What caused the Sudden Departure? That’s what drives the rest of the world into somber chaos on The Leftovers. What happened and why? But Jarden “Miracle,” Texas, where 9,261 were spared, never had to ask that question because the people of Jarden knew it was a special place, just like Erika’s grandmother said. But after three teenage girls have seemingly vanished, they have to start asking that question and it doesn’t look good.
Not for Erika, who finally snaps at how the town did react to the 14th and has to wonder what happened to her daughter. And not for Nora, who is always a ticking time bomb anyway. It’s clear we’ll never know what caused the Sudden Departure, but in this episode, “Lens,” we finally get a spotlight on these two intriguing figures as they tell each other who caused what.
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Nora’s always been a tough character to crack. Carrie Coon is a fantastic actress who gives Nora that impulsive, explosive energy, but she never shows us why she’s doing what she’s doing. Not because Coon is incapable (she clearly is), but because Nora doesn’t even know what she’s doing or, most important, why. Not with the Departure and often not her own actions.
Take, for instance, throwing a rock into the Murphys’ house and then calmly returning to her own. Or bringing Mary to the fundraising function, despite the fact that it could be seen as hostile to the Murphys, considering they think Matt raped his comatose wife. Or Nora casually mentioning to Erika that she lost both of her children. Of course, there are plenty of ways to read those scenes, but to me, Nora isn’t consciously aware of her hostility toward the Murphys. That part comes later.
What Nora’s most concerned with in this episode, however, is finding out more about the sudden scientific interest in her house and her neighbors’ house. The Department of Sudden Departures swings by to validate if the three missing girls were a “secondary” departure (it looks like it), while a scientist swings by to take readings of Nora and the Murphys’ house. Nora, a fellow DSD worker herself, immediately pumps him for information (in a subtle way). It turns out that they’ve produced a new questionnaire based on a Japanese algorithm based on the new Departure theory.
Thanks to ultraviolet lights, some individuals may be considered as a “lens” or hotspot for Departure activity. Nora, already afraid of another Departure, reads and buys into it for a hot second until she learns that some scientists believe she may be possessed by the demon Azazel. But I don’t quite buy that Nora doesn’t believe it just a little bit. As soon as she learned that the Departure may have happened because of geography, she jumped at the chance to move to Jarden. And then the day she moves into her house, three girls — one of whom lives next door — vanish.
While Nora is busy being unconsciously hostile, Erika’s busy with her everyday life since her daughter and her two friends have vanished. That includes fixing up the people her husband bashes in for spouting “lies” (would this not be considered a hate crime?), looking for batteries for her ear in a knapsack with tons of money in it and digging up a bird in a box in the middle of the forest. Basically, a busy day for Erica.
Then there’s the whole chasing down a boy who left them an apple pie at their door. It’s a wonderfully done sequence, since we hear the world as Erika would hear it without her hearing devices. It leads her to the mysterious man in the RV in the woods — the one Michael prays with sometimes. And, you know, the one John attempted to kill. Erika tells him to back off, but he says they are family. It’s only a matter of time. He asks if she wants to take a bird with her, but she scoffs at him. Later, Erika confronts Michael about his secret meetings with that man, but he pushes back at her. Everyone who asks for forgiveness deserves forgiveness. Hmmmm.
Later, the whole town arrives for the big fundraiser being held to raise money for the search of the missing girls. Evie’s choir sings (kind of flatly, too), a slideshow occurs to Rihanna‘s “Stay” (which gives the song a whole new meaning in a post-Departure world) and then the town’s resident goat-murderer arrives to do his thing, but Erika’s had enough.
As Erika berates (and explains to us), the 9,261 spared are full of it. They are just as scared as everyone else. That’s why that guy has killed a goat every day since; his crime became a kind of sacrifice to something that spared them. That’s why a bride wears her wedding gown every day to take pictures of tourists, because something spared her from a bad day.
First of all, Regina King is just killing it in this role. I’m sorry, Emmy Award winner Regina King is killing it as Erika Murphy and she might just earn herself another Emmy for this episode. And I haven’t even recapped the last scene!
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Nora and Erika
So, by this point, Nora has stolen the fancy new questionnaire from the DSD worker at the fundraising ceremony and leaves to give it to Erika. With a surprise twist, Erika invites Nora to ask her the questions so these two can finally feel each other out.
The questions are pretty weird. In addition to asking if Evie is a twin, wore corrective vision wear, had a history of epilepsy and about her diet, Nora asks Erika Evie if she dreams about her now. Erika answers every night. “What were the last words they said to you to the best of your recollection?” But Erika can’t remember. Then Nora asks if Evie and Erika both withdrew a large sum of money before her disappearance. Erika answers yes.
Erika was planning on leaving John (hence the bag of money) and her children but worried that Evie would not be able to handle it. Michael had his faith, but Evie was different. As Erika explains to Nora, she was always told that the town of Jarden was a special place, carved out of the Garden of Eden itself. Her grandmother told her a story where you could bury a bird in the ground for three days and make a wish. If the bird lived after the third day, that wish would come true. Though Erika was certain she didn’t believe in that fable or a god thereafter, she decided to make this wish for her daughter. So Erika found a nearly dead sparrow, buried it in the ground and waited. She wished that Evie would be okay without her and the sparrow flew away, healthy and alive. Evie vanished one day later.
Erika blames herself for her child’s disappearance, but Nora, finally acting on her passive hostility to fully-blown hostility, rejects that idea. She even calls Erika “pathetic” and irrational for blaming herself for her child’s disappearance. Nora’s moved past her own experience losing her children; she’s evolved. “Terrible things happen in the world and the only comfort we get is that we didn’t cause them.” Yikes.
Erika demands to know, then, how Nora lost her children. Did they die or did they Depart? Nora answers that they Departed. And then Erika delivers the final blow: “What were the last words they said to you to the best of your recollection?” Nora cries and then leaves.
What to make of this scene? There are so many ways to read it, but I think Erika is mostly disturbed that she spent her entire life not believing in the power of Miracle when her daughter is actually a miracle by disappearing into thin air. It’s a shame that Erika has had no one to talk to about this until she talks to Nora, who is flat-out awful during this exchange. However, I think Nora resents Erika and her family right now. She moved to Miracle to escape the geography of the Departure, and as soon as she arrives, a girl disappears next door. Add that to theory of people who attract departures, and Nora really feels unsafe.
But don’t worry, Nora — you aren’t the only one resenting your neighbors in this episode, not after Erika throws a rock into your house.
- Again, what a great final scene between Regina King and Carrie Coon. Emmy noms all around!
- Erika takes the goat away from the fundraiser, but where does she leave it?
- FYI, Nora also gets a call from Laurie, of all people. Laurie, smoking a cigarette, is worried over the whereabouts of Tommy, who is MIA. Guess we’ll learn more about that soon.
- Another big reveal: Kevin comes clean to Nora about his special, invisible friend Patti, who is not too happy about the decision. I also love how he admits that he’s “seeing another woman.”
- Jill and Michael are pretty much dating and I hope those two kids stay as far away from their family drama as possible. Seriously, the Garveys and the Murphys are basically the Capulets and Montagues.
The Leftovers airs Sundays at 9pm on HBO.
(Image courtesy of HBO)