‘The Leftovers’: Adventures in an Industry Built on Grief

Published 9 months ago by

Carrie Coon as Nora Durst in The Leftovers Season 1 Episode 6 The Leftovers: Adventures in an Industry Built on Grief

[This is a review of The Leftovers season 1, episode 6. There will be SPOILERS.]


Of course Tom Noonan is in The Leftovers, and of course, he’s a disciple of Holy Wayne. If you think about it, not having a strangely familiar yet enigmatic presence like Noonan show up in the dark, bleak world that Lindelof and Perrotta have created and sustained for the past six weeks would actually have been more disconcerting than seeing his long, lanky frame casually draped across the door of a New York City flophouse, as Holy Wayne hugged the pain away from quadruple legacy Nora Durst.

And that’s just one of the many things that ‘Guest’ does well, in what turns out to be another great, character-driven episode of the series.

Obviously, the structure of the episode calls to mind ‘Two Boats and a Helicopter,’ which focused entirely on Nora’s embattled brother Rev. Matt Jamison, as he struggled with his faith in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds to regain control of his church – and by extension, his life.

And while this Nora-centric episode doesn’t explore its ideas in the same way, it does share an interesting throughline in that both stories ultimately seek to see their respective characters become unburdened by an outside force or forces that may or may not have some kind of supernatural element to them. While Matt was wracked with strange visions or perhaps even a kind of divination, only to be undone (and ultimately saved in some weird way) by the efforts of the Guilty Remnant, Nora winds up in the arms of Holy Wayne and, as a result, gives The Leftovers its first hopeful, upbeat ending of the season.

While ‘Two Boats and a Helicopter’ was an often-exhilarating ride with plenty of highs and lows and a few cringe-inducing moments, ‘Guest’ goes about its business in a slightly more grounded way – or at least as grounded as an episode can be when its protagonist starts things off by paying an escort to shoot her while she’s wearing a Kevlar vest.

It’s an extreme moment that raises some interesting questions (like just how robust of a sex industry does a place like Mapleton have?) and sets the tone for the rest of the episode. Let’s face it, when your episode begins with someone shelling out $3k to have an escort shoot them in the chest, chances are things are bound to get a little strange.

Carrie Coon in court in The Leftovers Season 1 Episode 6 The Leftovers: Adventures in an Industry Built on Grief

The narrative begins as a series of smaller moments centered on the life of Nora Durst, and then expands to include a more comprehensive glimpse of the world – in particular, the unsurprising, but still disconcerting niche markets that have sprung up in the three years since the world was irrevocably changed. Seeing companies like Loved Ones looking to make a buck (okay, 40,000 bucks) on a replica of someone who disappeared just to have their purchase end up in the ground is one of the more depressing things this already gloomy series has offered. What’s worse is that gravesite-bound body doubles that cost as much as a luxury automobile are just the tip of the corporate iceberg.

In a sense, the commercial element is really no different from the cults that’ve been sweeping the nation. They’re both looking to gain something off the horrendous loss of others, but in the case of Holy Wayne’s interaction with Nora – as it was with the senator from the series premiere – it seems as though relationship is at least reciprocal. In other words, Nora appears to have gotten her money’s worth, and might be ready to move on.

Just as episode 3 benefited from Christopher Eccleston’s fine performance, ‘Guest’ belongs entirely to Carrie Coon, who has mostly been quietly biding her time in the background of the previous episodes. Here, she does as much with silent moments as she does with her angry confrontation with Patrick Johansen, author of ‘What’s Next,’ and her eventual breakdown with Wayne, in which she so desperately wants to feel unburdened, but fears forgetting her loved ones.

Carrie Coon in The Leftovers Season 1 Episode 6 The Leftovers: Adventures in an Industry Built on Grief

Coon’s performance vacillates between the unspoken and outspoken in a way that fills in the blanks of her story and gives the audience a much clearer picture of who Nora is. Early on, it’s revealed how much of Nora’s private life is locked in a gloomy routine, one that hinges on the idea of her family returning. Those moments help make Nora’s abandonment of a social filter seem like an extension of both her past experience and her efforts to move on – which she does by dissolving her marriage.

And while this leads to plenty of uncomfortable encounters, like the one she has with Kevin at the courthouse, or with the woman she nearly accosts in a hotel bathroom, it also feels like a more interesting take on where the burden of grief – and the desperate attempts to free oneself from it – can send a person.

In the end, ‘Guest’ asks: Who really wants to feel this way? That question is the recognition of how the post-Departure world isn’t ready to move on, and how so many refuse to be unburdened from the sorrow they now feel a responsibility to perpetuate.

From the beginning, The Leftovers has worked to capture the incomprehension of this world’s emotion, and in doing so it has become a measured rumination on the inevitability of death as a shared experience, and the place where humanity finds its common ground.

The Leftovers continues next Sunday with ‘Solace for Tired Feet’ @10pm on HBO.

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  1. I really wish most people loved this show as much as I do. I find it thoroughly fascinating.

    • hye

  2. According to the various interviews with the writer, the series will never resolve the issue of ‘why did 144,000 people disappear?’ While the series may send out some hints, the reality is that the question will never be answered. Its a drama about ‘how people cope with loss’. “Stargate: Universe” made the same mistake. Instead of mixing space exploration with slight drama, the series canned the whole premise of the franchise. As a result of removing action and adventure, “Stargate: Universe” ended up being cancelled. Caprica had the same problem.

    Pure science-fiction drama never-ever sells. Regardless about how many ways they try, science-fiction drama seems to always fall flat.

    People like to solve mysteries.

    • They did say that the focus will lie mostly in the reaction and choices of the characters in this situation rather than on solving the mystery of The Departure. Although, they never completely ruled out exploring the why of it. Here’s a quote from Lindelof:

      “If David Chase had come out at any point during the run of “The Sopranos” and said, “I’m telling you, all you people who are talking about whether Tony lives or dies, I’m never going to resolve that,” it would have ruined the entire experience of watching that show. Tom [Perrotta] and I have taken this on, so we owe somebody something, but I don’t want to say definitively that we’re not going to answer what the Departure was, or why these people vanished. Because to say either one is to not say, “Hey guys, you have to watch the show. And we hope you like it, but that’s all there is to it. And if it drives you batty, we’re not sorry. It’s 50 minutes out of your life a week, and if you don’t want to do it, don’t do it.”

      I agree with you that this will frustrate many viewers. You have to be a little masochistic to stick with shows like this. Personally, I find the discomfort to be a big part of the appeal. In this particular story, I feel any definitive answers would only disappoint.

    • I do not see this show as being in the same category as Sci-Fi or having anything in common with the shows you mentioned. While it may be a bit contrived this show seems to be based on people’s assumptions about what happened and that might sift out to the audience as well. The mass disappearance of that many people at one time is a dramatic placeholder, but people die and/or vanish all the time in real life. The effects are only felt by those close to the situation and even things people see on the news do not move them enough to cause any lingering emotion. Why people die or leave us or where they go is not a mystery or a question that will ever be solved and nobody should think this show is going to come up with some satisfying answer for what is probably the greatest question facing mankind. It is just a television show after all.

  3. It’s not so much Wayne possesses something special to “hug the pain away”. He bestows permission to let go of grief/anger/guilt/fear while promising absolution and ultimately peace. He’s simply a very capable and convincing snake oil salesman making a profit off those looking for a way through. He’s no different than the lifelike replicas offered by Loved Ones for $40K – fake.

    I am just bowled over week after week by this show. The acting is superb. Kudos to Carrie Coon for the ability to carry an entire episode.

  4. I’m glad I’m not the only one who geeks out whenever Tom Noonan shows up on a TV or movie screen. ;)

    As soon as we saw him this episode became a 10 for me and it stayed that high because the rest of the episode was pretty amazing.

  5. I think she is a triple legacy, (husband, 2 kids), not a quadruple. That was the author guy she berated at the bar who was a quadruple..