The Leftovers – 1×06 “Guest”

Photo Credit: blogs.wsj.com

Photo Credit: blogs.wsj.com

*Note* This episode of The Leftovers aired 10 days before this episode review was posted. I’m currently working my way through summer shows I’ve been behind on for the past month, and writing about the episodes that really make a strong impression on me. I’m basically working at my own pace, so a lot of these will be posted weeks after their original airings. 

“Hope. It’s your weakness. You want it gone because you think you don’t deserve it.”

Why does Nora Durst walk down that hallway?

While I don’t think that “Guest” ultimately reaches the heights of the last character-centric episode featured on The Leftovers (“Two Boats and a Helicopter,” which featured the tribulations of Nora’s brother, Matt), I ended the episode with the surprising feeling that it was the most “answer-y” episode of the season yet.

Let me be clear: The Leftovers (to date) is a show that is far more interested in the pain and sorrow left behind, instead of providing reasons for the implied Rapture (and the show is far better off when it sticks to this mission).

But what makes this Nora-centric episode so effective and critical is the way it expands the very limited lens through which we have viewed this post-Rapture world until now. Even though we have occasionally been provided with glimpses of Tommy in Arizona, most of the series’ action has been severely limited to Mapleton city limits. And having Nora emerge from the taxi is truly the first time the audience is able to see how the rest of the world is dealing with the “Departure” – we’re able to see that a few Guilty Remnant members have made their way to downtown NYC (while being treated similarly to members in Mapleton), that armies of protestors congregate to protest any number of vague injustices, and most importantly, we’re made aware of an entire bureau that deals specifically with the fallout of October 14th (Departure Related Occupations and Practices).

And this bureau – shortened to D.R.O.P. – has an annual goddamn convention. With nametags, orange stickers, panels, and fucking mixers. The jovial atmosphere that permeates this entire convention is truly sickening, and over the course of the hour, I certainly found myself sympathizing (to an extent) with the crowd of protestors outside of the hotel.

Then again, maybe this sympathy came from the simple fact that I would’ve given anything to escape to the outside world, and avoid watching Nora Durst implode for thirty minutes. Her frustration and confusion at minor identity theft was understandable, but the repeated outbursts – snapping at the “Ask me what I do” guy, cornering the poor lady she mistook for taking the badge, berating the phony author in the hotel bar – over the course of the episode started to feel pretty unbearable. I wouldn’t really place any of the blame on Carrie Coon, who has done a great job of making this tragic woman so compelling and likeable – but the barrage of outrage started to feel a little relentless toward the end.

That being said, there were still some really interesting moments throughout the convention that ultimately made the hour worthwhile. The truth behind “Ask me what I do”-guy’s occupation was simultaneously hilarious and horrifying, and having the drug/alcohol-fueled debauchery occur at the edges of the frame as Nora grinds all over the life-sized doll really added an extra shade of anarchy to this wildly unpredictable show.

I was also glad that the revelation of who stole Nora’s nametag just ended up being a common protestor who snuck into the convention. I have a feeling that some audience members were expecting a mysterious figure who might hold some key answers concerning “bigger picture questions” (which again, this show has no interest in dealing with). Either way, it provided some semblance of satisfaction and redemption for Nora, and the hotel owner’s reaction of “Well, fuck” elicited a welcome chuckle from me.

And to cap off this unusual hour, I found myself unusually thrilled when the ever-creepy Tom Noonan pulled back the curtain to reveal Holy Wayne making his first reappearance in a couple of weeks. Seeing how this episode was a large formal departure for the series with its expanded scope, it really works to finally close with the revelation that Wayne has in fact made the journey from Arizona to New York City. This connects a few dots and brings Tommy’s (currently) distant role a little closer to the events in Mapleton, which for me, has been one of the show’s main problems.

And I think in the end, this hour had to truly establish Nora to be so hopeless that we would effectively believe in (or at least be more intrigued by) the power of Holy Wayne’s magical hugs. She can supposedly see through the bullshit of the faux-author’s book and is shown to be so disillusioned by everything around her, that it feels very real and different when she casually replaces the contents of her kitchen cabinets finally and stops stalking the pre-school teacher. I have no idea if Wayne really changed her, but I know for certain that I would trust in Nora’s experience a lot more than most Mapleton residents. And that leaves me considerably more intrigued by Wayne’s power than I was before.

Why does Nora Durst walk down that hallway? I believe she initially does it for the same reasons that she is okay paying people thousands of dollars to shoot her in the chest. But, for the time being, it appears that Holy Wayne has dramatically changed something within her – and the need for that self-inflicted pain has been tempered.

I guess for a show that regularly keeps its audience begging for any reason to hope, this development should be a step in the right direction. Instead, I find myself feeling more unsettled and uncertain heading forward.

What Else?

  • Fantastic payoff to the Question #121 concern established early in the episode. Nora’s willingness to replace her groceries at the end of the episode is the less subtle signpost for her attitude shift after meeting Wayne, but watching her get her first “No” for Question 121 felt considerably more effective. Obviously, we’ve never seen her ask the question in the surveys until now, but her dry, mechanical delivery of the inquiry put a pretty solid pit in my stomach (which I should be used to by now, as far as this series is concerned).
  • “I don’t know how to joke.” Wow, Chief Garvey. I think you just provided the more appropriate tagline for this season of television.
  • I’ve already said that I love this show’s aversion to the potential mystery aspects, but good lord, do I want to see more of Wayne all the time. Paterson Joseph’s performance as the holy man has been ridiculously captivating for every appearance so far, and I loved his cut-the-shit attitude upon meeting Nora. But the gradual change in attitude as his monologue progressed was marvelous, and it was hard to look away for the entire scene. More, please.
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