‘The Leftovers’ recap: Season 1, Episode 4, ‘B.J. and the A.C.’

Away in a manger... Credit: Paul Schiraldi.
Away in a manger…
Credit: Paul Schiraldi.

Last week’s episode of “The Leftovers” was apparently a fluke, because this week’s episode returns to focusing on the Garveys and it is so boring. Not only is it boring, but it’s also pompous, fails to offer any sort of real plot development, and is thematically heavy-handed, particularly in regards to its yawn-inducing take on the birth of Christ in Christian theology. Oh, yes: it’s Christmas in July.

The episode opens in a toy factory, filling the screen with images of mass-produced toy babies. One of these dolls will become the baby Jesus for Mapleton’s public nativity because guess what, humans created God and it’s all a sham. False idols, God is dead, etc., etc. It’s not particularly deep. Someone also steals the baby Jesus from the Mapleton manger.

Meanwhile, Tommy is now in Amarillo, Texas, with Christine in tow and waiting for a phone call from Holy Wayne. They’ve been waiting for six weeks now, and Tommy is beginning to lose faith (notice a theme?) Continuing with the Biblical storyline, a violent, mentally-ill man who Christine was talking to earlier bursts into the bus stop they’re waiting at, crying out “I know what’s inside you,” like a ragged Gabriel to Christine’s Mary and Tommy’s Joseph before trying to hit Christine.

(Again, heavy-handed, and does this make Holy Wayne God? The writers are obviously shooting for irreverence and instead just land on dull. If you’re going to criticize religion, and Christianity in particular, try going for an angle that hasn’t been done to death.)

After the attack, Christine and Tommy visit the hospital and have an ultrasound. “Looks like you’re at about twelve weeks along, give or take,” the doctor tells them, eyeing Christine’s bruised abdomen and Tommy’s bloody knuckles with suspicion. Tommy ends up running out of the hospital, abandoning Christine.

The Prius guys are back, and Kevin pulls them over. “You hang out with my daughter, right?” he asks them, looking stern. “Did she steal the baby out of the nativity scene?”

Prius guys lie very unconvincingly. It turns out that, surprise, surprise, the equally unconvincing teenagers of Mapleton had something to do with this. The prank itself definitely seems like something dumb teenagers would do, but the execution of the beach bonfire scene ruins any accuracy. It just seems like a lot of effort to put your testicles on the stolen doll’s head before strapping it to a homemade funeral pyre and bursting into a simultaneous chorus of “Silent Night” while your friend (Jill, in this case) spends a torturous few minutes of screen time deciding whether she’s actually going to launch a flaming arrow towards the pyre before realizing, without any apparent motivation, that no, she won’t. Why not just throw the thing into the ocean?

Back in Texas, Tommy sits at a bus stop, cursing his luck and willing his phone to ring. Some local GR members stop by and try to hand him a pamphlet that reads, “Everything That Matters About You Is Inside.” It’s oddly disappointing to realize that the GR is a national cult, and not just one dreamed up entirely by Patti. His phone rings, but it’s just an October 14th outreach spammer. Tommy begins to laugh hysterically.

Meg and Laurie visit the Garvey residence, and Meg speaks and reads a prepared speech for Laurie while Laurie appears visibly upset. She’s holding a manila envelope, and Meg’s speech reveals a few surprises, namely, Tommy isn’t Kevin’s son. “You raised Tommy as if he were your own. I was broken,” Meg reads. “I tried to fix myself…but I think I’m supposed to stay broken. Maybe we all are.” Is Matt Tommy’s father? This just became a soap opera.

Kevin snatches the envelope out of Laurie’s hands and sees what the audience saw coming a mile away: divorce papers. He snaps, and begins screaming at Laurie to “fucking say it.” Meanwhile, Jill walks in. Everyone shuts up, and Jill hands Laurie a small gift before walking away.

On the street, Laurie unwraps it. It’s a silver lighter that reads, “Don’t forget me.” It’s actually pretty heartbreaking. “You should keep that,” Meg tells her. “I won’t tell.” Laurie drops it down a storm drain and walks away.

We’re back in Texas again, and Tommy draws a target on his forehead and steps barefooted into the hospital to retrieve Christine, pretending to be in another cult. “How’d you end up like this, kid?” a sheriff drawls to him in the elevator. “I was abandoned by my father,” Tommy says, the dialogue a little too pat.

Christine and Tommy leave the hospital, getting on another bus, where Christine talks to another stranger. This time it’s a soldier returning from overseas. (Do the writers just think all teenage girls are idiots? Why is Christine so constantly giggly, and so willing to wander off and talk to strange men, especially after doing this has hurt her? She’s not a puppy.) The bus stops abruptly. Strewn over the highway are dozens of fake corpses, presumably for the families of the disappeared to bury. “Some sad idiot paid a fucking fortune to buy those things,” the solider intones. Christine chirps something about it being like her dream. They’re not shy with the foreshadowing, are they?

The town Christmas dance happens, and Kevin brings the baby Jesus doll, which was returned to his doorstep by the Prius boys. He sees Nora in the hallway of the local high school where it’s being held, and she tells him which used to be her locker and which used to be her husband’s. “I just found out he cheated on me,” she says.

“I cheated on my wife,” Kevin tells her. Hmm, sounds like both Laurie and Kevin haven’t been ideal spouses. Nora and Kevin are going to have an affair, yes?

The GR has encircled the school, and the police start arresting them. It’s not everyone, though. The rest of the GR, we immediately see after this, are sneaking around Mapleton, breaking into houses (does nobody lock their doors here?) and stealing family photos. Are they photos of the disappeared? Or just family photos in general? It’s spooky, but also ineffective in 2014 – who doesn’t have at least a few family photos on their phone, computer, or digital camera?

At the nativity, Matt has filled the empty manger with the Jesus figurine from his now-defunct church. (Why did this episode completely drop that storyline, by the way? It involves the GR, so it would be thematically appropriate.) Kevin is cordial. This Jesus outstretches his arms, as though welcoming his audience.

On the town’s empty streets, Laurie tries to retrieve the lighter. She can’t.

Kevin drives away and throws the Jesus doll, now no longer necessary thanks to Matt, out of his car window. Is Matt the father of Tommy? Did Laurie and Matt have an affair? Was Kevin’s affair before or after theirs? Is the “B.J.” of the title “Baby Jesus” and is the A.C. “Antichrist?” Is that what Christine’s carrying? The episode ends without a hint. Snore.

Grade: C

 



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