Ben King/HBO

Matt comes face to face with God.

May 14, 2017 at 10:01 PM EDT

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.

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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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