As “The Leftovers” hits the halfway point, there’s a lot of guilt from viewers who want to ditch this depressing series. Honestly? We don’t really blame them. This is a rough show. But the viewers who decided to bail missed the most entertaining episode of the season, which is revealing an unfortunate pattern: As soon as the show takes a break from the horror of the Garvey family (the central characters), it gets a LOT better.
This week’s installment was all about Nora Durst, who should technically be the saddest of them all: Remember, she lost her entire family (husband and two small children) in the Sudden Departure. However, as miserable as she is, Nora is by far the most likable character on the show.
Instead of leaving Mapleton and trying to forget the horrible things that have happened, she delves deeper into the Departure, landing a job in the Department of Sudden Departure. She interviews people who have filed claims (if you lost someone, you get money) and digs into the life of the Departed with 150 deeply personal questions.
If you want the cash, you have to answer. Did your loved one drink more than two alcoholic beverages a day? Did they eat sugar cereal? Did they ever attempt suicide? After all, the department is trying to find patterns about why some disappeared and why some were left on Earth, and Nora fulfills her responsibilities by asking them all.
So, what does one do when they have experienced a trauma like Nora’s? Well, Nora has some horrifying rituals: First, she leaves the house in the exact state it’s been since her husband and kids disappeared, complete with messy rooms and half-finished puzzles. She shops at the grocery store and buys the same things (gallon of milk, Lucky Charms, Cinnamon Toast Crunch) she did for her kids, even though she doesn’t touch a thing.
Oh, and then there’s the fact that she dials up a prostitute named Angel via a local newspaper ad and asks the woman to shoot her in the chest. Really — Angel arrives and sees an air mattress, thinking that’s why Nora called. Nope, that’s just so Nora will have a soft place to land after she gets shot. See, she doesn’t actually want to die: She just needs to feel an intense amount of pain to work through her grief. So Nora throws on a bulletproof vest and has Angel fire a gun directly at her heart. Terrified, Angel does as she’s asked; and as soon as Nora hits the air mattress, Angel grabs the promised $3,000 in cash and gets the heck out of there.
Once that’s done, Nora heads to court to officially file for divorce from Doug — her brother, Reverend Matt, informed her that Doug was sleeping with the kids’ preschool teacher. Even the judge looks uncomfortable when Nora shares all the details of her life, and hastily grants Nora the divorce.
Who should Nora bump into on the way out of the courthouse? None other than Kevin Garvey, also at the courthouse to file divorce papers, since the message is clear that Laurie is not coming back from the Guilty Remnant. So, they’re both single now: All together now, ooohhhhh. Love connection? Probably down the line, but it gets awkward fast when Nora blurts out an invitation for Kevin to come with her to Miami. Startled, Kevin turns it down; embarrassed, Nora flees the court.
No time to dwell, as she’s got a busy week at work: She’s headed to New York for the second annual DROP (Departure Related Occupations and Practices) conference, where she’ll be on a panel. But first, her boss has a question about Nora’s job performance: Why does every single person she interview answer “yes” to question No. 121 on the questionnaire? Taken aback, Nora says that maybe it’s just a fluke pattern.
Her boss looks skeptical and offers that maybe she’s influencing the people she’s interviewing. “Maybe you’re mentioning what happened to you?” he guesses. Nora coldly tells him she would never do that. (No, we don’t know what Question No. 121 is yet, because show creator Damon Lindelof is infuriating like that.)
Fast-forward to the conference: Nora makes her way through a bunch of protesters at the entrance to the hotel in New York, who are yelling about conspiracy theories. (The pope didn’t disappear, he’s hiding in a basement!) Anything about the Sudden Departure brings out the crazies, so Nora ignores them and heads to pick up her badge.
A slight problem: Her badge is gone. The woman at the desk tells Nora there must have been a mistake, but no worries, she can have a “Guest” badge that will get her into all the events. Nora is about to accept this without question but then realizes, you know what? She wants her own badge. After all, she’s a “legacy” (someone who lost people in the Departure) and she wants the orange lanyard that reflects it. The woman politely tells Nora to get lost, and that badge is probably floating around somewhere.
Furious, Nora heads into a mixer and comes face to face with a super creepy guy named Marcus who calls her “Guest” and wants her to guess what he does for a living, because she’ll never believe it. Nora ignores him and tries to track down who stole her badge. She winds up following a suspicious-looking woman into a bathroom and confronts her.
Oops — wrong person. The woman was just glaring at Nora because they got into a fight at last year’s conference, and Nora made her cry. All of a sudden, Nora remembers: Last year, the woman accused Nora of feeding her kids too many sugar cereals, and said that’s probably why they disappeared. The woman defends herself, saying she was simply explaining that sugar cereal was linked to preadolescent departures — why is that rude?! Nora just shakes her head and leaves.
Defeated, Nora’s just trying to get to her room when she runs into Creepy Marcus and an elevator full of people, all of whom convince Nora to come party with them before the panels start tomorrow. Figuring the day can’t get any worse, Nora agrees, and she soon finds herself inhaling vodka, taking mysterious pills and dancing on a couch.
Nora’s so hammered that she barely even cares when her new friends start bugging her about why she works for the Department of Sudden Departure. Isn’t it all a scam? What do they do with the answers to those questionnaires anyway? Nora drunkenly deflects their queries until Creepy Marcus tells her he wants to show her what he does for a living. Turns out, Marcus is one of those guys who make the fake bodies that are identical to the people who disappeared in the Departure.
The bodies cost $40,000 each, but plenty of people pay for them, Marcus explains, showing Nora a dummy of himself: They take photos of the Departed and generate every little piece of the person until they have an exact replica that the grieving families can bury. Even though Nora doesn’t question it, Marcus launches into a defense: They’re not taking advantage of sad people, they’re simply providing supply when there’s a great demand.
Then Marcus starts making his move. “So tell me, Guest,” he asks Nora. “Am I soulless?” Nora regards him thoughtfully. “No,” she answers. Assuming that means she’s into him, Marcus asks if she wants to kiss him. Nora says yes — and in the most disturbing scene of the episode, straddles the dummy and makes out with that instead.
Soon, things spiral out of control. Nora wakes up in bed as hotel security bangs on her door, announcing that she destroyed hotel property — she shattered a bar mirror — and must be escorted from the hotel immediately. Nora tries to protest that someone stole her badge and is impersonating her, but security doesn’t buy it and throws her out onto the street.
Angrily inspired, Nora cleans herself up, makes a fake badge and marches right back into the hotel. She’s promptly detained again by security, and she explains repeatedly that someone has been pretending to be her this whole time, and that her badge is missing. The hotel manager doesn’t believe her but agrees to go to the panel (where Nora is supposed to be) and if there isn’t anyone pretending to be Nora, she has to leave.
Except, wait a second — Nora’s story holds up, because indeed, there is a woman at the podium wearing a “Nora Durst” badge. The embarrassed hotel manager calls security while Nora marches up to the microphone to ask Fake Nora Durst a question. The facade immediately ends, as the woman announces she’s an imposter, and that she’s infiltrated the ranks of the conference to inform everyone that they are all blind. And that the Department of Sudden Departure is a farce. “Benefit payments are a way to silence us all,” she yells as she’s dragged offstage.
Obviously, Nora needs a drink after all of that, but even that can’t go smoothly. While drinking a martini (all drinks are on the house after the hotel accidentally kicked her out), she runs into Patrick Johansen, the author of “What’s Next,” a book about the Departure that’s in all the conference tote bags. Johansen, as legend goes, lost four family members.
Even in her hungover state, Nora is immediately able to tell that Patrick is a fraud: Someone who actually went through that sort of hell would never be able to write a book about it. As Patrick goes on finding happiness, Nora snaps. “You’re not in pain,” she fumes. “If you’re in pain there is no moving on … there is no happiness.” She starts screaming at him until he runs away.
As Nora flees the bar, she runs into a bald guy who asks her a simple but very weird question: “Do you want to feel this way?” Bald Guy tells Nora she was right, Patrick is a fraud, and he can prove it. Emotionally drained, Nora decides to follow Bald Guy into an abandoned apartment building to see his proof. In an even more stunning decision, she agrees to pay $1,000 to find out what he’s talking about.
Bald Guy leads her behind a curtain, and who should she see except Holy Wayne, the guy who’s on the run from the cops for several rape charges.
Except Nora doesn’t know that — and Wayne starts talking about his special power: Taking people’s pain from them. Patrick lost everyone, but he has been able to move on, thanks to a hug from Holy Wayne. Nora just stares as Holy Wayne goes on, nailing exactly what she’s been feeling since her family disappeared. “If pain starts to slip away, you seek it out, don’t you?” he says as Nora starts to cry. “You do deserve hope.”
He asks her: “Do you want to feel this way?” “No,” Nora whispers, tears streaming down her face. Holy Wayne holds open his arms: “Let me take it from you.” She pauses and looks up at him. “I won’t forget them?” she asks of her family. Holy Wayne gives a super scary smile. “Never,” he assures her. Nora falls into his arms, crying hysterically.
Cut to: Nora coming home from the grocery store. Well, criminal or not, Holy Wayne’s hug apparently worked: She only bought one small bag, without a sugar cereal in sight. She even replaces the paper towel roll that’s been empty since her family disappeared. Slowly but surely, she’s starting to move on.
Her day even gets a little brighter when Kevin Garvey shows up, apologizing for not fleeing with her to Miami — but hey, how about a date? “I would love that,” Nora confirms. Kevin tells her that he’s a mess, but Nora doesn’t even seem to mind.
And then, things end as we finally get one answer to a tiny mystery. As Nora interviews someone about a Departed loved one, we learn Question No. 121: “In your opinion, do you believe the departed is in a better place?”
Her interview subject, a middle aged woman, pauses. “No,” she says, and starts to cry. It’s Nora’s first ever “no,” and a sign that things are about to change.