Note: I know that this is super late, but I’ve been really sick the past few days, and posting anything has seemed like an insurmountable challenge to me. But I’m feeling a lot better now, so hopefully I’ll be back to regular posting. Also, considering how long this will be, I’m only going to post part of it on the homepage. Now, on to the review.
Here’s a suggestion to the writers of The Leftovers: scrap every character in the show but Nora, relocate her to Manhattan, and have every episode from now on shot in this setting, because this week’s episode was arguably the best of the season since the premiere. We were finally treated to an episode where we didn’t spend at least forty-five minutes wondering what the hell was going on. This episode was, at least in my opinion, both entertaining and interesting – two characteristics that have been hard to simultaneously find all season. It may also have to do with the fact that the story is finally displaying some measure of congruence, and we got at least a couple of answers to questions that we’ve had.
We were first really introduced to Nora in episode two, and in my review of that episode, I predicted that her storyline would eventually be interesting, but that we were too early in the series to understand it. That was quite a prediction on my part because her storyline this week has so far trumped most of what we’ve seen the past few weeks.
The episode started out under most bizarre circumstances. Back in the second episode, Jill tripped over Nora’s handbag in a diner, and noticed a large firearm in there. At the time, we didn’t know what it was for, but we found out last night. It turns out that Nora pays female prostitutes to come over to her house and shoot her in the chest with the gun, while she wears a Kevlar vest. There’s a “reality show” on Showtime called Gigolos, and it follows the lives and careers of professional male escorts in Las Vegas. I think it’s the fakest reality show on television, and that’s saying a hell of a lot. In an effort to have new and different storylines every week, the writers of Gigolos come up with more and more ridiculous circumstances under which women would need to proudly hire male prostitutes – you know, because sticking to the only two real reasons of lonely middle aged women and bachelorette parties wouldn’t bring the show past a few episodes. Anyway, in spite of the extreme situations that these gigolos find themselves, even they have their boundaries, because none of them has ever been traumatised by the experience of emptying an AK into the chest of one of their clients!
As odd as this particular fetish may be, we understand that it’s one of her ways of coping with the loss of her husband and two kids, all of whom vanished in the Departure. She’s still so deeply affected by it that, after three years, she has kept everything in her house the same way that it was on the day of their disappearance… and that includes buying the exact same groceries that had been in the house, although she never uses out of them, which was simultaneously heartbreaking, and creepy as all hell! It’s also all the more powerful when we realise how far removed this private practice is from her public persona, through which she fights to give off this efficient, almost emotionally-detached, appearance. We saw this when she had her marriage legally ended, despite her husband being Departed, as she is still angry at the recent revelation that he’d been cheating on her. We saw a similar instance of applied stoicism at her job, and we found out that she works as a sort of insurance agent for those that have Departed, though really we’d already figured that out. Let me take a second to point out that the single greatest line of this entire series so far has been Laura’s subconscious, unthinking, but totally valid “fuck your daughter!” to Kevin Garvey. Nothing has so succinctly summed up my own sentiments so flawlessly.
The real story began when she went off to Manhattan for a conference on various departments and institutions related to the Departure. Things started off okay as she checked into the hotel, and signed their mandated code of conduct. However, things started going sour when she signed into the conference, and found out that someone had already taken her name badge. Despite an assurance that it was probably an accidental occurrence, she realises that it was a deliberate scheme, as someone actually signed into the conference using her name. There was a great scene in which she (and we) started to believe that she’d found the culprit when a fellow attendee at the conference kept nervously glancing over at her before fleeing into the ladies’ room. Nora, of course, follows her in there, but what looked to be a great victory on her part turned into a mortifying ordeal with a legitimate attendee, who Nora had evidently humiliated so badly the previous year that she’d made cry in the presence of everyone. Though Nora barely remembers this confrontation, she apologises to the woman, insisting that she’d been having a really hard time that year. When the woman scathingly and sarcastically points out that she’s clearly not doing any better currently, we once again see an example of this damaged person beneath a carefully crafted exterior.
Shortly after, she is sort of corralled into a hotel suite by a group of fellow conference goers, who have the most cavalier, fuck-it-all attitude when it comes to the Departure, though that may have to do with the copious amounts of booze and soon-to-be-but-not-quite-yet-FDA-approved pills that they consume. The group is spearheaded by Marcus, a cute but overly chipper guy, whose opening shtick to strangers seems to be getting them to ask what he does for a living, and then answering that they don’t want to know. The first time that he introduced himself to Nora, he declares that the conference is a “mad house”, and points out different people around the room who she should avoid. This included a tall balding man who was making his way around the room, asking people if they “really wanted to feel this way”. I instantly thought of Wayne when I heard that because, a few episodes ago, he said pretty much the same thing to Tom, before offering to “take his pain away”. That made me think that Wayne wasn’t the only one who could do whatever it is that he does, and there was actually a group of people capable of doing it, of which this guy was a part. But back to this later.
Marcus later gets Nora to come to his hotel suite with him and his friends and, while partying and boozing, he finally reveals what his job is… and it is one of the creepiest effing things that you can imagine. He takes her behind some screen and reveals a life-sized, anatomically-correct (??) completely identical mannequin of him… and I mean identical! Apparently, his company is involved in creating these replicas, complete with scars and birthmarks, of the Departed, and a good model fetches as much as forty thousand dollars. He then goes off on some long spiel about providing a necessary goodness for those who have lost their loved ones, by helping them have a physical copy of someone who just suddenly vanished. Despite him, all this time, coming off as the most basic of basic bitches douchebags, I actually understood what he was saying and, although it didn’t make the concept any less creepy, it made it more worthy of sympathy. Now, time for a little analysis. The last word that I would use to describe this show is “predictable”, but I do think I saw this coming. Back when Tom and Christine encountered all those bodies wrapped in white, strewn across the street, I wondered if they were real bodies at all. Could they, perhaps, have been more of these replicas being transported for delivery?
The following day, Nora is awoken by hotel security, who aggressively inform her that she has been evicted from the hotel, due to the property damage that she’d caused the previous night. Considering how wasted she was, that wasn’t so hard to believe… except that the damage occurred in the bar, and she was nowhere near the bar. Although she tries to explain that someone has been impersonating her, her story doesn’t fly because, really, how many times can a law enforcement agent hear this excuse? Instead of going back home, like instructed, she goes to a copy centre, creates fake credentials for the conference, and re-enters the hotel, where she is instantly recognised and brought to head of security. There, she argues more about this mysterious woman who has stolen her identity, and the head of security makes a sceptical agreement with her: if there was no Nora Durst impersonator on her panel, she would have to leave and never return to the hotel. At this point, I was beyond intrigued, and all sorts of theories were flying around my head. Was there really an impersonator? She had, after all, been portrayed as slightly unhinged all this time. Maybe she had done all those things herself, and hadn’t remembered any of it… Shutter Island, anyone? As it turned out, though, she was more sane than I gave her credit for, because sitting at that panel, calm as can be, was a woman claiming to be Nora Durst, who wasn’t Nora Durst. The vindication I felt Nora’s behalf was sweet, but short-lived, as she marched up to the microphone set up for questions, and claimed to “have a question for Nora Durst.” I was totally surprised that the impersonator completely gave up the pretence right then and there, and launched into the following speech:
I am not Nora Durst. I have been watching you people for the past two days and you are all blind – puppets! The Department of the Sudden Departure is an elaborate smokescreen to give the public the illusion of progress. Their questionnaires are sent to incinerators outside of Tallahassee, Florida. Their benefit payments are a way to silence us all. In 2005…
The rest of her rant became inaudible as the scene erupted into chaos and security rushed in on her. Now, I understand that crazy people are crazy and that there’s no depth to the crazy craziness that they crazily do, and that this woman appeared to be riding first class on the crazy train to Crazytopia, but I believed every word that she said, and my conspiracy theorist sixth sense tingled something fierce! First of all, her geographic coordinates were far too specific! A true crazy would have insisted that the incinerator be located at Area 51… I mean, whose mind even goes to Tallahassee, Florida when they think of government cover-ups? Secondly, didn’t we just last week see an instance of mysterious, clandestine incinerating with Gladys’ body at the end of last week’s episode? Unless you can convince me that the Government was cremating her body from the goodness of their heart to spread her ashes over the Atlantic, I’m inclined to believe that there was some nefarious shit going down in that facility. And hell, if they can incinerate a human body so emotionlessly, what’s stopping them from incinerating a bunch of hurtful, bullshit 150-question questionnaires? Furthermore, this woman was incredibly calculated in her actions. She stole the badge of someone, knowing they hadn’t arrived yet, and knowing when they’d be a member of a panel. She also obviously purposely caused damage to the hotel bar, knowing that the real Nora Durst would be kicked out, effectively ensuring that her impersonation act wouldn’t be revealed. That’s some pretty logical and lucid thinking for a crazy person.
If you’re still reading this review, I give you mad props, because this thing is long as hell, and I’m exhausted from writing it!
When this awful scene died down, Nora drowns her sorrows in alcohol at the bar, where all her drinks are comped by the hotel… because nothing says “I’m sorry for forcible throwing you out of your room, calling you a liar and a crazy, and traumatising you by allowing a nutjob to impersonate you for an entire weekend” quite like the ability to get totally trashed for free. While there, she finds herself in conversation with Patrick Johansen, the author of a post-Departure book, which has been acclaimed to offer a new perspective on the tragedy. The conversation started off really pleasant, but at some point down the line, a combination of the depression and alcohol took a hold of Nora, and she read the guy to filth, bitching him out about being a fraud, and literally running him out of the hotel bar.
One of the witnesses to this scene is baldy from earlier, who’d been going around asking everyone if they wanted to feel the way they did. Of course, he introduces himself to Nora, and then informs her that she is absolutely right about Patrick being a fraud, going as far as claiming that he could prove it. Despite serving up heaping doses of not-the-one attitude, Nora follows him to an abandoned building, where she is eventually charged a thousand dollars before she could be shown the proof. After reluctantly paying up, she is shown into a darkened room where sitting before her is none other than Wayne! At this point, I really could have kicked myself for my stupidity! All this time, I’d been assuming that this man was like Wayne, without ever considering the possibility that he was with Wayne!
By now, Nora was understandably highly suspicious. I mean, you would be too if you were alone in a room with a weirdo balding white guy and a big half-clothed black guy… not exactly the most comforting of company. Regardless, Wayne speaks to Nora, going into this long speech about her thinking she doesn’t deserve to be happy, and assuring her that she does, before he finally officially offers to take her pain away. Mind you, I was more than prepared to roll my eyes to another solar system and back, if Wayne’s magical hug produced any sort of CGI sparks or fairy dust, but I still felt highly gypped that it was really just a hug! Come on, I get that the supernatural aspects of the show are really only hinted at, but still… an ordinary hug?! Hell, my grandma does the same thing, and she doesn’t charge a thousand bucks to your PayPal account. If I shell out a thousand big ones for a hug, you’d best believe I expect at least a little bit of inappropriate touching somewhere in there. Either way, the hug seemed to do the trick, and Nora is all happy-ish again, buying new groceries, this time things that she actually uses. She even went as far as accepting a date from Kevin, so all the more power to her! That in itself was worth the thousand bucks.
Next week’s episode looks like its gonna bring the action full force. Kevin’s dad, who is either psycho or psychic (or maybe a little of both) has returned, and is causing a shit load of chaos. I think the tide of the series may be turning, and this week’s episode was a great starting point.