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The Leftovers Recap: Season 1, Episode 6, “Guest”

With “Guest,” The Leftovers whittles away Nora’s placid exterior until all that’s left is the abraded soul inside.

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Photo: HBO

We need to talk about Nora. The unshakeable woman of the Heroes Day dais is now a distant memory, long since shadowed by intimations of a troubled inner life: the handgun, the broken coffee mug, the news of her husband’s infidelity. Until tonight, though, Nora Durst (Carrie Coon) remained mostly inscrutable, the Mapleton resident least susceptible to profane rants and crying jags. No more. With “Guest,” at once funny and dire, playful and painful, The Leftovers whittles away Nora’s placid exterior until all that’s left is the abraded soul inside.

If you think this sounds bleak, you’d be right. Where “Gladys” was punctuated by sudden bursts of feeling, “Guest” builds gradually to an emotional climax, but it nonetheless deals in heartache. Much has been made of how “depressing” The Leftovers is (Entertainment Weekly’s Melissa Maerz publicly abandoned the series this week, concerned that “there’s no rhyme or reason” to its “relentlessly grim” proceedings), but such criticisms rarely admit how true this emotional palette is to the world the series imagines. (Dan Abromowitz’s list of “good, sound, legitimate reasons to stop watching,” on Gawker’s Morning After, rounds up some of the most common complaints.) In my recap of “Pilot,” I mentioned the echoes of 9/11 in the parades, speeches, and monuments designed to commemorate the Sudden Departure, but the comparison seems increasingly untenable. “Guest” makes clear that the inexplicable nature of October 14th amplifies the grief engulfing post-Departure society; the loss isn’t just personal, but phenomenological, stripping away the mechanisms by which we create meaning from what Joan Didion once called “the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience.” As we learn in one presentation during the conference on Departure-Related Occupations and Practices (DROP), Nora’s attendance at which consumes most of the episode, prophets, soothsayers, cult leaders, and conspiracy theorists enter the void left behind when the old ways of understanding prove terrifyingly inadequate. The despair at the heart of The Leftovers is without “rhyme or reason” only if we expect the characters to adhere to some preconceived notion of what the aftermath of October 14th should look like. Strange questionnaires, vows of silence, and healing hugs don’t seem to me particularly extreme responses to the abrupt disappearance of 140 million people and the failure of any traditional form of science or religion to explain it.

Whether paying a sex worker $3,000 to shoot you in the chest at close range qualifies as “extreme” in this context is another matter. The image of Nora in a Kevlar vest, listening to Slayer—“Infamous butcher, Angel of Death!”—has the “see what I did there?” smugness of a bad pun (“the escort’s name is Angel, get it?”). I’m almost tempted to call the moment an instance of the episode’s cheeky self-awareness gone too far, of a piece with Kevin Garvey’s (Justin Theroux) later comment that he doesn’t know how to joke, but this is too lenient even for me. The gunplay is ludicrous, all the more so because the preceding glimpses of Nora’s lonely existence portray subtler forms of self-harm. Eyeing the preschool teacher who slept with her husband and replacing untouched boxes of her vanished children’s favored cereals, Nora appears unlikely to go in for theatrics: The available evidence suggests that she prefers to seal herself inside the family mausoleum, silently communing with the departed.

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This caveat aside, “Guest” extends the show’s streak of outstanding episodes to four, in part by developing the darkly comic register introduced in “B.J. and the A.C.” Coon, tremendous throughout, finds in Nora an almost wacky vein of mischief. The way she throws up her hand and chuckles, telling Kevin, “Oh, fuck your daughter!,” when he declines her impromptu invitation to spend the weekend in Miami, manages to be both funny and unsettling; it’s hilarity delivered with the manic exhilaration of a woman near the end of her rope. Later, after her conference nametag goes missing, she’ll enjoy the anonymity of being known simply as “Guest” by dancing on the sofa in a hotel suite and flirting with the inventor of life-sized commemorative dolls that sell for $40,000 apiece. (From photographs and home videos, the man explains, “we generate every little thing that made them…them,” which may explain why I mistook the figures for corpses in “B.J. and the A.C.”)

These moments of levity will satisfy viewers seeking a respite from the show’s “depressing” bent, but the anarchic humor in “Guest” actually reflects the same understanding of Nora’s character as the episode’s more mournful interludes. She struggles mightily against the constraints of martyrdom, yet she’s been defined by October 14th so long that the identity of “Nora Durst” is impossible to relinquish. When the head of hotel security learns that her husband and two children departed (she’s a “triple legacy,” in DROP’s parlance), it’s telling that she knows the exact answer to his offhand rhetorical question, “What are the odds?”: “One in 128,000,” she replies. Along these lines, she keeps her married name, snaps at a conference worker, and eventually confronts her imposter, a series of events conveyed in microcosm by the episode’s most singular image. The sight of Coon’s hands applying three orange stickers to her new nametag is a ghostly reminder of her status, a way of acknowledging that “Nora Durst, U.S. Department of Sudden Departure” is ultimately made present by the absence that surrounds her. To allow this profound sense of loss to lessen even briefly, for Nora, is to risk disappearing herself.

That’s why she lashes out at Patrick Johanson (Curtiss Cook), the smarmy author of the self-help bestseller What’s Next, when he offers her a platitude-filled anecdote about finding happiness. That’s why, after chasing him from the bar, screaming, “What’s next? What’s fucking next? Nothing is next! Nothing!,” Coon returns Nora’s face to its glassy default position, pausing to sip from her martini as though the exchange never happened. That’s why, in the end, she relents to Holy Wayne (Paterson Joseph): The $1,000 she pays for an audience with him is not an attempt to understand what happened, but an opportunity to be understood. For Wayne lays out no theology of the Sudden Departure, expresses no pity for her condition. Though he gets around to foretelling his own death, his attitude is that of a war profiteer rather than a prophet: “I’ve already got your money,” he tells her, “and I’m fucking exhausted.” But his powers of perception turn out to be the genuine artifact, and it’s his empathic description of the hidden part of her, as much as the embrace itself, that ultimately sends her reeling.

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Nora’s fierce, possibly cathartic sobs set the episode’s conclusion in motion. The fleeting sequence that follows inverts the order of events that mark the beginning of the hour, and with clever alterations of detail, “Guest” resolves into a lovely whole. For all the talk of The Leftovers as a blunt instrument, in such passages it emerges as a delicate piece of work: Nora gives up spying on the preschool teacher and unloads yogurt from her grocery bag; her brother, the Reverend Matt Jamison (Christopher Eccleston), leaves an apologetic message on her machine; Kevin asks her to dinner. Was this hope I spied in the final minutes of “Guest,” as the season enters its home stretch? Was this some intimation, quiet and hard-won, that even the worst storms eventually pass? Any optimism I have on this count is mostly for Nora’s sake and not my own, because both the starkness and the unexpected cheer in “Guest” reaffirm my assessment of the series thus far: The Leftovers is great television.

For more Leftovers recaps, click here.

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Let Your Sanity Go on Vacation with a Trip to the Moons of Madness

If you dare, ascend into the horrors of the Martian mind and check out the trailer for yourself.

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Moons of Madness
Photo: Rock Pocket Games

The announcement trailer for Moons of Madness opens with an empty shot of the Invictus, a research installation that’s been established on Mars. The camera lingers over well-lit but equally abandoned corridors, drifting over a picture of a family left millions of kilometers behind on Earth before finally settling on the first-person perspective of Shane Newehart, an engineer working for the Orochi Group. Fans of a different Funcom series, The Secret World, will instantly know that something’s wrong. And sure enough, in what may be the understatement of the year, Newehart is soon talking about how he “seems to have a situation here”—you know, what with all the antiquated Gothic hallways, glitching cameras, and tentacled creatures that start appearing before him.

As with Dead Space, it’s not long before the station is running on emergency power, with eerie whispers echoing through the station and bloody, cryptic symbols being scrawled on the walls. Did we mention tentacles? Though the gameplay hasn’t officially been revealed, this brief teaser suggests that players will have to find ways both to survive the physical pressures of this lifeless planet and all sorts of sanity-challenging supernatural occurrences, with at least a soupçon of H.P. Lovecraft’s cosmicism thrown in for good measure.

If you dare, ascend into the horrors of the Martian mind and check out the trailer for yourself.

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Rock Pocket Games will release Moons of Madness later this year.

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Watch: Two Episode Trailers for Jordan Peele’s The Twilight Zone Reboot

Ahead of next week’s premiere of the series, CBS All Access has released trailers for the first two episodes.

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The Twilight Zone
Photo: CBS All Access

Jordan Peele is sitting on top of the world—or, at least, at the top of the box office, with his sophomore film, Us, having delivered (and then some) on the promise of his Get Out. Next up for the filmmaker is the much-anticipated reboot of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone, which the filmmaker executive produced and hosts. Ahead of next week’s premiere of the series, CBS All Access has released trailers for the first two episodes, “The Comedian” and “Nightmare at 30,000 Feet.” In the former, Kumail Nanjiani stars as the eponymous comedian, who agonizingly wrestles with how far he will go for a laugh. And in the other, a spin on the classic “Nightmare at 20,0000 Feet” episode of the original series starring William Shatner, Adam Scott plays a man locked in a battle with his paranoid psyche. Watch both trailers below:

The Twilight Zone premieres on April 1.

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Scott Walker Dead at 76

Walker’s solo work moved away from the pop leanings of the Walker Brothers and increasingly toward the avant-garde.

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Scott Walker
Photo: 4AD

American-born British singer-songwriter, composer, and record producer Scott Walker, who began his career as a 1950s-style chanteur in an old-fashioned vocal trio, has died at 76. In a statement from his label 4AD, the musician, born Noel Scott Engel, is celebrated for having “enriched the lives of thousands, first as one third of the Walker Brothers, and later as a solo artist, producer and composer of uncompromising originality.”

Walker was born in Hamilton, Ohio on January 9, 1943 and earned his reputation very early on for his distinctive baritone. He changed his name after joining the Walker Brothers in the early 1960s, during which time the pop group enjoyed much success with such number one chart hits as “Make It Easy on Yourself” and “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine (Anymore).”

The reclusive Walker’s solo work moved away from the pop leanings of the Walker Brothers and increasingly toward the avant-garde. Walker, who was making music until his death, received much critical acclaim with 2006’s Drift and 2012’s Bish Bosch, as well as with 2014’s Soused, his collaboration with Sunn O))). He also produced the soundtrack to Leos Carax’s 1999 romantic drama Pola X and composed the scores for Brady Corbet’s first two films as a director, 2016’s The Childhood of a Leader and last year’s Vox Lux.

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