I suppose it’s a testament to the quality of The Leftovers that a less than spectacular episode can feel like a letdown. That’s what happened with “Lens,” but thankfully it capped off with a stunning finale, giving meaning to the mediocrity beforehand. Much of “Lens” was built to provide clarification to a few of the more confounding things about Jarden and its inhabitants presented in the season premiere, “Axis Mundi,” with a welcome surprise visit from character actor Joel Murray (Mad Men’s Freddy Rumsen) as George Brevity, a government employee sent to inquire about departure possibility.
We finally received an answer as to why Erika dug up a box containing a live bird (more on that later) and also received a little bit more information on the goat-sacrificing Jerry. Out of all the questions raised this season (What happened to the missing girls? Does geography play into the departures? Did Mary really wake up?), none have been as tantalizing as the mystery surrounding Jerry and his penchant for sacrificing goats. Why is sacrificing goats part of his daily routine? Where is he getting all these goats? And more importantly, why does everyone around him just react mildly annoyed with a “Really man? You have to do this now?” sort of attitude when he commits his notorious act of sacrifice? Jerry made his first appearance in “Axis Mundi” when he walked into the restaurant where the Murphys were eating and proceeded to do his thing. Give the guy some credit, at least he has the decency to bring his own tarp. In last week’s “No Room at the Inn,” Jerry was briefly seen leading a goat past the camera outside a grocery store where Matt was shopping, his appearances have begun to signal oncoming suffering. In “Lens,” Jerry returns to interrupt an effective use of Rihanna’s “Stay” during an emotional slideshow at the fundraiser for the missing girls, but Erika cuts him off and calls bullshit. In the latest episode, The Leftovers examines the varying ways in which missing people breed superstition.
Some members of the town attribute Jerry’s goat-sacrificing as an act that saved them all from departing with the three girls, while others just see his antics as a mild annoyance. One girl was in her wedding dress the day the girls went missing, so she continues to wear it everyday in order to bring them back. For Erika, the morning before Evie’s disappearance, she followed a superstition passed on from her grandmother: bury a bird in a box, then open it three days later — if the bird is still living, you are granted a wish. When the bird flew out of the box in “Axis Mundi”, Erika was planning on leaving John and wished that Evie would be okay without her. Erika’s convinced that she’s responsible in some part for Evie’s disappearance and has been burying birds ever since in an attempt to wish her back into existence. In some ways, the act echoes Matt’s attempts to recreate the exact conditions that happened on the day that Mary woke up in “No Room at the Inn,” examining the ways faith and superstition bleed into each other for these characters.
On the subject of Erika, Regina King finally gets to shine in “Lens” after standing on the sidelines for most of the season. When Erika called out everyone on their faceless superstitions that don’t actually conjure any sense of safety or security, King single-handedly turned the episode around as her character suffers a meltdown. Incidentally, the moment ushered in the final scenes and some of the best acting seen on The Leftovers. After the meltdown, Nora comforts Erika and gives her the departure questionnaire, and it’s a real treat watching the talented Regina King and Carrie Coon spar with each other. In the ensuing conversation, Erika and Nora dissect the other’s beliefs, fears and insecurities. The raw emotion on display highlights the authenticity of the scene, as shades of anger, guilt and catharsis all flash across each characters’ face, all through a single line of dialogue.
Noted filmmaker Craig Zobel (Compliance, Z for Zachariah) directed “Lens”, and I can’t help but gripe that we missed out on an easy Compliance reunion, as Ann Dowd’s Patti remained off camera for the entirety of the episode. For much of “Lens,” Zobel didn’t really elevate the material like he’s capable of doing — his direction feeling like a generic point-and-shoot affair — but he comes alive at the same time as King. In the final scene with Erika and Nora, Zobel slowly closes in on each of them throughout the conversation, and this choice of composition subtly amplifies the rising tension growing between the two with each line of dialogue. With a captivating final act, “Lens” forgave the middling effort that came before, and the episode highlighted the idea that Regina King and Carrie Coon should be on camera together more often.
Dylan Moses Griffin has been a cinephile for as long as he can remember. His favorite film is Taxi Driver, and he reads the works of Roger Ebert like it’s scripture. If you want, he will talk to you for 30 minutes about the chronologically weird/amazing Fast and Furious franchise.