The best pieces of art or entertainment should endeavor to leave you wondering what you would do if you were in the place of the people on screen or on the page. How would you respond if placed in a similar situation, no matter surreal or fantastical it might be?
The Leftovers drives that question a little deeper because so many people on this planet believe that something like “The Departure” could happen. But, in their view, it will be accompanied by death, destruction, and a battle between the powers of God and Satan. In the world of this show and the book it is based on, life just moves on. And for some, that’s hardly enough to quell the grief they’re feeling.
By this point in the story, it’s three years past the big event and, obviously, people are still struggling. None more so than Nora, the dutiful employee of the Office of Sudden Departure, a governmental oversight group that doles out bereavement payments to the folks who lost someone.
As the episode opens, she is buying groceries for a family, boxes of sugary cereal and Nesquik. It’s all to replace the same batch of stuff she already has in her cupboards and fridge. Though she never says it, perhaps she’s still hoping that the kids will just reappear the same way that they blinked out of existence. Then she hires a call girl. Not for sex, but so that the sex worker will shoot Nora in the chest (she’s wearing a bulletproof vest). Is this a William Tell act, or an effort to find someone to miss and put Nora out of her obvious misery? Whatever the answer, it’s difficult to watch.
The rest of “Guest” centers on a conference in Manhattan on The Departure where Nora is scheduled to speak. She arrives to find that someone else has acquired her name badge and is signing into events under her name. It turns out to be a conspiracy theorist that uses the panel to rave about the evildoings of the Office of Sudden Departure. It’s a fascinating parallel to her issues wrestling with the strange celebrity status that she has been granted. For a day, she’s nobody, a “Guest” as her temporary name badge reads.
Really, this week’s episode is about the people trying to pull Nora out of her cocoon of despair. Chief Garvey does his best when they cross paths at the courthouse (both are finalizing their respective divorces), but is put off by her brash demeanor. So too does a smooth-talking fake body salesman when he drags her to a party in his large hotel room. Fueled by cocktails and pills, she starts to loosen up. But it’s only temporary as she’s brusquely woken up and kicked out of the hotel due to the actions of the fake Nora Durst walking around it.
The person that finally does it is Holy Wayne. She is brought to his ratty apartment where he is holed up, and pays $1,000 to be granted an audience with him. He speaks directly to her grief, telling her what she already knows but won’t admit: that she’s been holding onto and reviving this pain within because she fears that moving on will mean forgetting her kids. He quietly assures her that their memories will remain before holding her in a deep embrace. It’s an ominous but beautiful scene.
The next time we see her, everything about her seems lighter: her face, her hair, her demeanor. And when Chief Garvey stops by to stumblingly ask her out, she seems genuinely excited at the prospect.
There are still so many unanswered questions wrapped up in this episode, particularly as one wonders what Wayne meant when he said he foresaw his death coming soon, and how long this hugging cure will last poor Nora. But those will have to be dealt with more next week. For now, let’s enjoy the fact that for once, The Leftovers ended on a positive, hopeful note. Those have been in short supply in this still-young series.
Robert Ham is a Portland-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.