By Jared Jones
Heavy-handed metaphors were ripe for the picking in last night’s Christmas-themed episode of The Leftovers, “B.J. and the A.C.” From the opening sequence, which depicted the manufacturing process of a doll that would eventually serve as the baby Jesus in Mapleton’s nativity scene, to the obvious treatment of Tommy’s role as the Joseph to Christine’s Mary Magdalene, the episode was rote with Biblical references that were anything but subtle.
This observation is not necessarily meant as a criticism, as last week’s excellent episode, “Two Boats and a Helicopter”, played very closely to the book of Job. It’s just that last night’s episode of The Leftovers didn’t allow you to search for allegory or hidden context as much as it beat you over the head with it like an eighth grader’s Animal Farm book report.
But first, a little backtracking. This week’s storyline focused once again on Mapleton’s manically depressed town sheriff, Kevin, his family, and the members of the Guilty Remnant (not that “family” is a concept that the GR believes in anymore). You see, some three years removed from the event that saw 2% of the world’s population disappear, Kevin’s daughter, Jill, is still venting as only teens written by adults for television shows can. She’s distant, angsty, and should probably focus her energy into writing a blues album called “I’m a Poor Little Sad Sack.” And because Jill’s such a poor little sad sack, she goes out of her way to make her father’s working life all the shittier by stealing the Baby Jesus (the “B.J” from the episode’s title, presumably) from the nativity scene, which he immediately calls her out for doing.
Jill’s not all mischief and black eyeliner, though, as we learn when she refuses to set the baby Jesus aflame (largely at her friend Aimee’s behest) and more significantly, when she gives her mother, Laurie (who joined the Guilty Remnant shortly after the event), a lighter engraved “Don’t Forget Me” as a Christmas gift. It is a truly heartbreaking scene that is heightened all the more by the fact that Laurie had shown up to serve Kevin divorce papers just moments earlier.
Laurie’s decision to throw the lighter down a gutter afterward was foreseeable, as was her decision to fish it out of said gutter at the episode’s end. For a character who hasn’t spoken a word thus far in the show, Amy Brenneman has perhaps developed the most fully realized character of them all. While we still don’t know her exact reasons for joining the Guilty Remnant, we are beginning to see her conviction melt away with each passing episode. Leaving her family behind was not a clean break, as one would expect, and the dissonance the decision has created within her has made for some brilliant (and more importantly, subtle) moments in the show thus far.
Outside of Mapleton, Kevin’s son Tommy (or half-son, as we later learn that Tommy was a child from Laurie’s previous marriage) is forging ahead with his quest to protect Christine, the woman carrying the child of guru Holy Wayne (the Antichrist/A.C. perhaps?). Having killed a SWAT team member in episode two and fought off a crazed naked man early in this week’s episode, his faith in Holy Wayne is beginning to falter. He hasn’t heard from the supposed prophet in weeks, and has next to no idea what part Christine and her baby play in the grand scheme of things. “I want to go home,” as he states aloud to himself, before an all-too convenient phone call from Wayne puts his doubts to rest.
Again, the metaphors are a bit hamfisted in Tommy’s plot. There is a brilliant moment in which he and Christine come across an overturned truck of mass-produced corpses, mirroring the doll production from earlier in the episode, but everything else from his story all but screams “Message!” as it is occurring. Tommy is a fiercely dedicated follower of a prophet who has been deemed the protector of a pregnant woman he is not intimately involved with, who by episode’s end, is both barefoot and marked with a stigmata of sorts that will make him invisible to the people trying to find him and Christine. Who, oh who, could he be serving as a metaphor for?
Though not without its high moments, the problem with “B.J. and the A.C” overall was its distinct lack of actual stakes. In a world where cults are amassing faster than loved ones are disappearing, the emphasis on a missing doll seems a bit underwhelming, blatant metaphor aside. It wasn’t an entirely pointless plot, as it led to a fantastic exchange between Kevin and Nora Durst, the sister of pastor Matt Jamison and the only member of Mapleton to her lose her entire family in the event, but one that offered very little in terms of resolution and necessity this early in the show.
The lack of resolution, or even a basic understanding of motive, can also be applied to the members of the Guilty Remnant. The final moments of “B.J. and the A.C.” sees Patti and a few of her followers arrested by Kevin as part of a ploy to allow other members of the GR to sneak into the homes of the townsfolk and steal all their family photos, but for what purpose? Obviously, the short-term goal is to “help” these people move on and continue spreading the GR’s message that “life is pointless, so just give up.” But beyond that, it is still hard to tell what the Guilty Remnant’s endgame is, or what they want the townspeople to do.
My guess: Die….