‘The Leftovers’ Guest Recap: A Better Place

The Nora centric episode follows Mapleton’s saddest figure on a journey of pain and grief before resulting in the single best hour produced this far on ‘The Leftovers’…

By Damon Martin — Editor/Lead Writer

As bleak as everything seems to be on ‘The Leftovers’, the stories of grief and pain are always relatable because death is something that stalks each and every one of us. Whether it’s our own inevitable end or someone close to us, death is universal. Death isn’t concerned with income or social standing. Death doesn’t pick and choose based on color or gender. Death is the ultimate equalizer and eventually every person on Earth succumbs to it. The problem with the sudden departure is that 140 million people were all blinked out in an instant. No goodbyes, no last ‘I love you’s’, just gone — and it has to be assumed they are never coming back.

Nora Durst knows that pain better than most. She’s one in 128,000 — that means she’s the rare case of a person who lost her entire family during the sudden departure. To make matters worse in the last few weeks, Nora learned that her husband cheated on her with her children’s pre-school teacher. She stalks the teacher by day, maybe with no intention in mind of ever confronting her for what she did, but it’s a cold gaze and Nora keeps her eyes locked on the woman at all times until she feels satisfied enough to go home. Nora’s trips to the store involve the same grocery list she bought the last time she went shopping before her family disappeared. She meticulously picks up each item from the Cinnamon Toast Crunch to the Nesquik powdered milk before going home and throwing away each of the previous versions in the cupboards and replacing them anew. It’s the last reminders she has of the daily routine she used to go through before the sudden departure happened.

When she’s not shopping for her kids favorite cereals, Nora is in court filing for a divorce from the cheating husband who probably isn’t ever coming back. She’s keeping her last name as Durst, but she wants to be rid of the man who was unfaithful right up to the point when he left the Earth. Nora runs into Chief Garvey, who is also finalizing his divorce from Laurie at the same time. He mentions that he probably should have gotten the point when she joined the Guilty Remnant and Nora can’t help but laugh until she realizes he’s serious. The playful banter comes to an immediate halt when she invites Kevin to run away with her to Miami so she can skip out on a conference she’s about to attend as a representative of the Department of Sudden Departures. When Kevin says he can’t go because he has to take care of Jill, Nora replies ‘fuck your daughter’ and it only takes her about two seconds to realize the crassness of what she just said, but it’s already been uttered and she makes a beeline for the exit out of embarrassment for her transgression.

At night, Nora calls escorts who specialize in ‘anything goes’ but when they arrive she makes it clear she’s not looking for kinky sex. Instead she pays $3000 to have the escort pick up the gun she carries in her purse, aim it at her chest while she puts on a Kevlar protective vest with the sounds of Slayer’s ‘Angel of Death’ blaring in the background. When Angel the escort fires the single round into her chest, Nora falls back onto a blow up mattress and after she awakens a few moments later it’s almost as if this is the only way she knows she’s still alive. Perhaps this is Nora’s connection to know what death feels like without actually saying goodbye. She’s toying with death because death toyed with her entire family. Nora needs this kind of pain to know she’s still alive even though she’s buried by the weight of it all on a daily basis.

At work, Nora is preparing for her appearance at the conference, but before she can go she has to meet with her BLT chomping boss who goes over some notes to keep straight before she speaks to those in attendance. He also has to ask about an astounding statistic she’s racked up as one of their claims adjusters since the sudden departure happened. It seems question No. 121 — which we later find out to be ‘do you believe the departed is in a better place?’ — is answered ‘yes’ by every person she interviews during her tours around the state. Nora promises she’s not coaxing or coaching the answer nor is she sharing her tales of woe with the other people left behind after losing someone to the sudden departure. For whatever reason when she asks that question the people she talks to always say ‘yes’.

Nora finally arrives at the conference, but there’s a problem — her badge is missing and instead of receiving a personalized name plate with three orange circles stamped on her badge (denoting she’s a legacy, which means she’s lost someone — three someone’s as it turns out) she has to go out into the conference with a pass that says ‘guest’ on it.

Instead of being greeted with the regular type banter that goes on at these conferences, Nora is met by jovial and over the top co-workers also forced to endure this work trip but not confined by the same feelings of loss and pain that the legacies endure whenever talking about the sudden departure. She’s whisked away to a room where sex and drugs are the cocktails on the menu and it’s there Nora meets a married man who works for the company called ‘Loved Ones’ — you know the place that makes realistic looking bodies for people who lost someone in the sudden departures so they can hold a funeral and bury something instead of being left with nothing. The married man full of one-liners and a constant barrage of inquiries just begging anybody to ask him ‘what he does for a living?’ wants to kiss Nora, but she instead kisses his life size replica used as a selling point for the ‘Loved Ones’ line.

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Following a night of drunken debauchery, Nora is awoken to the sound of a pound on her door and security tossing her out of the hotel. It seems the other Nora Durst made quite a spectacle the previous night and ended up tossing a glass through a mirror at the bar. Nora pleads with hotel security that someone stole her badge and is going around impersonating her, but the aren’t hearing it. So she exits out of the hotel, past all of the protesting onlookers including members of the Guilty Remnant who hand out fake hand grenades with messages scribbled on them saying ‘any day now’. A quick bathroom clean up and a fake badge made at the copy shop across the street, and Nora is back inside trying to make it to her speaking engagement to hopefully confront the person who stole her identity in the first place.

She doesn’t make it that far before security nabs her again, but Nora’s got an ace in the hole when trying to convince the hotel manager that she’s been done wrong and a doppelganger is traipsing around the convention with her identity. Nora reveals that she’s a legacy — she lost three people in the sudden departure — and the hotel manager’s look of apathy quickly turns to sympathy.

He escorts her to the panel she’s supposed to attend and sure enough there is a fake Nora Durst waiting to speak. Before security can arrive to detain her, the fake Nora unleashes a tirade about how this is all a government conspiracy and the sudden departure isn’t as mysterious as it all seems. She also rants that the government (aka the Department of Sudden Departures) aren’t keeping the questionnaires that the claims adjusters are using to hand out money to those that lose someone and instead the forms are being incinerated. Given Nora’s boss and his company line about ‘they don’t have that information’ whenever being quizzed about the numbers from those very questionnaires, maybe the imposter is onto something? Then again when a raving lunatic starts raving, even a sliver of truth is lost in the river of bullshit.

Thanks to her tumultuous day, Nora is given bottomless drinks at the hotel bar, which doesn’t necessarily turn out to be the best idea given the kind of grief stricken aura that surrounds this poor woman. There she meets a man named Patrick Johannson, who has written a book titled ‘What’s Next’ — it seems he lost four people in the sudden departure yet he’s hopping around like Richard Simmons as if he doesn’t have a care in the world. Patrick isn’t burdened by loss like Nora. He finds hope in his surviving daughter, who was able to express joy and happiness again despite losing her family as well. His smile and attitude are just too much for Nora to take and she launches into a tirade aimed at the man while denouncing him as a fake and charlatan. His book is purposefully titled ‘What’s Next’ with no question mark as if to denote that the answer has already been given, but Nora instead offers up a bleak future by saying ‘nothing’s next!’ as Patrick exits the bar in a hurry.

Slightly inebriated and clearly disturbed, Nora leaves as well but she runs into a rather tall onlooker who has been seen around the conference since she arrived. The first time she spotted him, Nora was told that he’s been wandering around talking to people and asking the question ‘do you really want to feel this way?’ and when he finally meets her for the first time it’s clear he has answers that she wants to hear.

He lures her to an apartment building in a dilapidated part of town with the promise of exposing Patrick Johannson’s joyous emotion for what it really is deep down inside. It costs her a grand for admission, but once inside Nora comes face to face with Holy Wayne. The prophetic cult leader who promises to dash out pain in those left behind from the sudden departure is back and he’s been working around this conference at $1000 a pop to help zap away those bad feelings with his hugs of enlightenment.

At first, Wayne’s bedside manner leaves something to be desired — “Nora, I don’t give a shit about you. I’ve already got your money and I’m fucking exhausted” — but when he realizes that she not only lost someone, she lost everyone, he quickly turns from asshole to compassionate healer. Wayne quickly theorizes the exact motivations that wake Nora up in the morning — when the mask of pain she wears starts to slip, she seeks it out in some form or fashion. Whether it’s buying the cereals her kids used to love to having a hooker shoot her in the chest at point blank range just to feel the slight sting of death, Nora is consumed by the pain of those she loved being gone forever.

When Wayne offers up the one thing Nora can’t quite obtain because she doesn’t believe she deserves it — hope. Wayne reveals that he’s seen his own death and it’s coming soon, but before he leaves this place he gives her the one chance she has to get rid of this pain and agony.

“Do you want to feel this way?” he asks. Nora answers with a resounding ‘no’ but then responds with her own inquiry “will I forget them?” and he gives her the only answer she needs to hear before being enveloped by his embrace.

“Never,” Wayne says as Nora sobs in his arms.

Back at home, Nora is no longer outside the pre-school teacher’s playground and her grocery basket is filled with yogurt and bagels. She carries a small smile across her face and when her brother Matt calls offering an apology for the awful truth he told her not so long ago, she saves his message instead of deleting it immediately. Nora even replaces the empty roll of paper towels that we have to assume has been sitting there for the better part of three years.

A moment later, Nora hears a knock on her door and it’s Chief Garvey at her step asking if instead of a trip to Miami she would like to start with dinner. Nora gladly accepts as Kevin tells her ‘you should know I’m a fucking mess’ and she responds ‘thanks for the heads up’. Maybe for the first time since losing her family, Nora is actually ready to deal with someone who was just as bad off as she was just days earlier.

Once she returns to work, Nora sits down with another person who has lost somebody in the sudden departure. She goes through the questionnaire and one by one, the yes or no quiz is answered with a checkmark by each notation. When Nora finally arrives at question No. 121 she asks ‘do you believe the departed is in a better place?’ and the person she’s interviewing says ‘no’ it’s like a chapter in her life has finally been closed.

‘The Leftovers’ has been a tragically heartbreaking show for the past several weeks with very little levity to show for all the grief and downtrodden feelings that haunt every waking moment of each episode. This appeared to be another grim hour in an already depressing series, but as the old saying goes ‘the night is always darkest before the dawn’ and for once there was a happy ending. Carrie Coon was nothing short of magnificent in the second ‘character focus’ episode from ‘The Leftovers’ and truth be told, they have both been the strongest of the entire series. The haunting soundtrack that often brings feelings of dread, immediately shifted to hope when Nora’s cloud of pain lifted and a few rays of sunlight started to seep through.

As uttered in the classic film ‘The Shawshank Redemption’, ‘hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things’ and Nora Durst finally found hers.

Overall, a beautifully crafted episode and possibly the best yet from ‘The Leftovers’.

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