Summary: Matt's church proceedings are bringing in less and less people and he's making enemies by exposing the wrongdoings of those who departed. His wife is in a catatonic state and now the bank is going to take away his church unless he brings them over $135,000 by the next day. Believing in faith and using signs from god, Matt acquires the required money and starts heading to the bank but he's knocked out after trying to help a member of the Guilty Remnant. When he wakes up he heads back to the bank but discovers that he was unconscious for a long while and has missed the deadline. The Guilty Remnant has bought out the church.
The Good: Wow, what an incredible episode! After some interesting but fairly ordinary opening episodes, The Leftovers went all in with an ambitious and powerful episode that delivered on just about every level.
I love the format of this episode. The Leftovers went full-on Lost with a character-centric episode and the focus given to Matt Jamison allowed for a complete story to be told with no interruptions or detours. By telling a simple story without cutting away, the episode kept my interest and had me completely gripped and engaged with Matt's story, hoping it would have a happy ending. This kind of immersion is so very rare in television, but this episode did it so effortlessly and had me totally suckered in after about 10 minutes and never lost me. That takes some real skill to pull off and I have never seen it done to such a degree before.
The biggest thing this episode does right is get us attached to Matt. he has only briefly appeared in previous episodes, so this episode had the tough task of making us grow attached to him and root for him while still telling an emotional story. And somehow this was pulled off just as easily as the immersion which is what really made this episode work so well. I cared for everything Matt was going through. I found myself feeling sad when his life was slowly revealed, I rooted for him when he attempted to get the money for his church, and I was angry at the GR after they bought out Matt's church. I don't mean to compare this show too much to Lost, but this episode did for Matt what "Walkabout" did for Locke and both of those episodes were what let me know that I was watching a truly special show.
Another thing that was executed so, so well was the use of tension. The story of the episode with Matt trying to save the church was so incredibly tense because we were given a deadline, a sense that Matt has to do something miraculous to achieve his goal. He had to go from 0 to 135,000 in one day and that very idea produced a heap of tension and excitement for the episode. And the writers were careful as well. They let us know in the first 20 to 30 minutes of the episode that the church is all that Matt has right now so they ensured that we not only knew that Matt wanted the church, but that we wanted him to keep the church as well. And then there was the excellent edge of your seat gambling scene which was just so gripping. It took full advantage of the rule of 3 (the third time is when the change happens) to make us wonder if Matt could actually succeed and get the money he needed. The smile on his face afterwards was shared by me and probably other viewers as we got the relief in knowing that Matt did it. But we knew he wasn't safe yet and the writers knew that we knew that. So they gave us a fake out that made us believe Matt was safe when he beat up the man trying to steal his money. He overcame that and it gave me the sense that he would actually succeed, but then the writers took his success away from him in an absolutely brutal matter.
The reveal that Matt had failed was absolutely heartbreaking. I had accepted the possibility that Matt may have slept for several days since that is a trick that is used very often, but it was still awful to see Matt go to the bank with such a hope that he would ultimately save his church only for the truth to be revealed at the end in a devastating matter: he was 2 days too late. And to make matters worth it was the GR that bought the church; the very same people that were indirectly responsible for Matt being knocked out. What a painful twist.
But all of this wouldn't have worked if Matt's character wasn't so compelling. We get his story told in pieces and the show smartly lets us, the audience, piece together his story from the little details that were given to us. It lets us understand him better and feel like we discovered him ourselves. And his story is sad. His wife's vegetative state was really disheartening to see (see: Best Moment) and it earned Matt a ton of sympathy from me. Matt's adherence to what he believes was also a fantastic element of his character and what made him so easy to like and to support. He has so many pains and struggles to deal with on a daily basis and yet he still admirably holds onto his faith.
Matt and Nora's scene was also well done for the most part (see: the Bad), but it wasn't as intricately put together as the rest of the episode. We get to see the extent of their relationship and also the conflicts that have arisen between them both after the Departure. Nora laying into Matt for holding onto the church and not moving on showed us how broken she is and how the loss of her family has really affected her. Despite her not agreeing with Matt who we now have a liking to, she still comes off as relatable because of what she has been through and it also lets us know that Matt isn't perfect as he asks her for her money which understandably isn't taken very well by Nora.
It was pretty sad to see Laurie hanging out behind Kevin's house at night. We saw the swing moving when Matt returned as well, so does Laurie go there every night? That does humanize her more and helps us relate to her as she can't seem to let go of her past like the other GR members.
Lastly I will highlight the performances in this episode which were great. Carrie Coon was outstanding in her single scene with Matt while Christopher Eccleston was incredible throughout the episode.
The Bad: there were a couple things I didn't like. For one, I didn't really buy into Matt telling Nora that were husband was having an affair. It was a powerful moment and Carrie Coon played Nora's reaction very well, but it seemed uncharacteristically cruel for Matt to say that to the sister that he loves.
I also wasn't a fan of Matt attacking and possibly killing the man outside the casino. That should have been treated like a bigger moment since a reverend just attacked and maybe killed a man but there are no repercussions to that scene. Perhaps from a storytelling perspective, Matt was knocked out and lost the church because he brutally attacked somebody, but I'm not sure about that since the tone of the episode doesn't suggest it.
The Unknown: Lots of questions once again.
Was there really a god helping Matt out with the casino? Or was it just dumb luck? One of the most fascinating aspects of this show so far has been the blurring of the line between supernatural and normal.
There were a lot of mentions of a judge in the episode. Apparently Matt started his anti-departures campaign with a judge according to Nora. Later in the episode, we see a flyer for Judge Roy Hader and we see Matt taking off the sign of a street which was named after him. Why did Matt start by going after Judge Hader? Did Judge Hader do something to Matt? He was departed though so I wonder what he could have done. Was it something when the Judge was still alive? Was the Judge the person in the car who disappeared and caused Mary's paralysis? And how does Kevin Sr.'s money factor into this?
Speaking of Kevin Sr.'s money, why did he give the money to Matt?
What was the purpose of Matt's dream? Why did Laurie appear? Were they having an affair at some point?
Why did the GR buy the church?
Best Moment: We are truly spoiled for choice. Matt comes home to see Mary, who is incapable of even talking. He says a pretty sad "hey sweetheart" and then proceeds to give her a baptism in the tub. The music swells up and we see Matt pulling up to sleep in a pitiful little cot next to Mary's bed. He bursts into tears and prays to the lord saying "help me" and just moments later he has an epiphany. This scene was extremely powerful and really made me feel sympathy for Matt.
Character of the Episode: Matt of course. There is no possible other choice.
Conclusion: What an episode. There were so many layers to this story that I didn't get to talk about and all of it was truly excellent. This engaged my emotions to the next level and delivered something truly special, something much better than the previous episodes we have seen.
Just a high school student who loves to watch TV. And criticize it like hell.