Throughout The Leftovers, Nora Durst (Carrie Coon) has been portrayed as the central character most obviously affected by the Sudden Departure. While others have had more minor losses or been affected by the event in more indirect ways, Nora lost perhaps the most important people in her life: her husband and two children.
In fact, her loss was so profound that she has been contacted and harassed by researchers and conspiracy theorists who believe that people like her are focal points for whatever force caused two percent of the world’s population to disappear.
Early in Season One, Nora was hiring prostitutes to shoot her in the chest while she wore a bulletproof vest, clearly an odd coping mechanism that enabled her to feel the nebulous pain of loss in a more concrete way.
Later, after being hugged by Holy Wayne, she seemed to get over this fixation.
However, throughout the next season and a half, Nora continued looking for various forms of emotional and material fulfillment with which to fill the gap left by her departed family. Her relationship with Kevin (Justin Theroux), her short-lived adoption of Lily, even her work at the DSD and her many harsh attempts to ground the more idealistic members of the cast—all of these, especially in hindsight, read as distractions.
In truth, Nora has never been able to move past the Sudden Departure.
In “Don’t Be Ridiculous,” after dealing with the aftermath of another falsified departure, Nora gets a call from Mark Linn-Baker, once of Perfect Strangers fame. Fans of the show (The Leftovers, not Perfect Strangers) will recall that Linn-Baker was revealed to have faked his departure in Season Two after Season One claimed that he and his co-stars had all been victims. This episode puts a tragic spin on what originally seemed like a cute background gag.
Linn-Baker contacts Nora to reveal that a group of scientists has developed a way to apparently manufacture departures, based on the utilization of a sort of radiation discovered in locations with highly concentrated losses. He believes Nora may be interested in “being with her kids again.” He may be right.
Perhaps more than any character on The Leftovers, Nora shines most in the episodes dedicated to her. This may seem obvious, but if one looks at Kevin’s questionable sanity or Matt’s (Christopher Eccleston) pure-hearted wrongheaded-ness, it’s clear that these are attributes which are expressed loudly and poignantly even on the sidelines.
Nora, on the other hand, is mostly introspective. Her pain manifests as withdrawn silence more often than not. So when the camera focuses on her for an extended period, the nuances take center stage. (And Carrie Coon never fails to deliver on them.)
By the end of this episode—or to be more specific, Nora’s portion of the episode—it’s become clear that Nora isn’t happy, no matter what she tells Kevin. If she was, she wouldn’t have gone to St. Louis, wouldn’t have stopped by Kentucky to see Lily, and wouldn’t have made the decision to travel to Australia to meet the people who can (maybe) reunite her with her lost family.
Oddly, I found the most memorable scene in the episode to be the conversation between Nora and Tommy (Chris Zylka), perhaps because we’ve never really seen these characters interact. But more likely, it’s because it gives us the most insight into Nora’s motivations, whether intentionally or not.
At some point, after Nora leaves Kentucky, Tommy receives a call from Christine (Annie Q)—Lily’s biological mother who has regained custody—wondering if she should be worried about her child. Nora, of course, says no. Because she never chose to be saddled with the child in the first place, and it isn’t her fault that she grew attached to Lily. Then Tommy says something incredibly telling: “I didn’t leave her with you, I left her with my dad. I didn’t even know who you were.”
This line is important for two reasons. First, it makes it clear (if it wasn’t already) that for Nora, Lily was just another way to plug up that hole in her heart. But aside from that, it reminds us that the Garveys, no matter how disparate and conflicted, never stopped being a family.
The way Kevin interacts with Jill, Tommy, and even Laurie, is filled with so much history. Their bonds have already formed, while Nora came into their lives too late; she already had another family—a real family—and she’s starting to realize that she can’t accept substitutes.
No wonder she’s contemplating incineration.
- I have no real context for Mark Linn-Baker as an actor or human being, but based on his haunting performance in this episode, I must say I’m impressed.
- The scene with Nora and Erika was sweet and included probably one of the best uses of The Wu-Tang Clan in film/television (with another obvious contender being Jim Jarmusch’s Ghost Dog).
- The entire back half of the episode took us to Australia, where we are given what is possibly more context for the previous episode’s final scene. Apparently, a cult of equestrian women is looking for Kevin, maybe at the behest of his father.