The Leftovers Recap: The Book of Matt

Christopher Eccleston as Matt. Photo: Van Redin/HBO
The Leftovers
Episode Title
No Room at the Inn
Editor’s Rating

Those of you who have been with me since the beginning may remember my ridiculous enthusiasm for last season’s Matt Jamison episode. Matt is fiercely single-minded in a way that doesn’t exactly make a person want to invite him in for coffee, but for me, he’s still one of the standout characters on the show. Christopher Eccleston hits Matt’s unique mixture of normal-guy friendliness and rabid fanaticism right on the head, and the result is a portrayal that is sympathetic, frustrating, and occasionally pretty damn scary.

Fangirling aside, one of the reasons I like Matt so much is that in a show full of characters tormented by inner conflicts, Matt is filled with certainty. His life may be a marathon of grimness — surely none of us were shocked to learn that his favorite book of the Bible is Job — but the man has goals. For the most part, those goals are noble; this being The Leftovers, the things he has to do to achieve them generally aren’t. Matt really wants to believe that the world is good, and in Leftovers-land, believing an absurd thing like that takes terrible, terrible effort. He believes so firmly that he’ll find redemption that I always find myself wanting to believe he will, too. Somehow.


Matt and Mary, at home
At first it seems like we’re just watching the heartbreaking tedium of caretaking: emptying catheter bags, preparing feeding-tube formula, applying lip balm — but this isn’t any ordinary tedium. This is Matt re-creating, step by agonizing step, the most important day of his life since the Departure: the day Mary woke up. (The magical thinking is strong with this one.) He plays the same song. He eats the same burrito. He goes to the same places and he does the same things. When the moment he’s waiting for never comes, his movements become slightly more mechanical. The song becomes a little more grating. The microwave burrito looks a little less appetizing. “I can’t understand why you came back and went away again,” he tells her as she stares off into the distance — away from him, always away. “This isn’t fair.” And it sure as hell isn’t.

These scenes made me think of Nora from last season, of the way she kept buying food for her kids long after they were gone. Nora is what Matt would be without his slightly terrifying faith. Underneath, they’re both forged from the same steel. Interestingly, I rarely find Nora’s scenes hard to watch in the same way I do Matt’s. Somehow, I never doubt that Nora is going to get the job done, whatever it is, and all I’m ever certain of in Matt’s story is that he’s going to get the shit kicked out of him.

Matt and Mary, in the hospital
Matt drives Mary past the visitor’s camp (part refugee camp, part Burning Man, and part postapocalyptic wasteland) to the hospital in Austin for a brain scan. He tells Kevin and John that this is routine, but it seems like he’s looking for the answer his magical thinking failed to give him. We never learn what the brain scan showed, but we do learn that Mary is pregnant. Turns out that they did more than talk during those hours when she was awake, and good for them, I say.

But given that the rest of the world thinks Mary has been catatonic for three years, this isn’t good for Matt at all, and he doesn’t seem to realize it. When the hospital non-doctor (lawyer? administrator?) strongly implies that Matt raped Mary, Matt brushes it off. His beloved Mary is finally pregnant. As for the rest — he’s a good person, and good people don’t do things like that, and eventually everyone else will realize it because they’re good people, too.

Matt in the camp, part one
Which is why he stops to help the stranded motorist outside Miracle, despite the fact that I was yelling at him through my laptop screen not to do it. (Matt should not stop to help people. Remember the nice people in the casino parking lot? Or the GR member he saw attacked?) And of course the guy Matt stops to help is desperate, and of course he attacks Matt and Mary, steals their wristbands, and disables their car. Matt ends up pushing Mary’s chair through the camp, whose residents seem to have given up entirely on the rules of civilization — and if we’re to believe the GR, why shouldn’t they, since civilization is over? Among the campers is a naked man in a set of stocks, pelted with food and clearly suffering; Matt can free the man, a woman on the ground tells him. All he has to do is take his place.

Paging Mr. Chekhov: We think we found your gun.

The stolen wristbands seem like the sort of thing that could be cleared up with a few phone calls, but of course it’s not that simple. And of course Matt isn’t in the resident database, and for some reason nobody calls the preacher, who was Matt’s initial sponsor into town. Matt eventually gets ahold of Kevin, who brings John to help, since Kevin himself hasn’t been in town long enough to sponsor anyone. When John finds out about Mary’s pregnancy, as the self-designated Disbeliever of Miracles, he tells Matt that he has to cop to raping her. (Because in John’s world, miracles are apparently way worse than rape.) “You’re angry at this place,” Matt tells John after he unwillingly agrees to John’s terms. “What happened?” Wouldn’t we all like to know, particularly since the question makes John take back his offer of assistance. John had better get his own episode soon in which he can explain himself, because this was a terrible thing to do, and as a viewer or a human being, it’s hard to forgive.

Matt in the camp, part two
So Matt and Mary are stuck in the camp, where they meet a theoretically Christian woman (played with a weary intelligence by Brett Butler). She’ll give Matt the money he needs to pay a smuggler if he hits another man with an oar while screaming, “Brian.” (Because that’s totally reasonable — except it is, in a way, because aren’t all religious rituals baffling to outsiders?) We know that Matt can explode into violence, as with the wedding party in the Visitor’s Center, and we know he can deal with its aftermath, as with Crazy Patti. This particular violence, though, would be a calculated act of personal gain, and that’s different.

Matt quotes Job 2:9: “Dost thou still retain thine integrity? Curse God and die!” Throughout this episode, Matt’s integrity is being tested. There is a constant disconnect between who he thinks he is (man of God, devoted husband, Miracle resident), and who the rest of the world thinks he is (refugee, rapist, outsider). Time and time again, he is given a choice: Will you be the person you think you are, possibly endangering those you love, or will you bend to be the person we think you are? Every time he bends — agreeing to John’s lie, paying the smuggler — it ends badly. (Hitting Reggie with his oar, incidentally, seems to bring no ill consequences, except maybe for Reggie.) His illicit trip back into town is thwarted by nothing less biblical than a flood, and he’s left wandering the camp with the pregnant Mary in his still-broken arms. Only the last-minute appearance of his sister, angelically reflective in a shiny silver raincoat, saves them. She can get them all back into Miracle, but they have to sneak in: more integrity.

When they come upon the man who stole Matt’s wristband dead in a car wreck, at first the decision seems clear: The man no longer needs the purloined wristband. But as Matt yanks Mary’s wristband off the dead man’s wrist, he spies the man’s kid standing off to the side of the road, traumatized but not dead. In an unexpected show of (ahem) integrity, the kid offers Matt his own wristband back. Matt can take the wristband, save himself, and continue to serve Mary in the safe, rarefied confines of Miracle, but he’ll have to leave the kid alone in the woods — or worse, the camp — to do it. Or he can send Mary into town with Nora and have faith that it will all be okay.

Matt is through bending. He’s through begging and pleading and playing along. When he and the kid meet John on the road, he tells him in no uncertain terms that he did not rape his wife, and orders John to take the kid. Then he heads back out into the camp, toward the stocks and the battered man suffering there.

Oh, hello, Mr. Chekhov. We have your gun right here.

Random Thoughts

  • In case you missed the pregnant Mary refugee stuff, the title of this episode is “No Room at the Inn.”
  • Every cell phone we’ve seen in Miracle has died almost immediately. I guess seamless integration with the outside world isn’t Miracle’s thing.