Season 2 Episode 5: “No Room at the Inn”
Original Airdate: 11/1/15
When I saw the preview for “No Room at the Inn” last week, I had a feeling it was going to be grueling. We’ve seen so little of Matt Jamison (Christopher Eccleston) so far, that inevitably there had to be bottle episode with him as the focus. The opening sequence documenting Matt’s dutiful efforts to recreate Mary’s (Janel Moloney) awakening was a particular highlight for me. Matt’s admirable discipline in caring for her (and then increasing frustration) is paralleled by a repetitious use of the Bellamy Brothers, “Let Your Love Flow”, which is sweet the first time you hear it, but grating with each successive play.
Desperate for any sign of progress, Matt sets out to Austin to have Mary examined. At the doctor’s office, he is informed that Mary is pregnant. The reverend is genuinely overjoyed at the news, which makes the moment all the more squeamish since we know that Mary is in a persistent vegetative state, with the implication being either that Mary did genuinely wake up and make love to her husband or, more darkly, Matt is delusional and raped his wife.
Rushing back to Jarden to secure Mary and the baby, Matt stops to aid a father and son experiencing car trouble. While we can see what’s coming a mile away, Matt’s subsequent beating and theft of his and Mary’s wristbands to Miracle is no less disturbing. The rest of the episode is essentially an onslaught of misery for Matt as he regains and loses access to Jarden courtesy of John Murphy (more on that later), is forced to wade through the freak show of tourists outside the park, dishes out penance in the form of beating a man with an oar, and dropping $1000 dollars on a doomed effort to sneak back into the park.
In classic Leftovers fashion, the ending yields no definitive clue as to whether or not Matt raped Mary. Through his presence has been scant this season, Matt’s sincerity about what he perceived has never seemed in doubt. Even when John gets Matt to essentially confess to forcing himself on Mary, you’re not quite sure whether it’s because he’s actually been exposed for a misdeed or if he’s so afraid of dismissal from Miracle – and the loss of its healing effect on his wife – that he’ll falsely admit to a heinous act just to stay there. Fear drives so much of Matt’s actions in this episode. Fear of losing his wife, his unborn child and the promise of Miracle. Yet, this fear disappears when Matt secures Mary’s re-entry into the park (with help from the Garveys) and sets out to reaffirm his claim of her awakening. With calm confidence, he reasserts to John that the event did indeed happen and when the time is right, he’ll return to Miracle and work through why John can’t accept the possibility that miracles do happen there.
Then, Matt leaves the park, returning to the outside encampment where he frees the man hanging in the gallows because “it’s his turn”. One could take this as an indication that Matt ultimately knows he raped his wife – even if it’s not what he believed happened – but given his arc within the episode I doubt that’s the case. As a Christian, Matt lives the notion that everyone is a sinner, and from that viewpoint he’s no less in need of repentance than anyone else. Moreover, echoing the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Matt was beaten on the side of the road and left for dead. In a twist on that tale, Matt plays the role of both victim and savior, freeing a type of person who only hours before he wanted nothing to do with. Taking that stranger’s place is an affirmation of his faith, believing that someone else will do the same for him. His action is also yet another example of the show’s ethos that salvation is something manifested primarily through human empathy and the efforts of other people.
While “No Room at the Inn” gives the viewer a lot to chew on, the subject matter is well-worn. As I hinted at last week, I’ve become a little concerned that the show is struggling to evolve and refine the bounds of its original focus. So far season 2 has managed to change some fundamental facets of the show and yet simultaneously fail to show us anything really new. The season 1 parallel to this episode is “Two Boats and a Helicopter”, a similar Job like parable that also focuses on Reverend Jamison, testing the limits of both his faith and humanity. In that episode, the audience learns a lot about the Reverend and what motivates him, catapulting him from some local religious kook to a sympathetic figure that deserves our attention. I can’t help but compare “No Room at the Inn” to that previous effort and find it underwhelming as a result. Although it’s fairly daring to take one of the show’s more likeable characters and legitimately consider whether he’s capable of doing something so vile and sad, we don’t get much out of the whole ordeal beyond the tease that he’ll probably return and might be vindicated. I don’t mind the ambiguity in itself so much as I resent what seems to be an emphasis on cultivating a parade of mysterious threads over reflection on something deeper (“Cough. Lost. Cough”). We’ll soon see whether the whole season adds up to something greater than the sum of its parts, but in the interim we’ll just have to have faith.