It's the holiday season on The Leftovers, but no one is very happy. While Kevin Garvey deals with a missing Baby Jesus and the Guilty Remnant's latest stunt, young Tom Garvey is dealing with something very freaky on the road with his fellow cultist.
The Leftovers finally feels like it's settling in. After the palette cleanser that was last week's Christopher Eccleston episode, we return to the Garveys with a better sense of who they—and the people in their orbit—are. Kevin's obsession with the Guilty Remnant has him plotting their mass arrest at the town's holiday dance. When someone steals the Baby Jesus out of the Nativity, Kevin has no interest in finding out who took it. It was a prank (one he quickly suspects his daughter was responsible for committing) and he has, he believes, more important things to deal with.
But symbols are important and to Mayor Warburton, the most important symbol is not the Baby Jesus, but the appearance of a competent police department. To her, that means ordering Kevin to buy a new baby doll and pretend that it's the original. For Kevin, though, a "win" isn't tricking the people of Mapleton into thinking he's recovered the Baby Jesus doll. It's actually recovering the doll.
Jill's relationship with her friend Aimee is interesting. She plays mother hen to Aimee, as if trying to fill the void left behind by Laurie. In a way, this prompts Jill to double down on her rebellion against her father, nearly giving the Baby Jesus a viking funeral before changing her mind. At the same time, there's an aimlessness to the teenage rebellion of her peers. Initially, they're disappointed when Jill doesn't shoot the doll with a flaming Nerf dart, but soon they're cheerfully shouting, "Go fuck ourselves!" They're almost a parody of partying teenagers, as if they can't figure out what else to do with themselves. Perhaps that's why Jill's brain trust friends ultimately decide to return the doll to Kevin's doorstep; it's something worth doing.
Aimee may be trying to take Laurie's place, but Laurie still exists as a cigarette-smoking ghost in Mapleton. When she appears to serve Kevin with divorce papers, we learn some things about the Garvey family that suggest a great deal about both Laurie and Tom's reasons for leaving their family and joining their respective societies. Tom is not Kevin's biological son and Laurie felt broken by Tom's biological father. Kevin also reveals later to Nora that he cheated on his wife (something implied earlier) and he doesn't have an explanation for why. While Kevin is still in denial over Laurie's new life and her decision to dissolve their marriage, Jill seems oddly ready to allow her mother to move forward. In a touching moment, Jill gives Laurie a Christmas present—a lighter engraved with the words "Don't forget me." And while Laurie is willing to dive into so much of the self-agnegation associated with the Guilty Remnant, to lose her voice, to destroy her health, she's not quite prepared to let go of her daughter's memory. After she tosses the lighter away, she tries to fish it out of a storm drain, even after she steals the photographic memories of her former neighbors. Even when you've given yourself over to the Guilt Remnant, love is a powerful thing.
Tom's arc finally gets some teeth this week as he's on the road with Christine, who is pregnant with Wayne's baby. Whatever hold Wayne has on Tom, it enables him to be cruel to Christine. Gone is the boy who bought her gummy worms. Now he whispers abuses into her ear and blames her when a lunatic in their hostel attacks her following a disturbing prophetic dream. In some ways, Tom seems to view Wayne almost like people view God; he works in mysterious ways and it's hard to tell small accidents from genuine communications. After Tom leaves Christine in the hospital, he seems ready to forsake her, staring at the phone Wayne gave him and willing Wayne to call. When the phone finally does ring, it's not Wayne on the other end but a robo-caller. Perhaps Tom's faith in Wayne is truly profound enough to buy that Wayne is sending him a message through the robo-call, but he may just be so desperate to believe in someone—to believe in some father figure—that he must accept the call as a genuine message or else despair. But once his faith is renewed, Tom returns to Christine kinder and more resourceful. It is doubt, it seems, that brings out his cruelty. Wayne does seem to be right about at least one thing, though: Christine is special, special enough to be caught in the crossed supernatural wires that give people prophetic dreams.
The Guilty Remnant continues to be the most fascinating thing on this show, and we really get a sense of how they chip away at people's resolve. They're officially a franchise, existing outside of Mapleton with their perverse pamphlets. (I may have to print up a few dozen of those "Everything That Matters About You Is Inside" sheets.) But the kicker is when they take advantage of a distracted police force to break into the Mapletonians' houses and steal all their family photographs like divinely driven Grinches. We can see how, after a while, they can wear down a person's resolve.
Meanwhile, Reverend Matt and his "good deeds" continue to be a curse upon the land. Seriously, only this guy could put a nicer Baby Jesus in the empty manger and completely ruin someone's day.