The Leftovers Season 3, Episode 5 Recap: "It’s a Matt, Matt, Matt, Matt World"

What makes someone a god? A god can be anything, to any person. Ancient Egyptians worshipped Abraxas, a god with a rooster head and snakes for legs. A contingency of B-movie fans started the Church of Ed Wood, believing the famously derided sci-fi auteur was religiously significant. L. Ron Hubbard is a whole thing. Gods are merely ciphers through which common folk relay their universal needs: to be protected, loved, for life to have meaning. But what does life mean in the absence of divinity? It’s a question Reverend Matt Jamison — full wrath, on a singular quest for glorious reckoning — must ask himself when his faith is fractured and destroyed. A mess of shards. Without that holy windshield, he’s a man undone. And what will that look like as the seventh anniversary of the Sudden Departure transpires?
That’s where “It’s a Matt, Matt, Matt World” leaves us. Matt, put through the ringer for his faith, is finally, we can assume, fully over the whole Jesus thing. Like every character this season, it takes a physical journey to erode the foundation of his truth. Here, it’s Matt’s trip to Melbourne, where he hopes to retrieve Kevin Garvey for some purposeful holy matter. The trip attracts a following — Matt invites John, but Michael and Laurie tag along, too; Laurie in a desperate attempt to save her mentally ill ex-husband from the radical Matt, who thinks he’s the second coming.
Their trek from Texas to Australia is complicated by the explosion from last week, one that gets slightly more context this episode — the opening scene shows a crazed Frenchman blow up a submarine in the South Pacific — but remains a curiosity. The nuclear ramifications of that event have grounded all commercial flights and closed the major airports, so that their private plane has to land in Tasmania. The group is informed that the next ferry leaving for Australia has been bought out by a private group, which ends up being a Furry-esque tribe of lion worshippers (complete with an actual, live lion) who are reticent to let the other aboard until Matt – proving he won’t be bothered by the lion peoples’ obscene on-deck love-making – has to tell the dirtiest joke he knows (and boy does he unleash a whopper).
Their journey aboard S.S. Lion Orgy (the tribe is actually worshipping Frasier, who was a real-life sensation in the ‘70s and inspired the 1973 film Frasier, the Sensuous Lion and a song of the same name by Sarah Vaughan) is, like all things this season, a test for its capsule character. While the lion people engage in a Bacchanal-style orgy, alcohol and dance fest, and Laurie and John mingle on the sidelines, Matt is put through a mental ringer. He’s suffering nosebleeds and nausea, and is tested by a mysterious figure in a wheelchair, a large, gruff man who calls himself God. Matt — in his religious paranoia — cannot seem to reconcile the truth of God’s declaration. He carries a card that says, “Yes, I Am God,” with a description of his sanctity on the back (and no mention of Jesus). The absurdity of his claim is apparent to Matt, but is called into question when he witnesses God throw another man overboard, an incident only he sees. Matt jumps overboard to rescue the man, but doesn’t find him in time and is pulled back aboard.
When he tells the ferry’s captain about the crime, he’s met with disbelief. “God” is actually a local hero, a Bronze-winning Olympian named Bernard who “died” in a fall, came back to life, and said he was God. It’s a local legend the people see with humor, but God sees with conviction. Because of his notability, and the general pandemonium on the boat, the captain ignores Matt’s claims that God killed a man. Matt, unable to let it go, tries to tell the others on the boat what happened, but he accidentally says the name “Frasier” out loud, which sets off a ceremonial something or other. The people restrain Matt and bring the handmade figure of a lion out, dancing manically, up to something sacrificial. A woman caresses Matt and attempts to take off his pants, as the others lower some tube down to his genital area — frightened and deranged, Matt breaks free and admonishes them for being careless animals while a man of their own was killed. But they don’t care — they just boo him and continue on.
And so Matt takes matters into his own hands. He finds God, knocks him out, and drags him to Frasier’s cage where she asks him, point-blank, if he’s the real deal. God says, plainly and simply, that he’s not responsible for Jesus is for other worldly events, like the Sudden Departure.
“Why?” Matt asks. Why would he do something so catastrophic and devastating to his constituents.
“Because I could,” God says.
Matt doesn’t seem to buy this. “There has to be a reason,” he argues. A reason why he’s sacrificed his family, his credibility, his whole life to an unseen almighty force. A reason why he still feels so drawn to Kevin, to the upcoming seventh anniversary, to the Biblical text he’s been scrawling. Anything that lends weight to his devotion.
“Everything you’ve done, you’ve done because you thought I was watching,” God says. “Because you thought I was judging. But I wasn’t. I’m not. You’ve never done anything for me. You did it for yourself.”
This astonishes Matt, who admits to God that he’s ill, and he wants to be cured. He unfastens his restraints and asks him to heal him, but instead of the holy event the music builds do, God snaps his fingers, says “you’re saved,” and walks off.
It’s a knife in the gut for Matt. His belief mocked so impressively. Whether this God has any bearing on reality is left unsaid, but it breaks Matt all the same. When morning comes, and the captain informs him that they did find a body after all and would like to take him in for questioning, as long as he doesn’t have any pressing business in Melbourne, he says he doesn’t. Defeated.
But then on the ground, as the lion people leave the boat, and the police show up to apprehend Bernard, a woman — who the night before warned Matt to stay on deck when the boat was docked — unleashes Frasier from his cage, and he charges after God, mauling and presumably killing him, before being shot by the cops. Both of the boat’s deities snuffed out in one swoop. All gods dead, all bets off.
Other observations:
— Laurie is this episode’s underdog, her feistiness really shining through in her frustrations with Matt. Her best line has to be in the plane conversation about Kevin’s messiah status. “I was married to Kevin for 15 years. He used to look through all of our cupboards before he found the wine glasses, he has a tattoo that’s misspelled, and he shits four times a day. So I refuse to believe, Matt, that he’s the goddamn second coming of Christ.”
— Laurie, John, and Michael don’t add much to the story other than to play the devils and angels on Matt’s shoulders and to get everyone in Australia for the seventh anniversary.
— HBO sure loves their orgy scenes, huh?
— Also, full frontal male nudity in that opener. It’s still hard to say for sure what’s going on there — the incident is explained away as an accident of some sort in a morning-after news segment we only see briefly. But French music scores most of this episode, which means France is a late player in this global sojourn towards the next big event.
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