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But He Was Silent
Image: HBO
Christopher Eccleston in 'The Leftovers'

The Leftovers — "Two Boats and a Helicopter"

Note: As with all TV recaps, there may be some mild spoilers below for those who did not watch the episode. If you're only looking for a content advisory, I'll tell you: this HBO show, were it a movie, would be rated R for language, violence, sexual content, and thematic material, but it changes from week to week. The first commentary carried a Caveat Spectator, so you can check that out.

You've heard the joke before, probably from a pulpit: there once was a man named Al who sat in his house watching television as the meteorologist warned that life-threatening floods were rolling in. Al flicked off the TV and went to bed.

He awoke in the middle of the night, feeling cold. Realizing the flood waters had risen so high that his house was flooded, he climbed to his roof. Still, the waters climbed. Al waited patiently.

Soon, his friend Jim came by in a rowboat, kids and wife huddled in the bow. But there was room for one more. "Hop in, Al," Jim said. "We're headed for higher ground, and we can take you with us."

"That's okay," Al said brightly. "Thanks, Jim. But God will save me. I'm waiting on him." Jim exchanged glances with his wife, then yelled, "Well, okay—good luck, buddy," and rowed on.

The waters continued to creep higher, and when they were within a foot of his gutter, another boat rowed by—this one containing the local police. "Come on," they said to Al. "Get in the boat. We're evacuating the area."

Al shook his head ruefully. "No," he said. "No, thank you, but I'm not leaving. The Lord's looking after me, and he'll save me."

The police argued with him, but it was fruitless. Al was waiting on God. So they finally shrugged and moved on.

The waters kept rising, and eventually reached all but the peak of the roof. Al was soon going to be drowned. "Save me, Lord," he said. "I'm waiting on you. My hope is in you!"

Just then, he felt a mighty rush of wind from above. Al looked up. A helicopter with a FEMA shield on the door moved toward him. The door opened and a man holding a megaphone hollered at him: "Get in the chopper! We're lowering the rope now!"

A rope ladder swung down, nearly hitting Al in the head. He looked at it, then looked up and shook his head. "No!" he yelled. The man, unable to hear him, pointed. Al looked at the rope ladder again, shook his head, then turned away and crossed his arms. "God will save me," he said to himself.

Finally, near dawn, the waters rose too high and Al, who had never learned to swim, drowned. As his body floated lifeless on the waves, his soul rose to meet his maker. He was face to face with God.

Al was a little upset. He looked at the Lord. "You said you would save me," he said. "I believed your promises. But you didn't! What's up with that?" He crossed his arms again and waited to hear how the Almighty would reply.

God looked at Al and cocked an eyebrow. "I sent you two boats," he said. "And a helicopter. What else did you want?"

That (very American) joke, whatever its theological deficits, lends its punchline (though it's never referenced) as the title of the third episode of The Leftovers, in which the town's minister, Matt Jamison, is in the stickiest of situations. This episode focuses entirely on Rev. Jamison, though it starts to connect some of the dots between other residents of Mapleton.

Watch This Way
How we watch matters at least as much as what we watch. TV and movies are more than entertainment: they teach us how to live and how to love one another, for better or worse. And they both mirror and shape our culture.
Alissa Wilkinson
Alissa Wilkinson is Christianity Today's chief film critic and assistant professor of English and humanities at The King's College in New York City. She lives in Brooklyn.
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But He Was Silent