[WARNING: The following story contains spoilers from Sunday's episode of The Leftovers. Read at your own risk.]
HBO's The Leftovers took a bit of a detour Sunday. Instead of continuing to focus on the Garvey family, the show dedicated an entire episode to the plight of Christopher Eccleston's Rev. Matt Jamison.
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In particular, we learned that Matt's wife (Janel Moloney) was critically injured during the Departure when she and Matt collided with a vehicle whose driver vanished. His congregation's numbers are dwindling (the townspeople justifiably upset by his smear campaign) and he is struggling to pay for his wife's full-time care. To add insult to injury, the bank forecloses on the deed to his church and sells it... to the Guilty Remnant.
After all that suffering, will Rev. Matt lose faith? Not at all, says Eccleston, who tells TVGuide.com how Matt justifies his less-than-godly actions and what's next in Matt's battle with the Guilty Remnant. Plus: Why was Matt so mean to his sister Nora (Carrie Coon)?
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Before this episode, we only saw Rev. Matt briefly. How did you react when you found out that an entire episode would be devoted to your character?
Christopher Eccleston: I was hugely fortunate. I got one of the best scripts I've ever read, I also got one of the best directors I've ever had inKeith Gordon. I applaud [co-creator Damon Lindelof] because he's trying very hard, with his writers and Tom Perrotta, to not present a standard series, both in form and in content. To suddenly follow this character rather than Kevin Garvey, there's a challenge to the viewers. We hope, should we get a second [season], that we can develop that. It's an instinctive way of making television. If suddenly we're interested in this person, we'll follow them. They're trying to make something ambitious.
Unlike other people, Matt didn't necessarily lose anyone in the Sudden Departure. Does that make his perspective different?
Eccleston: I think he has lost his wife. She can be present, but the personality and what was essential about that person is lost, which is a kind of torture to have the shell of the person. I think he's deep in grief because he and his wife had a very good marriage. He had a very good marriage and he had a very full flock in the church, and all that being taken from him traumatized him deeply.
How would you describe the impact the Departure has had on Matt as a man of faith?
Eccleston: I feel like it was a massive fall for Matt. He had a big congregation and he was an influential and very content man. He was deeplyin love with his wife. That's part of his tragedy — this event cripples the one person he's only every truly loved and I think that fuels a great deal of his anger that this may have been God. Matt cannot accept that God would do that to the woman that he loved, so there's great complexity there. I think it's a huge fall from grace for him.
Up until this point, however, Matt has been vocal in insisting that he doesn't believe this was God's doing in his newsletter. Has his mind changed?
Eccleston: Throughout the episode, I think there's a sense that he's moving toward the idea that this was an act of God. He starts to identify very strongly with Job and suggests to his sister that this was a test, that God is behind the test. ... We do see him in Episodes 1 and 2 denying that this was an act of God, but some of the things he says in Episode 3, I think, suggest that possibly he thinks it was, if you like to use an unfortunate phrase, a double bluff on God's part.
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So if Matt believes this is a test, do you think he feels like he's being punished? And if so, for what?
Eccleston: You could say it's a huge act of ego to identify so strongly with Job, to say that God has singled him out for punishment. He sees himself, possibly, as a prophet. There's a huge ego there, but perhaps there's a huge ego there in a man of God who will stand at a pulpit in the first place. But I think you've hit on something very important. I think that he has many secrets, even from himself. There are huge areas of denial. I think a key part of this series is the guilty secrets that people carry, and I think that there's a whole area in Matt about his actual relationship to God — what he demonstrates and what the fact is — which is hidden deep within him.
When he beat up the would-be robber outside the casino, he certainly showed sides of himself that most wouldn't associate with being a man of God. Is he in denial about that as well? Does he think those actions are acceptable because he has good intentions for saving his church?
Eccleston: It's a good intention, but there's a savagery in the way he beats the man, which is about something else entirely. It's about his wife. It's about his own deprivation. Something is released in that, which it seems has been pent up for a long, long time. I think he sees it as collateral damage to his greater goal. Again, there's huge ego in the idea that he's doing God's work and everything he does is justified. But we see that time and time again in all manner of religious acts.
So, do you think of him as a good person?
Eccleston: It all comes from the heart. I hope that's demonstrated in the episode. He's a man who cares deeply about other human beings. He's also many other things, but there is a great deal of heart and humanity in him. But there's a great deal of ugliness in him too.
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It was certainly ugly when he told his sister about her husband's infidelity. Where does their relationship go from here?
Chris Eccleston: It's violent what he does to his sister in this episode, psychologically. His sense of his own mission blinds him to the effects of the information he gives her. He's elder and he's always acted as a kind of father figure, but I think in fact she's far brighter, emotionally, than he is. But he's fallen into a role with her, and we see that relationship deepen.
Just as he couldn't seem to stop himself from telling his sister those things, he seems unwilling to back down from adversity in all forms. What is behind his drive to keep going?
Eccleston: You could say it's ego or you could say it's heart. It's what the series is about. How do you survive sudden loss? How do you survive trauma? Human beings go forward, and we're examining that. We do it with crutches and we do it with neuroses, but these people are not throwing themselves off buildings. These people are trying to make sense and trying to live. There's great courage in that, I think.
And yet, after going through all those things, he still loses the church. Has he lost faith at this point?
Eccleston: No. Keith and Damon suggested very strongly to me that, the final note when the church has been taken from him has to be hopeful. He now has a cause again. He's very much lost and flailing around throughout the episode, but when he realizes that he's lost his church, he has a cause, which is to get his church back. So, he plants the crucifix again, if you like. He has an enemy and perhaps he intends to make those people a common enemy.
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How will he go about taking on the Guilty Remnant?
Eccleston: He's a clever politician. Christianity has taken a great beating, post-Rapture, but I think it's very true in America that as soon as Christianity is attacked, it's felt directly. Then that can be exploited by members of the church, by saying, "We are now a victim." We are a victim of the GR, and any clever politician would use that.
With this new focus, will he continue with his newsletter?
Eccleston: He does move away from that in a certain sense, and then he returns to it. But he's using it in a far more sophisticated and clever way. It's a far less aggressive and manic use of it.
And will we see even more ugliness in Matt as this battle heats up?
Eccleston: In odd ways, all the opposing sides are starting to, even though they oppose each other, recognize similarities. And his relationship with the GR goes deeper and does become more complex. It's not an out-and-out fistfight, if you know what I mean.
The Leftovers airs Sundays at 10/9c on HBO. (Watch previous episodes here.) What did you think of the episode?