The Leftovers: Perfect Strangers
(Episode 3.04)Ben King/HBO TV Reviews The Leftovers
When the sun is wrapped up [in darkness]
And when the stars fall, dispersing
And when the mountains are removed
And when full-term she-camels are neglected
And when the wild beasts are gathered
And when the seas are filled with flame
And when the souls are paired
And when the girl [who was] buried alive is asked
For what sin she was killed
And when the pages are made public
And when the sky is stripped away
And when Hellfire is set ablaze
And when Paradise is brought near,
A soul will [then] know what it has brought [with it]. —Surah 81:1-14
The sign with which “Evie” (Jasmin Savoy Brown) gains Kevin’s (Justin Theroux) attention refers to this Surah on the end of the world, and though its measure of souls suggests the weight we all carry, the woman “buried alive” in “G’Day Melbourne” is none other than Nora Durst (Carrie Coon). The DSD fraud investigator’s off-book sting brings her to a warehouse on the outskirts of the city, where she agrees to be sealed in a shipping crate: The “event chamber of the device” by which Mark Linn-Baker and 119 others “went through,” as the doctor examining her explains, “requires an intense period of confinement,” and the wooden box is a test of her strength. As she reclines on a bed of packing peanuts, the episode’s musical through line, a-ha’s “Take On Me,” blares from a few forthright horns, and The Leftovers finds the last remaining link between Nora and Kevin: their desperate need to escape.
“G’Day Melbourne” thus contains two distinct arcs, fused by the desire that pries the couple apart. In Nora’s enclosure, as in Kevin’s search, the characters become, as it were, perfect strangers—one turns inward, one outward, and yet they share the same basic impulse, which is to imagine that their pain has a cure. Much of the hour, from their separation at airport security and their fast, detached fuck—the latter cast in grim, greenish light, as if submerged underwater—to their climactic argument, is built from the knowledge, as Ray Lamontagne has it, that “This Love Is Over”; as Nora notes aboard their flight, crafting that overemphatic excuse, “We’re in a toxic, co-dependent relationship, and we’ve come to realize we’re better off apart than together.” The Leftovers, of course, refuses to leave it at that, and “G’Day Melbourne” sees two distinct threads become one: A portrait of souls that know what they’ve brought with them, holding different baggage of equal weight.
For Kevin, as Laurie (Amy Brenneman) points out, the vision of “Evie”—a woman named Daniah Moabizzi—represents his own inclination to flee; for Nora, as Kevin points out in turn, the same might be said of the growing obsession with Baker’s radiation scheme. (“She’s the one who ran away,” he protests.) Their respective points of view inhabit opposite places on the spectrum of belief—Nora is a radical skeptic, fighting off the solace of faith; Kevin is a potential prophet, fighting off the niggling concern that he might be insane—but each of their avenues through “G’Day Melbourne” is an “elaborate coping mechanism,” as Nora says in “Don’t Be Ridiculous,” defined by the particular nature of their suffering. Kevin, so long overshadowed by his father, wants to be “Jesus Christ fucking Superstar,” as Nora snipes in their hotel room before it all goes up in flames. Nora can’t “move past” the Sudden Departure, Kevin replies, because she prefers to play the “victim,” the object of pity, the woman no one expects to “be OK.” “My kids are not dead,” she says. “They are gone. They are just gone.” “Then you should go be with them,” he advises, before they finally part.
Perhaps this is their unbridgeable distance, their widening gulf: The border between the deceased and the Departed. That there is no closure, in the latter case, explains why Laurie and John (Kevin Carroll) only attempt to “commune” with the dead; it explains, too, the ferociousness of The Leftovers’ treatment of “grief,” which is, in the end, the wrong word for Nora’s experience. “G’Day Melbourne” depicts two souls defined by the places they’re broken, a man who sees dead people and a woman whose family vanished when she wasn’t looking, and between these two languages of brokenness there is no translation.
I wonder, in this vein, if the point of Dr. Aden’s (Katja Herbers) question is to illustrate the unbridgeable distance, the widening gulf. Nora’s response, though not unconsidered, is spoken with a certain callousness, echoing the tone of Kevin’s cruel question, “How long before you move past it?”: “Kids die every day,” she says to the two physicists, having lost three children, none of whom died. “What’s one more?” There is no “right” answer, though: The man Kevin Garvey, Sr. (Scott Glenn) encounters in the Outback in “Crazy Whitefella Thinking” is “rejected” after saying the opposite, and proceeds to set his life aflame, too. Indeed, as the camera retreats from Nora amid the fire alarm’s siren, as Kevin embraces his father and the sprinkler’s water streams down his ex-girlfriend’s face, “Take On Me” returns to underline the Surah’s notion that each soul brings with it a history of its own, a history that’s inescapable no matter which path we take. “So needless to say,” a-ha sings:
I’m odds and ends
I’ll be stumbling away
Slowly learning that life is OK
Say after me
It’s no better to be safe than sorry.
Matt Brennan is the TV editor of Paste Magazine. He tweets about what he’s watching @thefilmgoer.