The Leftovers: Guest review

Ambiguous loss is the theme of The Leftovers and this single character-focused episode.

Never underestimate the importance of closure. When a door is left wide open, anything might come through. The quest for closure leads a man to reconnect with an ex-lover from the past, confront a former employer for the reason he got sacked, and tear apart the couch for the fourth time, searching for the keys he already knows are not there. Nothing is more pestering than uncertainty. Nothing festers like ambiguity.

I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to have a family member go missing. When I misplace my stupid cellphone, for those five minutes before I locate it, I’m filled with anxiety and dread that it may be lost forever. If that’s how I feel when I lose something that can be so easily replaced, how could I possibly deal with losing something so special, meaningful, and irreplaceable? Having a loved one die is incredibly difficult, but there’s finality in it.

When a person goes missing, what-ifs never cease and the wound never heals. Retracing steps only take you down new avenues that lead to dead ends. You hang yourself up with the questions, with hope serving as the rope. As long as there is a possibility that the missing is still out there, then the search and torment is never over. When a door is left wide open, anything might come through.

Ambiguous loss is precisely the type of loss that The Leftovers deals in. All of these characters stew in the boiling questions that their lack of closure leaves them with, and the water is going to bubble over any time now, just like the grenade says that Nora Durst is handed in tonight’s episode. Without closure, these characters are forced to either ignore the nagging uncertainty that eats at them and stay frozen in that initial aftermath of loss, or seek out some fantastical or fanatic experience that will help them cope. Neither option seems healthy. Nora explores both in tonight’s episode, “Guest.”

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Returning to the single character focus that we saw delivered in an episode dedicated to Nora’s brother Matt, “Guest” has us centered on the unluckiest lady in Mapleton. There were only odds of 1 in 128000 that someone could lose three family members in the Departure, but somehow Nora met those odds. The single focus episode seems to be when The Leftovers operates at its highest level, or maybe it’s just that these episodes follow the characters that are most interesting. I believe it has something to do with that and the ability to tell stories with solid arcs in these episodes.

Nora starts the episode restocking food in her kitchen for her children that are long gone, stalking the woman who slept with her husband that is also now gone, and ordering call girls to fire shots at her while she wears a bulletproof vest. Nora dwells on the pain, repeating the process to keep it alive. By the end of the episode, she makes a trip to the grocery without buying sugary cereals, she doesn’t stalk any pre-school teachers because she’s too busy making dates of her own, and there’s not a call girl or gun in sight. Did she get closure? No, she met Wayne.

Nora attends a conference for a Departure Related Occupation Panel in New York City, where she deals with the odd mystery of her missing nametag, an encounter with some hard partying DROP cynics, and an unpleasant chat at the bar with an author. The author has wrote a book where he discusses moving on after losing four family members, and Nora is perplexed and livid at the man. How could he move on? Without the closure, with just living with the loss, how can he honestly move on if he ever cared in the first place?

Nora blows up, which catches the attention of a man that leads Nora to Wayne. Wayne’s power, the whole cult surrounding his personality, still is shrouded in secrecy, but he says he can take Nora’s pain, and by the end of the episode, he seems to have done just that. I’m still not the biggest fan of Wayne as a character and the tropes that he represents, but there is something oddly compelling about him that has me wondering how he factors into this show’s endgame.

Nora’s adventures at the hotel were not the obvious metaphors the show usually showcases and I liked how each tapped into the theme of ambiguous loss. Carrie Coon is so layered as Nora; she is sad, angry, sarcastic, guarded, and fragile all at once. I haven’t mentioned how good she has been on this show, but tonight’s episode is a tour de force performance.

The only issue I took with “Guest” is a question that keeps plaguing me as I watch The Leftovers, and that is, is this show entertaining? This might be the topic for another discussion about why people watch TV, but I have to assume most would say that we watch television to be entertained, and though The Leftovers offers interesting ways to meditate on the concept of loss and mortality, does it offer quality entertainment to boot? Many friends who haven’t begun the show have asked me if I like it or would recommend it, and I don’t really know how to answer them. I like certain elements and believe that it is at least partially well executed, I just don’t know if it all adds up to good TV. Ambiguous loss is a terrible thing to experience, so why subject myself to that theme weekly?

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The Best of the Rest

  • Nora gets a divorce from her departed husband in the off chance he comes back. His cheating is not forgiven by his disappearance.
  • The Kevin/Nora shipping continues on course, even after Nora says, “oh fuck your daughter!” The feeling is mutual, Nora.
  • Nora catches flack from her boss for the fact that every time she asks question 121 at her job, the response is always “yes.” The question is, “do you believe the departed are in a better place.” After her visit with Wayne, at the end of the episode she asks a woman, and the woman says, “no.”
  • The person that steals Nora’s nametag is a conspiracy theorist. She claims the questionnaires given by Nora’s company are not compiled, that they are incinerated and the money given to the families of the departed are just to keep them quiet and from asking questions. More potential government corruption. Though I like the smaller stories like tonight’s episode, it might be time for something drastic like an exploration into these mounting questions about the government’s involvement in all of this.
  • Nora parties hard by taking a nameless, non-FDA approved drug and cozying up to a married man who makes the lifelike dummies of the departed. Instead of kissing him, she kisses the $40,000 replica of him.
  • “I’ve seen my own death and it’s coming upon me soon.” – Wayne. I guess this means we have that to look forward to. My guess is that Tom is behind the trigger.
  • Matt apologizes on his sister’s answering machine. 

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3.5 out of 5