By: Jeff Iblings, Contributor
This episode of THE LEFTOVERS returns to a more character centric piece similar to how “Two Boats and a Helicopter” focused on Reverend Matt Jamison. This time the focus is on his sister, Nora Durst. Clearly this is one of the strongest episodes of the season, and is thematically about identity and the loss of it.
Having lost her entire family to the “Departure,” we already know Nora is damaged. How could she not be? Many of the characters on the show are living their lives in some middle ground between death and life. They are just wallowing in the loss. Unable to move on, unable to build a new life, or to even allow themselves happiness for fear they do not deserve to feel anything positive in the shadow of such tragedy. Now we are shown just how deep that damage has marred her “life.”
We see her in the grocery store shopping for the foods her children loved and ate. Then throwing away and replacing expired, unused and unopened produce out of her cupboards and refrigerator. She has everything ready in case they come back. She also parks and watches the preschool teacher she knows was having an affair with her husband, unable to let that go as well.
The real harsh reality for Nora is that she’s unable to feel alive without pain. This brings us to the most startling scene in the episode. Nora hires a call girl to come over and shoot her in the chest while she wears a Kevlar vest. This isn’t the first time she’s paid someone to do this, and the desperation in her face, the pleading with the unsure woman to shoot her in the chest, shows she needs this. It keeps her sane. Sometimes she convinces herself she’s moving on, like filing for divorce from her departed husband, but she’s really just spinning her wheels. She’s lost who the real Nora was, and is instead left with the person she’s become.
This identity problem is repeated when Nora arrives at the DROP (Departure Related Occupations and Practices) conference and someone has already taken her identity badge, leaving her with a generic one that just reads “Guest.” We find the conference protested by numerous cults with their varying agendas. The cult problem is so numerous that it involves Catholics, Guilty Remnants, and even a bald headed guy working the conference attendees. We later find out is a disciple of Holy Wayne.
The identity issue takes a funny turn when Nora is convinced by a group of fellow attendees to come party with them. There are drugs, drinking, sex, and a guy named Marcus who sells replacements (the fake replicas of the departed) with a display model that looks exactly like him. When he asks Nora if he can kiss her, she says yes, and makes out with the replica version of Marcus. Her doppelganger, this person who has stolen her identity, has done something destructive at the hotel and gets Nora kicked out. No matter how hard she tries to explain it wasn’t her, no one believes her. This person has replaced her, even going so far as to take her spot on a panel discussion she’s supposed to give at the conference.
In order to get back in, she creates a fake ID badge, a replica at a Kinkos type of shop. She confronts the woman pretending to be her at the panel, and the woman turns out to be another crazy crackpot spouting strange gibberish beliefs about the departure. In the aftermath, she ends up feeling just as empty, just as jaded if not more so than before. She meets a man in the hotel bar who’s lost 4 family members in the departure and has written a book about it called “What’s Next.” He seems well rounded, content, and appears to have moved on. He’s attained everything Nora wants, but doesn’t understand how to get. His story is like hers, and he tells her about his daughter laughing and then seeing him and feeling nervous and guilty that she shouldn’t be happy. “What we’ve experienced isn’t grief, it’s never ending. Ambiguous loss. If my 8 year old can find happiness again, why can’t the rest of us?”
Nora loses her shit and calls him a fraud. “If you were in pain, you’d know there is no moving on, there is no happiness. What’s next, what’s fucking next? Nothing!” She’s so unhappy she can’t even allow someone else who has experienced the same thing to move on. She’s at rock bottom even though she’s reclaimed her identity again. Clearly she can’t make a change in her life on her own, and right when she’s at her worst, the bald headed man swoops in. He tells her he can prove that the writer is a hoax if she follows him.
She finds herself in a shitty, run down apartment. It’s here where the guy promises to show her what the writer experienced a year ago that took his pain away for a $1,000. She is so desperate that she does it, even though everything about it screams leave. Through a doorway she finds the answer. Holy Wayne. He reads her like an open book, and it dismantles all of her defenses. The one thing she’s denied herself all of this time, the one thing that will make her a whole person again, is the one thing that Holy Wayne can give her back. Hope.
In the aftermath of Holy Wayne hugging away her pain, she seems reborn. The things we saw her do in the beginning of the episode, the rituals that kept the hope out of her life, she’s stopped them. Finally ready to live again.
– There are a few scenes Nora has with Kevin that are cute and awkward. Kevin asks her out. It’s about time.
– If Holy Wayne has seen his death, how does it all end? Is his end a new beginning? Will we see it?
– Question 121: Do you think the departed are in a better place?
For six months out of the year Jeff is holed up in his home with nothing to do but shovel snow, watch television, write, and dream of warmer climates.