“The Leftovers” apparently works best when it ignores the woes of the Garvey family and focuses instead on the other residents of Mapleton, as last night’s Nora-centric episode can attest. “Guest” gets out of suburbia, sending Carrie Coon's inwardly-chaotic Nora to the outwardly-chaotic New York City, exploring the series’ overarching theme of loss without resorting to scenes of Kevin searching for a missing bagel.
Nora, we learn in the episode’s opener, has developed some...extreme coping mechanisms for dealing with her family’s disappearance. She calls up an escort from the sleazy back pages of a free newspaper and requests a home visit. She doesn’t want sex, though. When the escort spies an inflatable air mattress in the living room corner, she asks Nora if it’s for them; “No,” Nora tells her. “I want you to shoot me.”
But Nora doesn’t want to die, either. She’s after a kind of self-abnegation, a way to eliminate herself and her emotions, however briefly. She puts on a Kevlar vest and tells the escort, “Two thousand dollars for two seconds. Your ad specifically said nothing is forbidden.” She’s done this before, too — the last person she paid for this, she reveals, “said she wouldn’t do it again.”
The escort does it. Nora is knocked unconscious, falling back to the air mattress, and the other woman, understandably terrified, takes her money and runs. With a violent gasp, Nora returns to the land of the living. Cue beginning credits. It’s quite a way to begin an episode.
The central conundrum of this episode, it turns out, also has to do with the question of Nora’s identity: At the conference she’s attending in New York, her name tag is taken by somebody else. She’s given a “Guest” tag to wear instead and, while it’s at first irritating, Nora ends up embracing it. She doesn’t speak about her loss, choosing instead to party with a group of callous fake corpse salespeople and making out with one of their wares while high.
About that party: Why are all of this show’s bacchanalia so calculating in their depravity? It feels as though the writers are marking off a checklist: first, some drugs, then some (female) nudity, then an orgy in a common area. It feels...forced? There’s a detachment to the parties that makes them feel unbelievable.
But Nora seems to enjoy herself, until she’s woken up the next morning in her hotel room by a pair of brusque security guards. Nora, they inform her, threw a bottle at the hotel bar’s mirror the night before, and will consequently be kicked out of both the hotel and conference for destroying hotel property. Nora protests – she shows them the name tag and argues that she has a panel to appear on that morning – but the staff doesn’t believe her until they follow her into the panel and see that another woman is indeed impersonating Nora.
Nora strides to a microphone, preparing for a confrontation, but the imposter acquiesces immediately. “I am not Nora Durst,” she admits before pausing, and for a split second it seems like she might do something violent. Nora was handed a fake grenade by a conference protester the day before, after all. But the fake Nora instead launches into an incoherent speech about the U.S. government and the departed before being dragged offstage.
Nora, next shown in the hotel bar drinking a free martini, seems disappointed. She’s obviously, in her grief, angry at herself, and is looking for conflict. She finds it in fellow bar patron Patrick Johanson (Curtiss Cook), the author of “What’s Next,” a memoir dealing with the loss of four of his family members on October 14. A drunk Nora chases him out of the bar for not being sad enough, questioning his mourning in a rant both effecting and hilarious (the martini sip she takes after, while the whole bar silently stares at her).
A creepy older man has been going after conference goers all weekend, and he convinces Nora to follow him to a creepy apartment where he claims Johanson got rid of his sadness. Wouldn’t you know it, it turns out that Holy Wayne’s in New York and, after being scammed out of one thousand dollars, Nora hugs him in a surprisingly cathartic experience. Holy Wayne might be a charlatan, but damn it, he’s a good charlatan.
The plot is finally moving forward, however incrementally! Back in Mapleton, Nora is a changed woman. She buys a new red coat, and stops replacing the Lucky Charms her children loved, choosing instead granola. She also stops stalking the preschool teacher her husband was having an affair with, and accepts an invitation for a dinner date from Kevin Garvey, also newly divorced. So, Justin Theroux does stop by this episode, for the Theroux-watchers of the world.
Unfortunately, it looks like next week’s episode is devoted to Kevin and Jill yet again, despite Nora’s verbalization this episode of everyone’s feelings about the Mapleton teenagers: “Oh, fuck your daughter.” The fact that the two best episodes of this season focus on Matt and Nora, not the Garveys, proves that an anthology format of this show, focusing on a new character, even a new place, every week, would be fascinating. Instead, we’re back to Mapleton. Maybe at least Meg will have finally joined the GR?