Dear 20″ Plastic Baby Jesus…

For the second week in a row, The Leftovers focuses squarely on religion in its fourth episode, “B.J. and the A.C.,” while also revealing more about the ominous Guilty Remnant. As usual, there are spoilers throughout, so read at your own risk.

“B.J. and the A.C.” opens on a baby doll factory. At first, I wondered if this wasn’t a side job for members of the Guilty Remnant, making creepy baby masks for an upcoming “mission.” We follow one baby from the factory to the department store where a woman purchases it, takes it home, undresses it, swaddles it, and puts it in a public nativity scene. All of this takes place to The Black Keys’ song, “I’m Not the One.” Before the opening credits roll, the 20″ plastic, white baby Jesus (“Of course the f*&$^%# white one!) disappears.

Chief Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux) undertakes a half-hearted search for the missing “infant,” almost purchasing a replacement in the process. He suspects that his daughter Jill (Margaret Qualley) and her friends have something to do with the misdemeanor. At a party, we learn that they have indeed stolen the baby, and some of the drunken guys deface it in various ways. Jill is all set to give it a Viking’s burial but can’t go through with it. When her friends leave the baby on Garvey’s doorstep, he takes it back to the nativity display only to find Rev. Matt (Christopher Eccleston) replacing it with the one from his old church. As the episode concludes, Chief Garvey tosses the plastic baby out the window of his truck.

As if this all wasn’t annoying enough, Chief Garvey’s wife, Laurie (Amy Brenneman), now a member of the guilty remnant, returns home to “ask” him for a divorce. Meg (Liv Tyler) is her mouthpiece. Chief Garvey tells her that if she wants it, she’ll have to ask for it and storms off. Garvey warns Patti (Ann Dowd), the apparent leader of the Guilty Remnant, not to attend the upcoming Holiday Dance. When they do, he is surprised that more of their members did not show up. We quickly see that their appearance is only a front for a far more malicious act. While townsfolk celebrate at the Holiday Dance, members of the Guilty Remnant break into their homes and steal all of their photographs, robbing them of their most valuable mementoes of their suddenly Departed loved ones.

Meanwhile, Tom (Chris Zylka) and Christine (Annie Q.) are on the run, waiting for Wayne (Paterson Joseph) to call them and give further instructions. When Christina is attacked by a half-naked lunatic, we learn that she is pregnant with Wayne’s child. The lunatic also talks about dreaming of her walking among dead bodies all dressed in white. Later in the episode, the bus that Tom and Christina ride comes to a sudden halt. They get out and see that a big rig has overturned, spilling life-sized, adult dolls. People have ordered these “corpses” to bury in place of their Departed family members.

“B.J. and the A.C.” is interesting on a number of levels. First its attention to religion, with an unfortunate heavy hand, continues the themes from last week’s episode, “Two Boats and a Helicopter.” If we weren’t certain last week, we should be now: the survivors of the Departure, particularly younger generations, have no need of religion. It will be interesting to see if the series takes a turn. Can the explicitly religious characters like Matt redeem themselves? Can characters like Jill and Aimee (Emily Meade), who resisted defacing the plastic baby Jesus, set a more hospitable tone? Is religion the only social system that has failed in this post-Departure world?

Capitalism still works, as new economies have sprung up in response to the Departure. Like the suicide “medicine” advertisements in Children of Men, survivors of the Departure, have new options to deal with their grief. The jack-knifed big rig that stops Tom and Christine’s bus was full of “corpses” to be delivered to grieving family members. As an on-looker tells Tom, “Be careful, somebody paid a lot of money to bury that.” We can also ask whether or not the mass-produced plastic babies at the opening of the episode are only for nativity scenes or children’s playrooms.

We’re gradually learning more about the Guilty Remnant. While we might occasionally feel some sympathy for the likes of Laurie and Meg, who have joined the cult out of a sense of brokenness and loss, their willingness to participate in heinous activities like stealing family photographs, robs them of their “innocence.” Garvey told Patti that he would not protect the Guilty Remnant if they protested the Holiday Dance. After their broad bit of breaking and entering, he may not be able to protect them from the survivors’ wrath.

Like last week’s episode, there are more overt religious images that point to traditional Christian narratives. Last week, Rev. Matt was in a coma for three days before waking up. Is Christine’s pregnancy holy? When Garvey takes the Lord’s name in vain, his car mysteriously shuts down. Despite the confusion over just what happened on October 14th, and the survivors’ disdain for religion, it is clear that the series hasn’t ruled it out as a cause.

About J. Ryan Parker

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