Leave it to The Leftovers to turn a running gag about ’80s sitcom Perfect Strangers and its co-lead Mark Linn-Baker into an oddly compelling, tertiary subplot during an episode that beautifully examines the wide gamut of emotions the series has become so deft at conjuring. The second of eight episodes that make up this final season is a strong example of the extent to which the series is comfortable with and capable of executing a broad range of sentiments and experiences. In the span of an hour, the episode moves in and out of feelings of grief, anger, despondency, and for a brief, Wu-Tang-filled moment, sheer joy. There’s spitefulness and pettiness thrown into the mix as well, and, as has been common since the series found not just another gear but an entire set of them in season 2, a charming amount of absurdity and flat-out weirdness.
There is a lot to unpack in ‘Don’t Be Ridiculous’. The aforementioned Mark Linn-Baker subplot serves as the catalyst for Nora and Kevin to venture to Australia, while the final moments of the hour bring the focus around to Scott Glenn‘s Kevin Garvey Sr. The elder Garvey presumably bears witness to the murder of a police captain named Kevin who unwittingly ran afoul of several women in the outback misguidedly hoping, like so many others, that there existed conclusive proof the Sudden Departure wasn’t some arbitrary event, that there was a purpose behind it, a reason others were taken, and, perhaps most importantly for those who were left behind, an answer and an end to what has been seven years of wondering whether or not history was going to repeat itself.
The notion of the need for belief and the use of suffering as a coping mechanism runs through the majority of the hour, as Nora makes her way to St. Louis to investigate Linn-Baker’s claim. After dumping Nora’s phone in the toilet, Linn-Baker goes on to explain that he – or rather some people he has fallen in with after faking his own Departure and running off to Mexico for three years – can send people to wherever the Departed went by blasting them with a specific type of radiation that sounds suspiciously like paying an exorbitant sum of money for a very specific kind of suicide.
There are strong hints of where this is going, and where Linn-Baker’s claims will take Nora and the story of The Leftovers as it marches toward a conclusion. And while the hour expertly sows the necessary narrative seeds to pull off a transition to Australia and to Kevin Sr.’s point of view, tacitly connecting to the future twist that brought the season premiere to a surprising close, the strength of the hour doesn’t come from a demonstration of how the narrative is moving forward. Instead, it comes from a brilliant execution of one immensely personal moment.
‘Don’t Be Ridiculous’ is told entirely from Nora’s point of view. It’s another structural technique the series adopted as part of its storytelling style in season 2, largely because of how successful the focused POV hours of season 1 were – not surprisingly featuring both Carrie Coon and Christopher Eccleston. As much as season 3 has already established the notion of history repeating itself, the hour is in many ways a reflection of season 1’s ‘Guest’. From Linn-Baker’s phone call to a airport kiosk to a playground in Eminence, Kentucky, the world seems to be conspiring to remind Nora of the children she’s lost. Only this time it’s not just Erin and Jeremy that Nora has lost, but also Lily, the child of Holy Wayne who was conspicuously absent from the premiere. Rather than dwell on how or why the child is no longer in her and Kevin’s custody, the hour is focused on examining the way in which Nora has been coping in the wake of that loss – getting a tattoo and then slamming her arm in the car door before investingating and the sure-to-be false promise of a reunion with her loved ones via a $20,000 blast of radiation. And it does so beautifully with the help of the Wu-Tang Clan’s ‘Protect Ya Neck’, a trampoline, and the luminous Regina King.
The combination of those incongruent elements is about as unlikely as anything that’s ever been on television, which is half of why it works so well. The other half is that in delivering roughly one minute of Carrie Coon and Regina King jumping in joyous slow motion, The Leftovers once again demonstrates its fondness for risky tonal one-eighties, this time in the midst of its final season. But for a series that is so frequently awash in the power of grief and the unknowability of the universe to stop and grant itself and its characters time to exist in a single blissful moment, and to fully experience a profound instant of childlike elation, is too splendid a thing not to be recognized. Given the series is about to undertake its third location change soon, this could be the last time Regina King’s Erica Murphy graces our screens. If so, her (final?) moment with Nora makes for a thoughtful and unconventional exit for a character who played such an instrumental part in the show’s creative resurgence.
The Leftovers is one of if not the best show on TV right now, and its inclusion of this unsullied moment of joy, as felt by two women who have experienced the loss of their children in very different ways, offers about as much evidence as any show would need to stake that claim.
The Leftovers continues next Sunday with ‘Crazy Whitefella Thinking’ @9pm on HBO.