Christopher Eccleston (Photo: Ben King/HBO)

In 1995, Neale Donald Walsch published the first book in his best-selling Conversations With God series, which chronicles what Walsch says are the transcripts of literal conversations between himself and a disembodied voice that began speaking to him after he wrote an angry letter to God. The series has since spawned nine more books, one of which is credited solely to God because, unlike the others, it’s not a dialogue between him and the supreme deity. There are also reams of supplemental material for the book and a film of the same name with Walsch as the lead character. It’s an entire body of commercially successful works based on the idea of a totally ordinary, frustrated guy talking to God and actually getting answers.

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The Leftovers is a series full of Neale Donald Walsches, people who have had experiences too incredible to fit neatly into any rational or scientific explanation. Matt Jamison is easily the most like Walsch because of his need to spread the good news to whoever will listen, whether or not they have the capacity to understand or believe. Such was the case in last season’s “No Room At The Inn,” when Matt grew increasingly frustrated as his attempts to testify about Mary’s miraculous and brief respite from her coma was treated by those who heard it as his admission to sexual assault. In “It’s A Matt, Matt, Matt, Matt World,” Matt Jamison has his own illuminating conversation with God—or at least a highly dedicated imposter—but instead of leaving him with good news to share, he has nothing but bad news. His childhood leukemia has returned in full force, because sometimes, for no reason in particular, someone gets tossed overboard.

Nearly every frame of “Matt World” is set literally in the middle of nowhere, either in the sky or somewhere in the ocean, beginning with a riveting vignette in a nuclear submarine. A French crew member strips nude and circumvents the two-man rule by stealing a second key to the arsenal by force, then yoga posing his way into the first step of a potential global cataclysm. (The nuclear missile he launches hits an unpopulated area, but still.) The South Korean nuclear crisis has major ramification for the world, but as usual, The Leftovers takes the global crisis and localizes it to these characters. What’s immediately important for Matt is that the anniversary of the Sudden Departure is quickly approaching and Kevin is “stranded” in Melbourne with no way to get back to Jarden thanks to the worldwide grounding of commercial aircraft.

What starts as a relatively simple rescue mission grows complicated before Arturo (Benito Martinez) has even taken off. Matt is only expecting to be joined by the Murphy men—“Three wise men,” he jokes—and is unpleasantly surprised when Laurie shows up expecting to tag along. Laurie knows Kevin better than any of these people, but from Matt’s perspective, she lacks the most important prerequisite for this particular mission. She doesn’t share Matt, John, and Michael’s belief in Kevin’s divinity. But Laurie is determined to come because she’s the only one prepared to discuss what Kevin is going through using a mental health framework. Matt is fiercely opposed to Laurie’s presence, even resorting to a dig at her Guilty Remnant days to insult her into staying home, but he finally relents.

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The aerial trip becomes a nautical one when Arturo’s plane is forced to land in Tasmania, and the fantastic four have to find a way onto the only ferry headed for Melbourne in time for Matt’s tight turnaround. The ferry has been booked solid by some kind of roving sex cult that worships Frasier The Sensuous Lion, a real-life big cat that had a surprisingly second life as a lothario despite his old age and less-than-stellar physical condition. Matt doesn’t mind bearing witness to a floating bacchanal so long as he gets to Melbourne in time to retrieve Kevin and get back to Miracle for the anniversary. But once he’s onboard, the trip takes a harrowing and terrifying turn.

Matt crosses paths with David Burton, a former decathlete who briefly died after a rock climbing accident only to declare himself God and start introducing himself as such on a calling card complete with a helpful FAQ section. Matt is pissed off that this weirdo is passing himself off as God, despite Michael’s reminder that it doesn’t make any difference to them or have any effect on their mission. But he’s prepared to let it go until he sees “God” hurl a man overboard while everyone on the ship is too busy indulging their inner Frasiers to concern themselves with it. From that point forward, Matt becomes obsessed with bringing the mysterious man to justice, or at least getting some answers from him.

David Burton isn’t God, but his deeply dissociative affect isn’t far from what someone might expect from the genuine article. And the conversation he has with Matt is a far cry from the life-affirming, “keep calm and carry on” nature of Neale Donald Walsch’s conversations with God. David’s good news is that God is a blind watchmaker who doesn’t much care about any of this one way or another. Matt’s resurgent illness isn’t a reflection of anything other than the cruel randomness of life, just like the Sudden Departure. (Pointedly, that’s the only supernatural event David’s willing to take any credit for.) The poor guy whose waterlogged body later turned up probably didn’t even do anything other than be in the wrong place at the wrong time. None of it is personal, including the final moments when a descendant of the randy Frasier is freed from his cage and mauls David to death. “That’s the guy I was telling you about,” says a deadpan Matt to his shocked travel buddies.

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Stray observations

  • Instead of a song to open the episode, this week’s credits are accompanied by the final prayer of Lyon, the French naval officer who broke bad. Surely some French-speaking superfan will translate it into English.
  • But man alive, what an amazing music episode. I get why it wasn’t as necessary to drop music into the credit sequence.
  • Matt, to the ferry operator: “Our plane was forced to land and we’re stranded here. Not that Tasmania isn’t lovely.”
  • Matt again, telling Ginger his dirtiest joke: “What’s the difference between a pimple and a priest? A pimple waits until you’re 12 to come on your face.” Yikes. I laughed though.

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