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The Leftovers Recap: Creepy Christmastime Comes to Mapleton

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Spreading Christmas fear?

On Sunday night’s episode of HBO’s The Leftovers, much is revealed about the Garveys’ past.

But as for the present, it’s the holidays and things are only getting worse.

The episode opens in an austere toy factory, showing a worker building a lifelike baby doll from start to shelf. The toy’s later purchased from a Mapleton store, swaddled and placed in the manger of the town’s nativity scene.

Chief Garvey (Justin Theroux) is in his office, where he’s called in Guilty Remnant leader Patti (Ann Dowd). He warns her to keep the cult away from the town’s upcoming holiday dance. But in truth, he hopes they crash the party, so he can finally arrest them for trespassing.

Tom’s in Trouble

Later, Garvey again can’t reach his son on the phone. It’s revealed Tom Garvey is currently in Amarillo, Texas, holed up with the young Asian girl from the ranch, Christine (Annie Q), at what appears to be a homeless halfway house. The place is crawling with wackos from another cult – one that has followers paint bull’s-eyes on their foreheads “so the creator can find [them]”.

As the two sit at a table pondering the whereabouts of their own mystical leader Wayne (Paterson Joseph), a man wearing a T-shirt (and nothing else) staggers towards Christine asking why she’s inside his dreams. The stranger straddles and tries to strangle her until Tom fights him off. They leave as the deranged assailant screams after them, “I know what’s inside you!”

A Holy Abduction

Like Garvey’s, the family in Mapleton’s manger has fallen apart. There’s a baby Jesus bandit on the loose. Jill (Margaret Qualley), Garvey’s normally apathetic teen daughter, grills him about finding the doll, which gives him the feeling she and her friends are the culprits.

Mayor Warburton (Amanda Warren) tells Garvey to replace the doll to help clean up his damaged, dog-killer image. Instead of buying a replacement, Garvey decides to find what’s been lost. Surveying video footage, he learns a hooded figure absconded with the doll. He later pulls over Lilly’s two Bobbsey twin friends, telling them to return the doll or kiss their clean records goodbye.

Losing Faith

Back in Texas, Tom takes Christine to the doctor following her assault. There it’s revealed she’s 12 weeks pregnant with Wayne’s baby, seeming to prove he’s the pedophile police thought him to be. But eyeing the girl’s bruises, the doctor assumes Tom’s her abuser. He flees before police are called.

At a bus stop two Guilty Remnant members hand Tom a pamphlet. Angry, confused and clutching the flip phone Wayne gave him, he begins to doubt the mystic, who tasked him with protecting Christine. “I want to go home,” he says as a bus arrives and the two GR members board. But before he gets on, the phone rings. An automated voice asks, “Have you lost someone?” It’s just a generic post-departure telemarketing call, but it’s enough to make Tom stay.

RELATED: The Leftovers Recap: No Church in the Wild for Father Matt

Broken Family

In Mapleton, Chief Garvey finds estranged wife Laurie and her cult’s newest initiate, Meg (Liv Tyler), at his doorstep. Inside the house Meg – who’s in that awkward GR stage where she doesn’t get to wear white and can still talk – begins to read Garvey an emotional letter Laurie wrote.

As Meg reads Laurie’s words on why she left – and we learn that Tom is actually Laurie’s son from a previous relationship – all Garvey wants to know is “What’s in the envelope?” He snatches it from his wife’s lap to find divorce papers inside. Garvey screams for her to tell him herself, but Jill suddenly enters the room. She walks over to the tree and hands her mom a small present, saying, “It’s for you.”

On their walk back, Laurie opens Jill’s gift to find a lighter inside engraved with “Don’t Forget Me.” Despite Meg’s urging to keep it, Laurie shows her abstinence by dropping it down a gutter.

Not far away, baby doll Jesus is having a hard time as well. Jill and her friends desecrate the poor doll, before pouring liquor on it and setting it afloat. As she’s about to set the small barge on fire, Jill has a change of heart. The next we see of the doll, the twins have dropped it on Garvey’s doorstep.

Wearing a bull’s-eye on his forehead as cover, Tom returns to the hospital and steals away with Christine. En route to their next destination, their bus stops abruptly thanks to dozens of morgue-tagged dead bodies littered across the freeway. “It’s just like the dream,” Christine says, recalling the scene her assailant described earlier.

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‘Twas the Night Before Chaos

It’s finally the night of Mapleton’s dance at the high school and Garvey’s officers are on cult watch. In the school hallway Chief Garvey finds Nora Durst (Carrie Coon) sitting on the floor near her old locker. Sparks seem to fly as their cordialities give way to Nora telling Garvey her dearly departed Doug cheated on her. “I cheated on my wife,” Garvey responds – a revelation that leads to a scene in first episode, where Garvey’s shown having sex at the time of the disappearances.

Outside the dance the Guilty Remnant show up, but wisely keep their legal distance. Garvey opts to take them in regardless, claiming, “It’s their [unspoken] word against ours.” As Patti grins in the back of the paddy wagon, the chief wonders why so few of her cult showed face.

It turns out the dance was used as a diversion. The majority of the cult is sneaking about town, stealing photos from people’s homes like ghosts of Christmas (forgotten) past. After taking other people’s memories, Laurie leaves Meg and the group, returning to the gutter to try and reclaim her own memento.

None the wiser, Chief Garvey heads over to the nativity scene to return the baby Jesus, only to find Father Matt (Christopher Eccleston) setting down a shiny new doll. On his way home Garvey tosses the original from the car. It seems some things aren’t worth looking for.

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