The Leftovers Recap: The New Normal

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This week’s episode of The Leftovers is fantastic for three — count ’em, three — reasons: 1. It’s all about Nora (who, next to Garvey, is the series’ most likeable character). 2. Carrie Coons is flippin’ brilliant in the role (wouldn’t you agree?). 3. Nora actually ends the hour in a better place than she begins it (and when has that ever happened to anyone on this show before?). As an added bonus, the path that she takes to a brighter outlook is a fascinating and twisty one. Follow along, and I’ll lay out a trail of bread crumbs…

COMFORTABLY NUMB | Early on, we learn what Nora’s day-to-day life is like in the wake of her family’s disappearance in The Sudden Departure: She chucks the cereals that her kids are no longer around to eat and restocks her cupboards with the exact same items, she stalks the preschool teacher with whom her husband was cheating, and she orders up a call girl to shoot her while she’s wearing a Kevlar vest. Pretty grim, eh? Later, while leaving the courthouse after dissolving her marriage, the newly single gal runs into Garvey, who is there — what are the odds? — for the same purpose. Their chemistry evident as it always is, she suggests that, instead of go to a conference for her employer, the Department of Sudden Departures (which only sounds like it’s an offshoot of the Evil League of Evil), she run off with him to Miami for the weekend. When he says that he can’t because of Jill, she replies, “F— your daughter” and immediately regrets it.

9 TO 5 | At work, before leaving for the conference, Nora is asked by her boss why everyone she surveys answers yes to question No. 121 (which we later learn is, “In your opinion, do you believe the Departed is in a better place?”). She has no idea. She isn’t leading them, she assures him. And with that, off she goes to NYC, where she’s greeted by throngs of picketers (among them, members of the Guilty Remnant) and finds that her ID badge has been stolen by an imposter hell-bent on informing attendees that the Department only exists to give “the illusion of progress.” (This is why Nora is issued the kind of badge that gives the episode its title: “Guest.”) Even when she has a little fun, it’s bittersweet: The other attendees with whom she parties — unaware of her losses — are grotesquely insensitive about those whose loved ones were taken.

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT… | After busting the fake Nora, the real one meets — and goes off on — the author of a book capitalizing on the grief of those affected by The Sudden Departure. This, in turn, draws the attention of an oddball who’s been running around asking conference-goers if they want to feel the way they do. “Yeah, I wanna feel this way,” Nora hisses when he tries his line on her. “F— off.” But rather than f— off, he reels her in by offering a chance to reveal what a fraud the author is. All she has to do is follow him to a rundown apartment (Ack! Stranger danger!), Paypal over a grand (Say what?) and have a chat with… holy s—, it’s Holy Wayne! In no time, Nora’s totally distracted from bringing down the author and is stepping into Holy Wayne’s healing embrace. And maybe there IS something to it? Because afterwards, she buys new and different groceries, she stops stalking her husband’s mistress, she gets a no to question No. 121 and, to top it all off, she gets invited out on a date by Garvey. And unless I’m mistaken, it’s the most hopeful moment the show has ever given us.

OK, your turn. What did you think of the episode? Can Holy Wayne really lighten people’s loads, or is his only power the power of suggestion? Hit the comments!

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14 Comments
  1. Jay2014 says:

    What an amazing episode, I’m loving this show more and more. Superb acting at its finest tonight.

    • Sphord says:

      Best show of the series so far. The show was starting to get way to grim for me, and I was getting ready to stop watching the series altogether, but then I saw this episode and got completely sucked back into the show. Like I said, best episode of the series so far!

  2. FtheFrey says:

    Loved this episode. The single character centered episodes seem to work best.

  3. Fido says:

    Simply love this series, the writers deserve a big hug :)

    • Jay2014 says:

      I agree! I know the series is too dark for some and that’s understandable; however, I really love the acting and writing on this show. Dark, different, and fascinating all at the same time.

  4. Sheldon W. says:

    Normally, I’d give a show that gave us so little worth watching over its first three eps the kiss-off after those three. Instead, and for reasons I cannot explain, I hung around through four and five. Now, finally (!), we get an episode that is very good, for the whole hour (54 mins., but who’s counting?).

    I hope it’s not just an aberration, but even if The Leftovers returns to its prior habit of giving maybe two or three minutes of worthwhile TV per week (and way more eyebrow acting than anyone rally ever needs), I’ll probably keep watching.

    I just can’t seem to look away…

  5. Ed WEBB says:

    finally… , a light at the partial end of the episodes rainbow, I wonder who will be destroyed, next week.

  6. rosievwilson@yahoo.com says:

    I, too, have hung in there, only because this show is like a train wreck, you want to turn away but you can’t or don’t. I don’t agree with the other comments (so far) that this is a great show. Two great actors does not a show make. I think our standards for this show have fallen so low that we’re willing to accept anything that is better than bad TV. There is NOT ONE redeeming character on this show, no one to like, and it’s majorly depressing. I agree the one-character shows seem to work better for this series, but it just tells me that the writing is all over the place. The jury is still out for me.

    • R.O.B. says:

      I wonder if this is on purpose – these characters lack redeeming qualities for a reason. I think something big is going on, maybe everyone that was Left Over is going through some kind of redemptive arc, but the show is focusing on just a few. There are also supernatural events (besides the main one) that I think they don’t know how to process. A lot of coincidences, seeing things, signs (like the blinking red traffic light), etc. If there is one thing Lindelof is good at it is developing deep, well-rounded characters (and picking the right people for these roles).

  7. R.O.B. says:

    I’ll comment on the episode when I have a bit more time this afternoon, but I just want to make a comment about something that I don’t believe has been said yet – whoever wrote the main thread of music for The Leftovers should get an Emmy. The piano music that goes along with these episodes is a character itself, like a ghost following these people around. Repetitive and sad, like their lives, yet with notes of hope – notice how it brightened a bit toward the end of the episode. We always talk about how the perfect actors are cast, but in this case, the music is dead on. Reminds me a lot of the piano music in Lost.

  8. Bobby says:

    Excellent review/recap. Solid, to-the-point recap, superior to other columnists’ recaps/reviews of the episode, and I’ve read most of them. Huge fan of the show, begging for season 2 renewal by HBO.

  9. ehersheyiv says:

    Does Nora remind anyone else of Libby from Lost?

    http://lostpedia.wikia.com/wiki/Libby_Smith

  10. Rich Thomas says:

    Am I seriously the only one picking up on the repeated occurrence of the number 121? I can’t find anything about it online. There is this episode with “Question 121,” but it occurs in several other episodes, including when Pastor Jamison quotes Psalm 121 at his impromptu vigil for Gladys, and when Wayne quotes Job 121 on the phone with Tom in Episode 7 (“Naked I came from my mother’s womb…” etc.) There are a couple other passing references to the number 121 as well. It can’t be a coincidence. It’s very J.J. Abrams.

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