'The Leftovers' Recap: 'Guest'

By Vincent Lia,
Sugary cereal, a Kevlar vest, and a missing badge

If only The Leftovers dedicated every episode to a single character's arc. Reverend Jamison and Nora Durst's episodes both stand out as the strongest thus far.

Any flack that was given last weekfor the series seeming like a collection of moments that have yet to add up to much went away for an hour, as it felt like some actual traction was gained. The prospect of an all-Nora episode was exciting, and it didn't disappoint.

The episode opens with a slice of the life of Nora Durst. Interviewing the husband of a departed for an insurance claim, buying lucky charms for her departed children, and calling an escort to her house and paying her $3,000 dollars to shoot a round off into her bulletproof vest-laden chest. Just your average day.

The following day Nora goes to court to officially dissolve her marriage and runs into Kevin, who's there to do the same. Considering how refreshingly pleasant their previous interactions were, we expect this one to go similarly, maybe even finally materializing in one asking the other out. And Nora sort of does that by asking Chief Garvey if he'd like to go to Miami with her on a whim. When he responds that he has a daughter at home to look after, she replies, "Oh, f**k your daughter." Needless to say, the two did not hitch the next flight to South Beach together.

At her boss's office, Nora discusses the upcoming DROP (Departure-Related Occupations and Practices) Conference in New York City, as well as field some inquiries regarding the answers she's been getting on one of her questions. As we later learn, that question is, "In your opinion, do you believe the departed is in a better place?" And for some reason up until that point, 100% of the people she asked responded "yes." Her practices are questioned by her boss, but one wonders why they couldn't just check the video camera that records the Q&A's.

Now in the city, Nora makes her way through a mob of protestors into the hotel where the DROP Conference is being held. When she goes to check in, she is told that someone has mistakenly taken her badge, and she is given a replacement one that simply reads "Guest". Nora is aware that it probably wasn't a mistake, and immediately has her eyes peeled for anyone posing as her.

In the gathering room, Nora bumps into someone named Marcus who, despite his best efforts, cannot get her to succumb to his charm and intrigue ("Ask me what I do...you don't wanna know"). After once again encountering him in the elevator later, he and his coworkers coax her up to the hospitality suite for some good old fashioned debauchery.

Some vodka, a pill that may or may not have been prescription-grade MDMA, and a make out session with a surrogate doll of Marcus later, Nora finds herself awoken in the middle of the night in her room by hotel security. They kick her out of the hotel, explaining that she drunkenly destroyed hotel property down at the bar. She tries to explain that it wasn't her, it was whoever has her badge and that she has to speak at a panel the next day, but to no avail.

With a little ingenuity, she creates a replica credential to sneak her way back in, but doesn't make it more than a few steps before being caught again. She's brought into a room for questioning by hotel security, who mainly would like to know why she has a handgun in her bag. They seem to get over that oddly quick, though, and Nora is able to prove her innocence when they find the woman posing as her is actually one of the departure deniers attempting to use Nora's place on stage at the panel to protest.

Later, at the hotel bar, she meets Patrick Johansen (Curtiss Cook), a man who allegedly lost four family members and has written "What's Next", a book about moving on that's all the talk of the conference. After a brief back-and-forth with him, a very inebriated Nora accuses him of being a fraud, saying, "If you were in pain you would know there is no moving on, there is no happiness. What's next? Nothing is next."

Witnessing her outburst, she is confronted by a man (Tom Noonan) that offers to prove that Patrick is a fraud. He leads her through a shady apartment and into a room where there is nothing but a younger man and a laptop. Upon request, she enters her PayPal information into the computer and hands over $1,000 to learn Patrick's secret.

What she finds, surprisingly, is Wayne. Patrick really did lose his family, but he did not learn to move on and get past it, Wayne "took his pain from him."

"You believe you will always feel that pain, and if it starts to slip away you seek it out again, don't you?," Wayne asks Nora, who is reduced to tears.

"You won't let it kill you, and you won't kill yourself. For whoever is joined with all the living, there is hope."

Suddenly, Nora's practice of being shot in the chest begins to make a little more sense.

"Hope. It's your weakness. You want it gone because you don't deserve it," Wayne perfectly explains Nora's own situation to her.

Wayne explains that he foresees his own death coming soon, so she needs to be healed now if she ever wants it.

She asks, "Will I forget them?"

"Never," replies Wayne.

The two wrap in an embrace, and Nora appears to be healed. Does Wayne actually have the ability to alleviate the grief of loss? Or is he the snake oil salesman we thought, and he's simply capitalizing on the desperate and allowing their own inner desire to be better do the work, with the hug as the necessary placebo? Either way, he's delivering what he advertises.

Back home, Nora is finally back to shopping just for herself, gets a change-of-heart voicemail from her brother Matt, and even gets a visit from Kevin, who asks her out to dinner. Things seem to finally be looking up for her.

That word, "finally", comes up a few times in this recap, and it would be an appropriate title for the episode because that's what "Guest" feels like. Finally, someone on this show (as well as the viewers) can exhale a little. Up until now, the people of Mapleton have been in such a spiral of despair and madness that it feels as though they just keep circling the drain without ever going in. Finally, someone was able to hit their rock bottom. Any other time Nora might have been more receptive to a book written by a guy in a similar situation as her, though it likely wouldn't do her much good. Even the book's author required the powers of the almighty Wayne to move on. And any other time Nora would probably turn her nose up at Wayne's offer of a magical healing hug. But the stars aligned and the universe rained enough pain on Nora to put her in a position where she's ready to allow herself to move on. Here's to the hope that the rest of the characters trapped in their free falls of anguish are able to hit their respective rock bottoms and let themselves finally ask, "what's next?"

Image courtesy of: Roger Wong/INFphoto.com

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