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The Leftovers: B.J. and the A.C.

"You can't just get a new one; it's sacred."

'Tis the season in Mapleton! Unfortunately, the only one looking particularly merry is Patti, and that's never a good sign.

After the Greek tragedy that was "Two Boats and a Helicopter," "B.J. and the A.C." feels markedly looser and less impactful. The can-this-really-be-the-A-plot about the missing baby Jesus might even be what qualifies as "wacky hijinks" in the Left-o-verse (see what I did there?).

The episode riffs on themes of fathers and sons, infants lost and found, and the curious power we project onto inanimate objects (the B.J., bereavement figures, a certain silver lighter). However, the themes stick up like ribs through the actual plot lines, which are thinner and more forgettable than in previous episodes.

Not a lot happens that wasn't projected in previous episodes. Likely no one was surprised to learn that Christine is pregnant, Laurie is serving Kevin divorce papers (despite her clear attachment to her old life), and the Guilty Remnant are up to no good. The reveal that Kevin is not Tom's biological father lands with more of an "ah" than an "OMG," as it helps explain their estrangement as well as Tom's susceptibility to a father-figure cult leader like Wayne.

The most significant, albeit small, step in a new narrative direction is the flirtation between Kevin and Nora. Their relaxed back-and-forth was my favorite scene in this episode, as they bantered, bonded about adulterous husbands (hers, and him), and smiled in a way that we haven't seen these two characters smile before. (Carrie Coon knows just the right amount of naughty and nice to sprinkle into a line like "that's because you're much older than I am.")

The scene is a great example of what works well in The Leftovers. With minimal dialog, we get a bit more exposition-free backstory (confirmation of the affair suggested by Kevin's flashback to a frenzied nooner at the time of the rapture, plus an explanation of why these two had never met before), hints of attraction, and a reminder of the clouds of guilt and loss forever hanging over them. There's an unsettlingly tilted close-up of Nora's face as she responds to Kevin's condolences by sharing her husband's infidelity, and the shot makes it look like she's in danger of sliding right down the wall, right off of the world.


Now, about the "A.C." of the title. I confess that it took me way too long to figure out that it must be referring to the Antichrist (but don't get me wrong, "Baby Jesus and the Air Conditioning" would make a banger hour of television). I did a brief, shallow dive into the mythology of the rapture and the Antichrist, but backed away slowly after deciding that HBO probably wasn't depending on a casual viewer's familiarity with, say, "1 Thessalonians 4." At any rate, the materialization of the German's prophetic vision and the suggestion of an actual Antichrist appearing in the wake of the rapture takes The Leftovers into markedly more supernatural territory. The Leftovers has until now been quite grounded (with the exception of, um, THE RAPTURE). I'm interested to see how far it will go in this direction.

Bits & Pieces:

— I loved the 10 seconds it took Kevin to solve the "mystery" of the missing baby Jesus. His first rodeo, this is not. The worst procedural episode ever, this is.

— Jill's wall decorations include a poster from the (very real) Canadian band The Evaporators. I'm thinking her playlist may also include The Rapture, Bad Religion, Faithless, Erasure, The Cars' "Since You're Gone," The Mighty Mighty Bosstones' "Where'd You Go?"...I could do this all day. Got more? Leave 'em in the comments!

— Speaking of Jill, I last saw Margaret Qualley stealing scenes out from under Brad Pitt in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. I keep hoping The Leftovers will give her more to play than "sullen."

— Kevin is now driving the mystery man's black pickup...

— Loved Ones bereavement figures appear to be money well spent; those are some darned convincing pseudo-corpses.

— Mapleton's residents are sorely lacking in basic home security.

— What do we think about Tom's adoption of the other cult's bullseye and shoe-eschewing? My initial thought was that he recognized it as a creative way to hide in plain sight: what better way to obscure one's association with one cult than to pretend to be a member of another? I can't imagine he's actually decided to jump on a different cult's bandwagon. My other thought was that he's simply both desperate and bored and he is getting a YOLO kick out of the idea that the bullseye "will make you invisible, so the creator can find us." Whatever the reason, it's a sign that Tom's mental health has seen better days.

— My condolences to anyone who had been shipping Meg and "hot cop" Kevin (*cough* me *cough*).

— While I was working on this review, I actually dreamed about the hostel scene, in which the German said one word to me: "Croatoan." Has anyone suggested that the Roanakeans were raptured? Seems as good a theory as any (although Billie still has the best theory about the true meaning of "Croatoan").

Quotes:

Kevin: "You want something to drink? Water? Coffee? Drano?"

Kevin: "Am I supposed to give a shit?"
Dennis: "Uh…no?"
Kevin: "That's correct, Dennis."

Underdressed German: "I know what's inside you."

Twin 1, standing up for hoodie-wearers' rights everywhere: "That's profiling." (Someday, I will make a concerted attempt to tell the twins apart. Today is not that day.)

Aimee: "Get your balls off the Son of God."

Tom: "I want to go home."

Laurie (via Meg): "I think I'm supposed to stay broken. Maybe we all are."

Kevin: "I know a lot of you were worried about this little guy, but we found him safe and sound, and as soon as the dance is over, I am personally gonna be delivering him back to the manger. So…there's that."

Kevin: "I cheated on my wife."
Nora: "Why?"
Kevin: "Is there a good answer to that question?"
Nora: "I think I just heard it."

Matt: "I heard the baby went missing. I had a spare."

Overall Rating:

"B.J. and the A.C." isn't a bad episode per se, but it's noticeably weaker than its predecessors. It's unlikely to land on anyone's top-ten list. There's simply not enough happening, and four episodes into the season...something needs to start happening. If I wasn't watching the series specifically because I'd heard it described as one of the best ever (thank you, decade-old rearview mirror), this might be the point where I'd get distracted and start another series. I'm still waiting for a clear narrative arc. "Will everyone get less sad?" ain't enough to prop up a season, and I'm not convinced we're heading for "epic battle between good and evil," despite the possible emergence of the A.C. We'll see. I'm certainly sticking around, if only to watch Patti continue to run circles around everyone else.

Two out of four shirtcocking soothsayers,

Mothra
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Mothra is getting over COVID-19, and would like to blame any grammatical errors or typos upon it.

1 comment:

  1. Mothra - made the decision to give this show a shot after seeing a couple recent reviews here and realizing this is a Lindelof endeavor (I’m a huge LOST fan and Watchmen was on such another level that I figured this would be good). I’m grateful for your excellent reviews so far, as it helped me push through what is not an easy show to get attached to. I’m about to start the season 1 finale and I can attest, it gets very, very good, but it takes time. I’m very curious to see your take on the next episode when you are feeling better.

    A couple thoughts so far:
    - fascinating to have a main character who is such an unreliable narrator! And I can’t tell for sure if Garvey is the only one.
    - your comments about time discrepancies… are they? Or is it just lazy editing? Did you notice that Matt was just fine at the nativity replacing BJ? Didn’t he just take a rock to the face and spend a week in the hospital? Or did that not happen either? I find myself questioning more than just Garvey.
    - this is not an EASY show but I feel like its a very good representation of what our society would be like after an event of this nature. I find myself thinking about the societal impacts of the WHY of it all. Very depressing stuff, but if you look beyond the edges of the main characters, there is life and joy.
    - Who knew the Winklevoss twins grew up in Mapleton? :)
    - Why does this show hate dogs so much!

    Looking forward to your next review once you are feeling better.

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