Not going to lie, I have a lot to say about this week’s excellent episode of The Leftovers. It’s a good one. And it focuses on Matt, so you know it’s devastating. And yet, they still saw fit to title it “It’s a Matt, Matt, Matt, Matt World”.
This week’s theme? Benzion Miller performing a traditional Hebrew prayer.
I’m going to try to keep the recap brief this week because this episode is a meaty chaw and I want to spent the bulk of my time discussing it rather than recounting what happened.
The episode opens aboard a French nuclear submarine. The First Mate plugs his iPod into the PA, cranks it up and then takes off all his clothes. When somebody comes in to investigate, the mate knocks him out and takes his key, adding it to his own. He runs down the hall naked, guards in full pursuit. He locks himself in the command room where, stretching as far as he can and holding one key with his foot, he manages to turn both at the same time and launch a nuclear missile.
And then, we cut to America. Matt shows up at a friend’s house with a casserole. The news mention the nuclear explosion on an uninhabited island in the South Pacific. Anyway, Matt asks Arturo to fly him to Australia. He doesn’t want to leave his sick mother and also that’s insane. Matt offers him $20,000 dollars, which buys a lot of medical care. He assures Arturo that they’ll be back by the 14th, but the thing that needs to happen won’t happen if Kevin Garvey isn’t in Miracle. Arturo reluctantly agrees.
Matt plans to bring John and Michael along with him and is a little surprised when Laurie shows up, too. John thought she should be there and somebody has to keep track of these dopes. Also, Matt didn’t even know that his own sister was also in Australia. It’s great to watch these two go at it – (“Did you bring your whistle, Laurie?”) Finally, John steps in and says she’s coming. At one point on the flight, Matt has to take some pills, and that can’t be a good thing.
And now, they can’t land in Melboune. They have to land in Tasmania and take a ferry. Also? The ferry is sold out for a sex party. A sex party that also has a live lion. So Matt goes to the woman in charge of orgies and asks if they can get on the boat. He doesn’t the know the answer to their code phrase (“I’m ninety-one and I’m having a son”), but when a dude in a red cap just pushes his way on, Matt figures they should be allowed, too. So she says if they’re OK with an eleven hour orgy, they can ride. Matt just has to tell the dirtiest joke he knows to prove they’re down. Matt: “What’s the difference between a pimple and a priest? A pimple waits until you’re 12 to come on your face.” That’s good enough, so she lets them on. But there’s one rule: “When midnight comes, let no man mention his name, lest that man become him.” And the “him” in this case is Frasier the lion.
Sex boat ahoy!
Our guys sit quietly amidst an orgy and Matt runs the numbers to determine that they can definitely make it back to Miracle in no time, and John thinks that only works if Garvey’s waiting for them when the boat docks and needs no convincing. “I thing we have to accept that whatever’s gonna happen is gonna happen here.”
Matt talks about how special Miracle is – it gave him his wife back and gave him a son. John reminds him that it took his wife and daughter. Also, Mary left Matt so things aren’t that great. And then Matt starts bleeding profusely and has to run to the bathroom. Remember that blood he was cleaning up a couple of episodes ago?
In the restroom, a crew member asks Matt if God punched him in the face and it seems symbolic until he calls God “the voice of the Olympics” and says he’s on the upper deck in a red hat. That guy!
Matt goes to see the man, and here’s the skinny. First off, his name is David Burton and he’s played by Bill Camp, who was Detective Box in The Night Of. Second, we’ve seen him before. In both of Garvey’s visits to the afterlife, he was there. He was the man on the bridge in “International Assassin” and in “I Live Here Now”, he was the one who told Kevin that he just had to sing to get home.
Also, David Burton appeared in Season Two in a news report – he was the man who came back from the dead in Perth, claiming he’d been to a hotel. Also also, the letter that Pillar Man gave Michael to mail in the Season Two premiere was addressed to David Burton in Australia.
Anyway, Burton is reading a Louis L’amour novel called Lonely on the Mountain and doesn’t wish to be disturbed. WIthout a word, he hands Matt a card that says ‘Yes I Am God” on the front and has answers to frequently asked questions on the back. Questions about being God and also about the Decathalon. He won a bronze medal. He tells Michael about it and Michael says he should tell Laurie that he’s sick – she helped his father and maybe there’s something she can do for Matt.
Matt wanders through the orgy to find John and Laurie on the deck. He asks to speak to Laurie, who tells him that this whole sex party is based on an animal park in the seventies where none of the lionesses would mate. But they brought in a sick old lion from a failed Mexican circus to live out his day and in his first night, he impregnated every lioness and fathered thirty-five cubs. The lion on the boat is one of his descendants, and he goes from zoo to zoo, knocking up. They argue about Garvey and Laurie lets it slip that he saw Evie. Or he thought he did. Matt is not interested in the part where she was definitely a different person.
Laurie leaves him and Matt takes a minute to pray and throw up. He hears a scuffle and sees Burton throw somebody off the deck and into the water. He tries to raise an alarm, but there’s an orgy going on. So Matt jumps overboard to try and find the guy. They manage to fish Matt out and dry him off. The captain thinks he’s nuts and they get started talking about Burton. He used to be a sports announcer and about three years ago, he went rock climbing and broke his neck. His friend dragged him to a cave to keep the body safe and when they came back for him, he was alive and claiming to be God. This kind of horrifies John and Matt, but the Captain explains that most people just think it’s a joke. He gives out the card because he’s tired of people asking him questions. Anyway, short of a confession, they can’t even prove that anything happened so they can’t arrest or detain Burton. Even John doesn’t believe Matt but he says he does.
Matt heads back to the orgy to demand that the woman in charge give him a list of their members so he can find out who’s lost. She’s too busy banging to care and tells him so. Matt: “Why would you? All you care about is f*cking each other and Frasier!” Guys? It’s after midnight.
Revelers start chanting “he spoke his name” and somebody slips a collar around Matt’s neck like a dogcatcher would use. And it kind of seems like they’re going to hurt him. But then they wheel in fake lion and pull a tube and funnel from its back. A woman unbuttons Matt’s pants and they’re going to attach the tube to his genitals, it seems. I’m not sure what this actually is because I am not well-versed in kink rituals. Contextually, it seems like maybe it’s pump to extract his seed and maybe spread it around just like the horniest lion? Look, we can act shocked that I’m too whitebread to understand weird sex stuff, but I suspect everybody’s monocle stayed firmly in place.
Anyway, Matt really fights and breaks free and people are shocked – from their reaction, it’s clear that this is not a harmful thing and is just a little fetish fun that everybody would laugh about later. They boo the killjoy and since he sees Burton walk past the window anyway, he leaves to go catch him. Matt accosts him so Burton sucker punches him and walks off. Matt gets punched so often.
One of the orgy ladies approaches the prone Matt and says he’s right. She warns him to stay on the boar after they dock. Later, Matt tells his friends he’s going to make Burton confess and then he tells John that Garvey saw Evie and Laurie tries to explain that no he didn’t and also she had a very good reason not to tell John. John accepts it because he’s grown a lot. And Matt seems to accept it, amazingly. He’s just going to have a lie down.
Except that he goes to the infirmary to get a wheelchair and grabs a fire axe from the wall. He walks right up to Burton and clobbers him with the axe handle (tossing his book over the side of the boat) and takes him right over to Frasier’s cage. He’s not going to feed him to the lion, it’s just a low-traffic area. And so, Matt talks to God.
Burton tells Matt that he’ll untie him once he gets what he wants. And what he wants is God’s attention. Matt demands that he admit what he did – what he, David Burton, did. He threw a man overboard. Matt is still approaching this as a talk with a deranged man. Burton admits he did it but he won’t tell anybody. Burton lays down some heavy blasphemy to get under Matt’s skin (i.e., Jesus died and they replaced him with a twin brother) before admitting that the Departure was all him. And then Matt slips. “Everything in my life I’ve done for a reason… I’ve sacrificed my happiness. I let my family abandon me. FOR YOU!”
Then Burton tells Matt that everything he’s done was because he thought He was watching and judging. Matt: “Is that why you’re killing me?” He reminds us that he had leukemia as a child and was saved through prayer, but now it’s back. Burton says he can save Matt if he unties him and a transfixed Matt does just that. Burton snaps his fingers and leaves. As the sun rises, Matt stands out on the deck, watching the water. The captain confirms that a fishing boat found a body and the cops are going to pick up Burton when they dock, but they need Matt to make a statement. Matt agrees because he doesn’t have any pressing business in Melbourne. His friends find him and Matt very calmly thanks them for coming and tells them all that he’s dying.
The boat docks and the cops come for Burton. He runs, but at the same time, the woman who warned Matt to wait on the boat releases Frasier from his cage. Frasier ignores all the departing revelers and chases down Burton, tearing him apart. Matt waits calmly on the boat as the cops shoot the lion, then turns and says to John and Laurie (and also directly into the camera), “that’s the guy I was telling you about”.
–Well, that wasn’t as short a recap as I wanted it to be.
Before we get into it, let’s shout out one of the heroes of this episode. During on of the orgy walkthroughs, there is a guy who is giving a handjob like it’s a passion project. He is enthusiastic. And despite not having any lines and technically being an extra, Mr. David Daradan is featured in the end credits as “Vigorous Hand Job Guy”. Which is not only a great credit, but it’s also…. as soon as you see the credit, you know who they’re talking about. Nobody watches this episode and misses Vigorous Hand Job Guy.
So, the title is obviously a play on It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, a zany comedy starring everybody who was famous in the world at the time. It’s people racing to find a treasure with lots of travel mishaps. Which is pretty much the theme of Matt’s episodes – he’s always trying to get from point A to point B under a tight time restriction and misfortune keeps befalling him. Matt episodes are brutal.
I like Matt as a character and Christopher Eccleston as an actor and these episodes stress me out so much.
So, I try very hard not to discuss religion. Like, ever. It’s a topic that’s important and interesting to me, but it’s very hard not to fight and I don’t like fighting. And, well, it’s intensely personal and I prefer to sequester myself behind fart jokes. I was raised in a religious family – you would not believe how many of my uncles are ministers. And I don’t really want to get into modern day EJ’s beliefs since this is about The Leftovers and I didn’t write the episode. But one thing that always disappoints me is lazy atheism. Anybody proclaiming that, if God exists, they would want to hold Him accountable for the world’s suffering is just bratty and boring. It’s a very high school train of thought and it doesn’t interest me. I hate when anybody writes an essay about what they would say to the God they don’t believe in, essays which invariably turn into people writing fan fiction about themselves where they run logical rings around Him. (Remember when Matt Taibbi couldn’t get an interview with George W. Bush so he wrote a fictional interview where the power of his words reduces the former President to tears? I hate that so much.) It was the worst part of Preacher and I was disappointed that The Leftovers seemed to be going there. Except that it didn’t.
It certainly seemed to be, but most of it was Matt trying to hold somebody accountable for a murder while the killer kept up a delusion. And yes, Matt does start responding to him as if Burton is God, but Eccleston plays it as Matt finally getting to say the things he doesn’t dare to say. It’s set up like a “hold God accountable” scene but Matt is holding David Burton accountable and venting his frustrations. It’s much more clever and I think it played out so well.
And no, I don’t think Burton is supposed to actually be God. I think Matt falters for a second, but he still knows that he’s dying despite being “cured”. Burton doesn’t say anything that betrays any specific knowledge of Matt’s life – Matt gave him a lot of information and Burton accused him of the thing that people accuse religious people of all the time. And I genuinely don’t think that’s true of Matt. I know that anybody raised in any kind of religious tradition has moments where their actions are motivated by fear of celestial judgment, but Matt is, despite his flaws, a good man who tries very hard to help people. He makes bad choices, but he will do anything to ease the pain of another, and that’s who he is. But it’s an easy criticism to make, and that’s all Burton does.
Of course, Matt’s criticisms of Burton would line up with an atheist or even a deist’s criticisms of God as a concept. That’s something I really enjoy about The Leftovers – I think the show’s overall view of religion is neutral to positive, but it puts both heroes and monsters on either side of the theological divide. And I don’t think we’re ever meant to know whether God exists in the world of The Leftovers and more than we’re meant to know what happened on October 14. If the characters can’t answer a question, then we don’t get an answer either. I know this makes some people crazy, but when it comes to TV, speculation is usually more fun than the payoff anyway.
My question is what Matt believes at the end of the episode. He’s no longer in a rush to get back to Miracle, and I don’t think he necessarily lost his faith. I think he accepted that it’s out of his hands. And hey, maybe he accepted that what they need to do is help Kevin. Whether he’s the Messiah or not, he’s sad and sick and he needs help. And maybe easing his friend’s pain is more important than where he’s standing come the 14th.
By the way, note how Matt tosses Burton’s book overboard. He’s certainly casual about throwing other people’s books away, isn’t he? Maybe he’d better cut Kevin Senior some slack!
Ready to have your mind blown? Frasier the lion is real. The backstory Matt hears is actually true. There was even a movie loosely based on the story called Frasier, The Sensuous Lion in 1973. Though it sounds like that was kind of a sex comedy that also had a virile lion, so they probably took some liberties. The sad part is, once this season is over, I know I’m going to end up watching that movie. And no, the May 1972 issue of National Geographic does not include a story about Frasier. But wouldn’t that have been amazing?
I think I covered the continuity stuff during the recap, but let’s take a minute to wonder about David Burton. What was he doing in Kevin’s afterlife? If you want to take the tack that those episodes were products of his subconscious, well, Burton had been in the news as a guy who came back from the dead. He’d be in Kevin’s head as a significant figure when it comes to the afterlife.
But if the afterlife was more than that… I tend to think that it was more than just a dream. After all, Kevin’s experience synced up with his dad. But I think what he experienced was something personal. Not everybody experiences the afterlife as a luxury hotel. And he encountered several familiar faces there – Patti, Holy Wayne, Michael’s grandfather. I don’t think they were necessarily them. If everybody went to this realm where they could earn their way back to life, people on The Leftovers would be coming back to life all the time. If they were the actual spirits of those people, well, it implies that Garvey had agency that they lacked. There’s no way Wayne got to look within himself and choose who he was and picked “Secret Service Agent”. Nobody died and chose to be a stand-in for Patti. His experiences were specific to him and he cast familiar faces to fill out some roles, and that included a noted resurrectionist.
Even better, the news report on Burton said that he reported he’d been to a hotel. Did Garvey build his idea of an afterlife around a thing somebody else said? Because that would be amazing and actually kind of fits Garvey. I love the guy, but you don’t really think of him as the creative type.
So why did Pillar Man write him a letter? That was before we saw the news report about Burton’s resurrection. It’s possible that when we saw his story on TV, it wasn’t breaking news – it’s actually mentioned as part of a wave of Australian resurrections. So if it was a reiteration of old news, it might be that his “return” is why Pillar Man wrote the letter. It’s possible for the timeline to work, is what I’m saying.
But did David Burton actually come back from the dead? Sure. Why not? Garvey did, twice. I’ll buy that part of his story.
Just a couple of thoughts to wrap this up – the card Burton gives people is probably a reference to the card Tom Wilson (aka Biff Tannen) hand to Back to the Future fans – it has the answers to the questions everybody asks him, so he can go about his day. Thanks to spunkybuddy Rachel for pointing that one out!
And I can’t believe I didn’t notice this until they referenced it in the show – most of the male cast has Biblical names. Matthew, John, Michael, Thomas. The ones who don’t are Kevin and Wayne, and they’re the ones who’ve been presented as Messiahs.
Finally, Matt’s leukemia returned while he was in Miracle, a place that he firmly believes cured his wife and brought Kevin back from the dead and is so special that nobody departed within its borders. And yet, he’s the one with a terminal disease. Miracle rejected him. Somebody who believes in a magical place of healing who somehow can’t be fixed. Does that sound like anybody we know? Maybe from another Damon Lindelof show? Yeah, that’s right. One Ben “Benry” Linus. I’m going to be thinking about that for a while.
Thanks for bearing with me. I’ll see you next week!