says, expecting a response from Matt that will indicate he’s part of their pride. It’s a secret code, one that Matt clearly doesn’t know. “I’m appealing to your sense of charity to let us onboard,” Matt says, which is a tactic he’s used before. Recall “No Room at the Inn,” when Matt approached Sandy in Miracle’s tent city, asking for money to get Mary back inside the city limits. In that case, he had to beat her son over the back with an oar. This time around, the price will be higher, beginning with the telling of a truly filthy joke. Matt rises to the occasion with a doozy about pimples and priests, and the lioness lets them aboard. There’s going to be a lot of debased and sinful sex on this cruise, she says, and the only rule is that “when midnight comes, let no man mention his name lest that man become him.” Whose name? Frasier the lion.

The legend of Frasier is true, apparently. That’s the brilliant Sarah Vaughan singing his praises as the Sensuous Lion, an ancient cat who was purchased from a Mexican circus in 1970 and expected to spend his final days wheezing around a California zoo, only to become an unlikely stud for a previously choosy harem of lionesses. They even made a film about him in 1973.

Once aboard, the four Texans try to ignore the ample flesh around them and focus on the mission ahead. Laurie insists that she take the lead once they confront Kevin, who she fears is suffering another mental breakdown. Even John is wavering, not in the belief that Kevin might be chosen in some way, but that the chances of getting him back to Miracle in time are slipping away. “Whatever’s going to happen, it’s going to happen here,” John says. Matt refuses to accept that, because Miracle, to him, is where God woke Mary and gave them Noah. It has to be in Miracle. John’s experiences in Miracle, however, have been heartbreaking: losing Evie and Erika. Laurie and John have found each other, and he’s a changed man, but he’s still the man who aggressively stomped on prophets and charlatans. It’s not hard for him to think of Miracle as just Jarden, a place with no godly connection. “It’s got nothing to do with where we live,” he says calmly. “We just got to let go and see what happens.”

Matt sees John’s reservations as just another roadblock from God, just like Mary leaving him was a test to see if he’d abandon his mission and follow her back to New York. As Matt gets himself worked up, his nose starts to gush again, and he excuses himself to clean up. One look at him at the bathroom sink, and one of the boat’s employees presumes that Matt got belted in the face by God. God? Red hat and a beard? Surly friend of the captain who likes the solitude of the top deck? “I’ve seen God smite many a man on this boat,” says the employee.

So, who is God? We’ve met him before. At least twice, actually. His name is David Burton, and before he is introduced as a former Olympic decathlete and sports announcer, we knew him as the Pillar Man’s pen pal. Or at least, Pillar Man gave Michael a letter addressed to Burton in the season 2 premiere, “Axis Mundi.” Then, in episode 3 of last season, “Off Ramp,” he was name-checked as the dead man who was resurrected in a cave near Perth. Once we see his face on the boat, viewers will remember him from “International Assassin”: he was the man on the bridge who assaulted and then counseled Kevin on his way to push Young Patti down the well. Then, in the season finale, he told dead-Kevin the only way to live again was to sing karaoke.

But is he really God? Well, he reads Louis L’Amour dime-store Westerns and has a calling card that affirms his almighty status and addresses some common FAQ. (“I asked Abraham to kill Isaac just to see if he’d do it. Yes, evolution is real but it doesn’t work how you think it does. I won the bronze medal for decathlon and the one you can’t remember is the hammer throw.”)

Matt is outraged by Burton’s audacity and arrogance — and that’s before he witnesses Burton toss a man into the seas from the top deck. Matt’s desperate pleas for help are ignored by the naked carousers, and he only draws anyone’s attention when he leaps overboard himself to try to rescue the other man. The captain doubts Matt’s story, and basically shrugs at Matt’s suggestion that he do anything about a passenger who may or may not be missing. So Matt takes matters into his own hands and walks into the lion’s den of flesh to confront the woman in charge. He has to walk through hell to find her, a modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah. Matt asks his host about a manifest list, but she’s otherwise occupied. “You don’t care that somebody’s been killed?” he barks at her. “No, not really,” she says, refocusing her attention on her partner. It’s a cruise of the damned. Matt yells, “All you care about is f—ing each other and Frasier!”

He spoke his name! The host blows her horn and others nearby point at Matt. They surround him, subduing him with a choker, and prepare him for a carnal ceremony with a fluffer and an interactive idol of a lioness in heat. Matt fights back so hard that the group eventually loses their interest in the fun, and when Matt sees Burton walking outside, he shakes himself free and sets out after him. When he catches up to Burton, Matt’s greeted with a punch in the gut that sends him to the deck. A sympathetic woman checks on Matt, to make sure he’s okay, and urges him to stay on the ferry when it docks in Melbourne: a plan is afoot.

Michael knows that Matt is sick. It’s not just the nosebleeds. Michael has always been intuitive about death and the beyond, and he senses that his mentor is dying. He urges Matt to bury the hatchet with Laurie, who not only has helped his father find peace after Evie but might be as much a part of Kevin’s last chapter as the three men responsible for the gospel. Before Burton tossed the man overboard, Laurie accidentally let slip to Matt that Kevin had reported visions of Evie in Melbourne. Matt had agreed not to tell John, but now, at his wits’ end, with vengeance against Burton on his mind, he blurts to John about Evie in the hopes of driving a wedge between John and his wife. John is shaken, but he doesn’t get angry. If there’s going to be any reaping on the ship, it will be Matt’s job alone.

Matt borrows a wheelchair from the infirmary and grabs a fire axe off the wall. With Benzion Miller’s “Avinu Malkeinu” setting the mood, Matt slugs Burton with the handle of the axe, straps him into the wheelchair, and wheels him next to the caged lion. When Burton awakes, Matt demands a confession, but what unfolds instead is a complete reversal in control. If Burton is a fraud, as Matt believes, he’s the most disciplined, savvy, and committed con artist in human history. Burton’s God is neither Old Testament or New Testament: He’s the artist who lost interest in his subject but occasionally adds a another brush stroke just for kicks. Burton is so convincing that Matt goes from mocking him to demanding explanations about the world. There has to be a reason for everything, for the Departure, for his suffering, for his childhood leukemia that has returned and threatens to kill him. Burton parries near every question with a “Why?” but finally lays down the law. “Everything you’ve done, you’ve done because you thought I was watching, because you thought I was judging,” he says. “But I wasn’t. I’m not. You’ve never done anything for me; you did it for yourself.”

Untie me, and I’ll save you, Burton says. Matt does, and Burton makes a fist with his left hand. With his right, he reaches towards Matt’s face, gently. Will he give Matt the fist or the open palm? Instead he snaps his fingers. Ta-da. Did God just save Matt? Or did Burton just trick a fool?

The next morning, the ferry pulls into harbor. For the first time, Matt seems at peace, resigned with whatever comes next. He admits to Laurie that he’s dying, and when the captain informs him that a body was discovered at sea by another fishing boat and that the police would appreciate his help in ID’ing Burton, Matt agrees. The lion cult exits the boat, as does Burton, while Matt and his party share a final moment onboard. Down below, on the dock, the activist woman who warned Matt to stay on the boat frees the lion from its cage, just as Burton makes a run for it from the police. The lion mauls him, and Matt turns to his friends and us and calmly says, “That’s the guy I was telling you about.”

Matt has been tested as much as anyone in The Leftovers. His wife was injured on Oct. 14, and his church was literally stolen from him by the GR. But as he said to Arturo in Texas, “God has placed an obstacle in our way, but he wants us to overcome it. He wants us to demonstrate our faith.” He’s endured all sorts of Job-like misfortune only because he was able to justify his mission with meaning. This was all happening to him for a reason, a reason with profound significance. In a way, he’s almost as guilty as Burton of blasphemy — certainly of arrogance. Matt didn’t anoint himself God, but he’s certainly building a biblical narrative in which he is the essential co-star. Burton basically told him that nothing he’s ever done had any significance. That’s worse than a punch in the nose. That’s a back-breaker. Afterwards, Matt is a changed man. But is he broken? Does Matt conclude that God is dead? Or does he feel vindicated when Burton is attacked by the lion, and double down again on his faith: God is great for punishing the phony. As he said to John on the boat: “Be not deceived… God shall not be mocked.”

The Lord works in mysterious ways, and Matt has come too far to give up now.

Episode Recaps

The Leftovers
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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