The Leftovers 1x4 Review: The Symbolism Hammer Strikes Again
In its fourth episode, "A.C. and the B.J.," The Leftovers did what it always does: impressed us with its poignant use of symbolism and then frustrated us by beating us over the head with it.
We open with the powerful reveal that the baby Jesus has been stolen from the manger in the local Nativity scene. While this symbol may be overt, it's also very fitting. The writers have effectively set up the central emotion of the show as a despairing kind of confusion, the unmoored feeling that arises in people when they've forgotten how to believe in anything. The idea that Jesus may not only be gone, but might be one of the Departed, encapsulates the primary psychological conflict of the characters in this show. So although the symbolism was somewhat heavy-handed from the start, I would have forgiven it if it had stayed in the background. But, unfortunately, the writers beat this metaphor to within an inch of its life, and somewhere between Justin Theroux's character exclaiming re: baby Jesus "I found him!" and him throwing the baby Jesus out of his car window, I started to feel patronized.
That being said, there are also interesting metaphors that are not nearly as explicit in their meaning. This episode had a running (and incredibly unsettling) doll motif that was a little more more delicately handled. Between the baby Jesus and the disturbing bereavement dolls, we were left with a sense that something insidiously fake was filling the voids in these people's lives: a cheap, plastic baby doll instead of actual spirituality, weird fake corpses in the place of meaningful closure. One could make arguments that these dolls are symbolic of people like Wayne or the Remnant, or that they are reflective of the emptiness in the leftovers themselves, or both. This ambiguity makes this motif much more interesting than the very dead horse.
(Side note: It was interesting that the episode juxtaposed Jill stealing the baby Jesus with the Remnant stealing family pictures and leaving empty frames. As someone who has never read Tom Perrotta's novel, I wonder if the writers are trying to imply that Jill is destined to become one of the Remnant.)