In this week’s The Leftovers, we get a Nora-centric episode where Nora travels to NYC for a Departed conference.
There has been a lot of discussion about what The Leftovers is building towards in its first season. Including this week, we’ve witnessed two character-centric episodes, three noticeable time jumps and just a whole lot of despair and tension between the town and the Guilty Remnant. It feels aimless with its 10-episode season order. And it’s all building for a lot of people on the Internet to ask, why should I care? Why should I keep watching?
On a storytelling level, you should watch because The Leftovers is framed really beautifully. Its premise may not resonate the same way as something familiar might, like a mob show or a buddy cop show, but it is a fascinating story and premise and a well-made one.
Of course, if you don’t like it, you don’t like it. If you don’t care about the premise, the characters, the themes, this show is not for you. If you keep looking at the clock in anticipation for it to be over when you are watching, stop watching. If you find no value in watching it at all, then don’t. That can be said of any show.
But maybe you should watch The Leftovers anyway. Because as bleak and draining as it is to endure, it’s unpredictable and yet painfully accurate in how the world works. The entire show is a reaction to something and that in itself is intriguing. The show does not pick up with the Sudden Departure. The Leftovers waits three years to see how much the world has reacted to such trauma. Everyone is still reacting, stuck in a cycle of instincts to survive. The only people not reacting anymore are the Guilty Remnant, who actively try to disappear and who react to nothing.
Maybe the reaction is more powerful than anything else the show is trying to do. Like the characters. Take Nora, for example, the subject of this week’s episode. Do any of us watching really love Nora? Do we care that much about her in an episode devoted entirely to her? I do and I don’t. But I’m curious to see where her journey takes her and what we learn about the world as she does.
What about the various religious undertones of the show? Can atheists be attracted to this type of show, with such a religious reaction? As an agnostic atheist, I say yes. Even though I do not believe in a lot of the show’s themes, I still want to watch. Not for the themes, but for the small instances in the show where we learn more about this world and therefore more about our world.
I think The Leftovers is less a show you care about and one you need to think about. There are moments in this week’s episode that give insight into a much bigger world and that’s the show you should be paying attention to.
Nora’s Gotta Gun
Here, we watch a normal day in the life of Nora.
Nora is interviewing someone about their Departed loved ones, the questions becoming uncomfortably invasive, to a gay man of color! That’s a first for this show.
Nora stalks small children and the woman taking care of them from her car. It must be her husband’s ex-lover/her children’s preschool teacher. She returns to her home, which is more a museum than anything. Puzzles untouched, paper towel never replaced; the same food her family eats is bought, replaced and thrown out when expired. Never touched.
I cannot imagine what it is like to lose a child or an entire family, but Nora’s coping mechanisms are unhealthy. Especially this next part.
Nora calls an escort for an appointment; she inflates an air mattress as she waits for a woman named Angel (which is just a very cruel religious joke on the writers’ part). And then Nora asks Angel to shoot her in the chest with this gun.
Nora convinces Angel to do this for $3,000 dollars for two seconds of work. Nora puts on a kevlar vest (where did she get that?) so Angel can shoot her just above the stomach and just below the heart. Nora blasts awful metal music to drown out the gun shot. Angel, shaking, asks what happened to Nora.
Angel doesn’t miss, but she rightfully runs right out of there with the money. Nora falls onto the air mattress, a sense of release on her face.
The next day, Nora Jamison Durst is at court. We learn another important bit of info in this post-Departed world: divorces must be granted by the court since Nora’s husband technically is not dead. The judge asks about custody, but Nora reminds her and us that her kids departed as well. The judge changes her demeanor, sympathy on her face, and the court hereby grants the judgment to divorce.
At the court, Nora runs into her love interest/future kinky sex partner Garvey, who is also there for a divorce. They flirt a bit until Nora laughs like a psychopath and invites Garvey to randomly go to Miami with her. Garvey’s probably DTF, but he has obligations, but Nora says, oh, f*** your daughter. It’s super uncomfortable and hilarious with Garvey semi-flattered and offended.
Nora arrives to work to talk about the conference she must go to in New York. She’s a government employee for the DSD — the Department of Sudden Departure. Of course, a government agency was created for this event. The questionnaire she asks people has question 121 filled out yes; every single one of her applicants answers yes. When Nora was asked 121 three times, she answered yes. Hmmm.
In NYC, she arrives at the Departure conference to a ton of protestors. My favorite sign is the “World Health Organization Did It.” A Guilty Remnant gives her a grenade, with the words “Any time now.” The protestors on The Leftovers are such chipper people.
In her conference package, she receives a book called What’s Next by a man who lost four people on the 14th. Ouch. Nora angrily demands for her badge with her legacy stickers, but someone has taken it. Nora’s an enigma wrapped in a pistol.
At the conference, she meets a band of rebel conference goers, drunk and wild, complaining about oranges. What’s an orange? They are legacies, orphans, survivors, whatever else they call themselves. I think it’s implied that legacies are people who lost more than one person. (Nora’s a triple legacy then.) After taking some drugs, Nora’s gone wild, but as much as she can for being a bit of a dweeb. I wonder when they are going to bring out the spin the bottle app.
One of them, Marcus, pretends to be an enigma, daring her to ask what he does for a living. She concedes. It’s a long story, but insurance companies won’t pay out on the collections of the Departed because the people aren’t technically dead. It’s a scam. So the DSD does their questionnaire to give them a settlement, and to collect valuable information about the Departed to look for a pattern.
What Marcus does is create practical carbon copies of the dead — down to their scars — for reproduction. He shows her one that looks exactly like him, lying on the table. He asks if he is soulless to supply demand after 145 million bodies disappear, but Nora answers no. I agree with that, but you don’t have to think hard to wonder about the creepy things people could do to these bodies. Especially after he asks to kiss Nora and she agrees … she kisses the reproduction. Ew.
In the middle of the night, security escorts Nora out not for being a party animal, but because her impostor has broken the mirror at the bar. She sneaks back in only to be caught by security once again. She mentions how she lost three people, and the head of security exhales harshly. What are the odds of that? To lose your whole family? One in 128,000. That’s the odd of losing your entire family.
Together with security, they find the impersonator, who gives a monologue rivaling an elaborate conspiracy theorist. What this means for Nora is free drinks. Like, her identity is stolen, but all is well because free drinks. In Manhattan. At the bar, she meets What’s Next author Patrick Johanson, where they discuss loss.
For a man who has lost his whole family, he seems okay. Nora actually calls him on this, by saying he’s completely full of it. Nora lost everyone (including, I assume, her parents as a child). There is no moving on. What’s next? Nothing is next for Nora or anyone. Nothing.
A man at the bar overhears this, offering her to come with him. He promises not to murder her and offers truth instead. After a billion flight of stairs and a creepy Matrix hallway, Nora pays another $1,000 for whatever this is. (What a stupid move to use their computer. What if they save her info and rob her blind?) They lead her toward a black curtain. And guess who’s behind it?
The show’s very own Magical Negro, Holy Wayne.
Holy Wayne takes pain from people via hugs, if you remember, and Wayne wants Nora to know that he doesn’t give a s**t about her, but he’s exhausted. He also has an uncanny ability to read her as Nora bursts into tears. See, Nora won’t let it kill her or kill herself, but she will wait. As Wayne says, “Surely a live dog is better than a dead lion.” Cowering in fear is being better than being brave and dead. Earlier in the episode, a panelist mentions that megalomania is on the rise; I believe it after Wayne’s little speech.
Nora asks, “Will I forget them?” “Never.” Wayne absorbs her pain and she just releases.
Back in Mapleton, Nora looks happy. She’s stopped stalking the preschool teacher, she’s buying healthy food, her house is clean. Garvey shows up to her door to tell her not to take the other day personally, and to finally ask Nora out on a date. Can we happy-dance for the two saddest people in town? Nora completely accepts, even when Garvey mentions he’s an effing mess. Truer words have not been spoken.
Back at work, Nora questions another person for the Departed benefit. Question 121 reads: in your opinion, do you believe the Departed is in a better place? The sufferer cries no and we are lead to believe that Nora thinks the same thing now.
— “They can deny all they want. North Korea lost people.”
— Nora’s bureaucratic stonewalling answer is perfect.
— Again, I don’t think I really like Nora that much as a character — though she is interesting — but maybe you can’t like someone whose entire life was consumed by a never-ending grief.
— The only characters to be in every episode are Garvey, Nora and the Reverend, if we count his voice.
— There are four episodes left of the season and I have no idea where they will take us. It’s one of the best things about The Leftovers and one of the most underappreciated.
The Leftovers airs Sundays at 10pm on HBO.
(Image courtesy of HBO)