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The Rorschach Antichrist
Image: HBO
Chris Zylka in 'The Leftovers'

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.

This week it's worth noting that there are two things that some viewers may find particularly disturbing: one is a mentally disturbed man who is naked from the waist down (yes, we see it), and the other is a scene in which teenagers do things that are either blasphemous or seriously irreverent, though it's not portrayed in a positive light.

In some branches of Christianity—some of the same ones that believe in a coming literal Rapture—a figure called the Antichrist will appear halfway through the Tribulation (the seven-year period between the Rapture and Christ's final judgement of the earth) and unite the earth under his charismatic leadership before enacting his plan of evil on humanity, persecuting those who have come to faith and forcing the "mark of the Beast," some variation of 666, on everyone. He's not the devil, but he's something like his son: an inversion of Jesus.

Certain people and institutions have been fingered throughout the centuries as the Antichrist—notably, the Pope, or sometimes just the Roman Catholic church in general—but most agree that he hasn't appeared yet. (Islam has a similar figure, a "false messiah," in its theology.)

Various Christian sects differ on when the Antichrist will appear, but if you go by the same timeline as the one proposed in the Left Behind series of stories, then The Leftovers is coming up on that three-and-a-half year mark since the October 14 disappearances. The title of this fourth episode, set at Christmas, is "BJ and the AC," and though there are many things "the AC" could be—BJ, presumably in this case, being Baby Jesus—it seems like this is probably the Antichrist.

And that would make sense, because as opposed to last week's silent God, this week's Leftovers is loaded with false Christs.

Emily Meade and Margaret Qualley in 'The Leftovers'Image: HBO

Emily Meade and Margaret Qualley in 'The Leftovers'

The opening credits give us a factory turning out rubbery doll heads, which are then fastened onto doll bodies, which are then dressed and packaged and sent off to toy stores, where one is purchased, undressed, swaddled, and placed in a manger scene in the middle of Mapleton. Then the baby disappears. (Everything disappears in Mapleton: people, bagels, apparitions, fake Messiahs.)

Someone stole the Baby Jesus, the townspeople presume, and though Police Chief Kevin Garvey isn't really interested in spending departmental resources on the problem when he's got a whole Guilty Remnant to worry about, let alone his children, it's made his problem. And he's going to solve it. (Though when he something to that effect in a profanity-laced sentence to another cop, his car brakes suddenly go . . . )

Kevin's going to go hunting, but it was, as he suspected, Jill who stole the Baby Jesus. Jill doesn't really care about anything anymore, except her mother, who is missing. She's enacting her own little cult in the way of Wayne, the Barefoot People, and the Guilty Remnant: a cult of devil-may-care hedonism, where everything is so meaningless that it's probably fine to near-desecrate a doll who recently stood in for Jesus. Near-desecrate, because she can't quite do it. Something alive is still buried deep down in Jill's ribcage.

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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The Rorschach Antichrist