'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.

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

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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