By Jared Jones
“Oh, fuck your daughter!”
So began last night’s episode of The Leftovers, “Guest”, as cute-as-a-button grieving wife/mother Nora Durst attempted to woo Sheriff Garvey away to Miami for what I could only assume would be a weekend spent crying into pillows. Thankfully, Nora’s request was more figurative than literal, but it left an awkward (and memorable) impression on Kevin nonetheless.
Actually, that’s not how the episode began. It began with Nora purchasing groceries for her departed family members, spying on the preschool teacher who was sleeping with her husband prior to his departure, and asking an escort to shoot her in the chest while she donned a kevlar vest, Slayer’s “Angel of Death” cranking in the background. It was an odd sequence that will undoubtedly spawn no less than five Facebook Challenge-related deaths.
Possible incest jokes and gunshot fetishes aside, “Guest” easily made for one of the strongest episodes, if not the strongest episode of the season thus far, with Carrie Coon absolutely destroying my soul with her portrayal of Nora. From the moments spent staring out the window of her car at the slutty preschool teacher to her confrontation with Holy Wayne at the episode’s close, Coon’s performance was at times heartbreaking, uplifting, and oddly enough, sexy. If she didn’t earn herself an Emmy nomination for her scene with Wayne alone, my God.
Having lost her entire family in The Departure, Nora has understandably been trapped in a vicious cycle of grief and guilt for the past three years. The blame for her self-loathing cannot entirely be placed on The Departure itself, however, as Nora has spent the years since making sure said grief was always held close. She continues to purchase food for her family, has taken a job with Department of Sudden Departure, asking other families inane questions about those they lost (Did so and so drink more than two alcoholic beverages daily? What about sugary cereal?), and believes that the only way to connect to her family’s pain is to take a bullet to the chest every now and again.
But it is during Nora’s trip to New York for a Departure-related conference that we begin to see her transformation from victim of hope to someone capable of quote unquote “moving on.” She wants her family back, obviously, but her decision to keep living as if they will walk through the door at any moment has only fueled her depression over their disappearance. Of course, that she shows up to New York only to find her conference identity as a “Legacy” (or someone who lost a family member in The Departure) stolen isn’t helping things.
“You’re doing so much better now,” sarcastically states Margery, a woman Durst had a previous run in with in the past at one of the Departure conferences. And truly, Nora has allowed her grief over The Departure (and hope for her family’s return) to define her as a person, rather than joining the likes of the replica-corpse selling Marcus, who believe that her job is nothing more than a scam.
A night of hard partying and a confrontation with the fake Nora Durst later, the real Nora Durst is still struggling to find the meaning in her grief. In her mind, there is no life, no chance at happiness, after The Departure. The grief is neverending, and those “Legacies” left behind are nothing more than the perpetual reminders of the event itself. How Nora has avoided joining the Guilty Remnant up to this point is anyone’s guess.
Yet it is in that moment with Margery that Nora may have realized her need to change. That, or when she was verbally abusing “What’s Next” (with a period, not a question mark) author Patrick as a “phony” full of “bullshit.” She could either choose to continue wallowing in remorse or push through it and embrace what life she still had, and thankfully, she chose the latter. Nora comes away from the conference a reinvigorated, happier person, or rather, someone capable of registering happiness…all thanks to a wild night of booze, pills, and one of Holy Wayne’s patented hugs.
Out with the grieving, in with the optimism. That’s what The Leftovers is ultimately about, anyway; more than the characters involved or even their stories, The Leftovers is about grief, and how we choose to move on from it (or don’t, as is the case for many of the show’s characters). The Departure may have ripped Nora’s previous life from her, but she is still there. She’s still alive, and needs to start living accordingly. So when Sheriff Garvey shows up at her door to ask her on a date, she quickly accepts.
Am I sensing a love connection here, chief? Yes, yes I am. (Let’s just hope Kevin is into women who like being shot.)