The Leftovers, Season 1, Episode 6, “Guest”
Written by Damon Lindelof & Kath Lingenfelter
Directed by Carl Franklin
Airs Sundays at 10pm EST on HBO
“I’d like to remain Nora Durst,” Nora (Carrie Coon) says toward the beginning “Guest,” and that perfectly sums it up. She will get a divorce, but she doesn’t want to fully let go. Here is a woman taking no bullshit with her actions (her husband was a cheater, and so that relationship must end), but would “like” to hold on to who she was before the Sudden Departure, buying the same groceries she had in stock that day her family disappeared, over and over. Except she can’t. It’s eating her alive. And what we get to witness from this conflict is the best, clearest story The Leftovers has told by far.
This episode actually did so many things right in so many places, but what I wanted to start with is Nora’s character, because it’s just such a beautiful, dynamic contradiction. She’s miserable, yet she can joke. She works when she doesn’t have to, yet leaks money in thousands. She wants another man in her life, but won’t cross an adultery line in either direction. Not to mention Coon’s completely self-possessed performance behind it all. The grief and betrayal Nora feels are palpable, and infused expertly with twists, important with this show’s elevated circumstance. Sure, she watches the woman who her husband cheated with—a very expected TV scene—but then out comes the kevlar.
Was that part maybe a little too much? Possibly. Seems far-fetched when her “Angel of Death” could have easily freaked out and shot her in the face, but like the iPhone game from the pilot and the silence of the Guilty Remnant, it’s interesting to see the more global effect on these leftovers. Regular grief and recklessness isn’t enough for these people, whose brains have had to process something completely unprecedented (remember the mad dogs?). As long as we consistently see that there are these types of consequences in people, it is entertaining to watch what the writers come up with. The extremists with the fake grenades was a great touch, as well.
It also helps when all the other elements of an episode are working at optimum efficiency. Unlike last week’s town hall, there are no extraneous scenes. We know Nora is going through a conference through a simple voice over message, the code of conduct signing gives us good information about the status quo, we hear more about the department she works for through tolerable exposition during the partying scene, and there are no mysteries for the sake of being mysterious. It’s just all the good kind.
What does the handsome blonde man do for a living? Well, what do you know, we’ll actually find out later when a curtain opens with an intriguing answer that we didn’t have to wait multiple episodes for! Additionally, when we find out Nora’s being impersonated, even though the reason why is ultimately humdrum and has little to do with her, it generates enough story to not matter. The confrontation between her first suspect gave us good history on her and world-building (Frosted Flakes did it?), and her having a guest pass instead of her name badge created a relatable, compelling story of slipping in among those of whom you wouldn’t normally interact, and taking a break from your grief.
Even the bigger mysteries we’ve been saddled with, like the Holy Wayne plot, are treated the best they’ve ever been. Instead of acting so seriously about the paranormal and overdoing the melodrama (“She’s important!”), we get a wise-cracking Wayne, Paypal accounts, and a likable procurer in Tom Noonan. The peppering of his appearances was well done in its absurdity, and I especially liked the appearance of one of Wayne’s healed wishing a good day to Nora.
Yet, it doesn’t take the levity too far, either. The scene between Nora and Wayne was appropriately cathartic and truly moving, and was not so because of any over-done violin score, but because we have spent the proper time with Nora. We feel her need to be released from her pain. It was also not too distracting because it could be happening in our world, the scene giving us enough to believe that it could be a giant scam.
As overheard at one of the talks Nora walked into, “The Prophet’s Dilemma” is in full swing. Even average joes are using the supernatural and talking to God as a coping mechanism, which also raises tantalizing questions about Kevin’s father and Nora’s brother. Most notable, though, is that Wayne saw his own death, and told Nora this may be her last chance to be healed. Could it be a made-up time crunch to put pressure on his mark? We don’t know, but it is one mystery I am now actually interested to find out.
Whatever Wayne turns out to be, what we do at least know is that we now have someone to truly root for in Nora. The fact that Matt is her brother still seems forced, but I’m looking forward to more scenes of them together, and the promise of a dinner date with Kevin can only help him by proxy. As I’ve mentioned before, there’s a dire need in The Leftovers to have a relationship to get behind. By the end of this episode, Nora dons a fresh face–hopefully so does this series.