The Leftovers Review: “B.J. And The A.C.” (Season 1, Episode 4)

the leftovers

As soon as the snow arrived in Mapleton a few episodes back, I had a sneaking suspicion that The Leftovers was heading for a Damon Lindelof Christmas Special, and just the concept of that made me laugh a little. This week’s installment, titled “B.J. And The A.C.” (presumably just because “Baby Jesus And The Antichrist” wouldn’t have flown, even on HBO), is that episode, but not how you might think. Sure, it’s set around the holidays, but this episode of The Leftovers is ruthlessly cutting in its treatment of the holiday spirit and of religion as a whole.

Like last week’s “Two Boats and a Helicopter,” it deals with the nature of faith and the postulates people draw up in an attempt to make meaning out of the meaningless, order out of chaos. Unlike last week, however, “B.J. And The A.C.” is a more well-rounded episode, checking in with all the characters and moving their storylines forward in surprisingly effective ways. Over the course of this first season, I’ve voiced a bit of dissatisfaction with Lindelof prioritizing mystique above actual drama and character development, but this week’s installment is a more fluid and balanced one. Though my favorite of the season so far is still “”Two Boats and a Helicopter,” because Christopher Eccleston rocks, “B.J. And The A.C.” still provides some food for thought and gives me hope for the rest of the season.

It starts off on a decidedly cynical note, following a Baby Boy doll from the initial pouring of the plastic in an anonymous factory to its use as the Baby Jesus in a Mapleton Nativity manger. We watch the same image of the manger changing as the days go by, until it’s seen that B.J. has been whisked away by some nefarious resident. In this world of broken faith, not even the definitive innocent is safe – though the oft-venerated Jesus is really just an empty lump of plastic in this episode. That the opening is set to The Black Keys’ I’m Not The One just impresses how superficial and fake the religious symbol really is – but in a world when people are struggling to find something to believe in, maybe what’s on the surface is all that’s important anyway.

So, when news of the theft comes to Kevin’s attention, and he tells his deputy that he doesn’t give a shit, it’s a funny little character moment for the chief, for whom zeroing in on the Guilty Remnant is the top priority. But then Jill brings it up at home, and Kevin exasperatedly says he’ll buy a new one. “That’s cheating,” she warns him, “You can’t just get a new one, it’s sacred.” Both of them know that’s hardly true, and so do we after watching its path to the manger. But B.J. is a symbol, Jill means, of grace and serenity, and of the merriment that typically comes with the holiday season. Kevin is weirded out by her sudden good cheer and asks her if she took it. “That’s sick,” she tells him. He agrees.

Kevin goes about getting ready for a Christmas dance at the school, and the main issue on his mind is whether the GR will show up. Earlier, talking with Patti, he told her “I won’t protect you,” so part of me thinks he actually wants them to start something. (Patti wasn’t having it, enigmatically writing “There is no family” and maliciously tossing a picture of Laurie on his desk.) However, Mayor Lucy won’t let Kevin keep his focus on them – she tells him to go get a new BJ, scruff it up, tell people he found it in a ditch, simply “because you need a win, Kevin.” It’s clear she’s talking about his alcohol-fueled dog massacre, but something tells me that replacing a plastic doll in a holiday display wouldn’t really make much of a difference in the town’s overall impression over the possibly psycho chief.