TV Review: “The Leftovers” Brings On A “Guest” And Adds Some Hope

HBO’s The Leftovers is growing into a frustrating watching experience, and maybe that’s the point of the show. After last week’s “Gladys,” I left feeling punished BY the show for watching the show and I wasn’t sure how much longer I could go on. But then The Leftovers dropped “Guest.”

“Guest” focuses in on Nora Durst, a character we’ve had some exposure to across this season, but not to any large extent. Nora is Father Jamison’s sister, who’s world was initially rocked when she lost her entire family, her husband and two kids, in the Sudden Departure. Her brother tells her that her husband had been cheating on her in the third episode of the series, so her world gets crushed just a little bit more. In “Guest,” we watch her stalk her husband’s mistress, buy groceries for her family as if they’re still at home, and pay escorts to shoot her in the chest (while wearing a Kevlar vest, obvi!). So, yeah, Nora’s going through some stuff.

Turns out Nora works for a government office, created in the aftermath of the Sudden Departure, and that’s the reason for all her questionnaires and travels. This is one of the strengths of The Leftovers, the wry ability to tweak how our culture operates in the face of unexplainable tragedies. We build support systems, we monetize it, we let the government handle it. There are parades, statues built, and we try to carry on life as usual.

Anyway, Nora must head to NYC for a Departure convention, where she’s part of a panel as part of her work. Given what we know about this world, it’s no surprise that Nora encounters a throng of protestors, from families of lost loved ones to conspiracy theorists and bold GR lookalikes. Inside is not much different, where the convention is teeming with those profiting in one way or another from the Departure. If that’s not enough, Nora’s badge is missing, along with her designation as a Legacy (meaning she’s lost people in the SD). So, Nora gets to roam about the convention with a guest badge, falling in with a crowd reminiscent of Jill’s party freaks.

Still, there’s someone out there impersonating Nora. Security throws the real Nora out of the hotel for smashing a mirror in the bar. But instead of just playing a victim, Nora goes on the offense, forging a new badge and outing her impersonator, who took her panel spot to shout protest and conspiracy theories at the room. Vindicated, and with a blank check for a bar tab, Nora manages to berate a man who also lost his family, but found peace. The entire episode so far, Nora has been teetering, fighting between giving up and pushing on, and things seem like they’re headed for the breaking point. Maybe it’s being around all these people, since last time she had a similar outburst.

Either way, along comes a familiar face, offering her answers for a hefty price. Nora hands over the dough and comes face to face with…Holy Wayne! I’m convinced Wayne has much more going on with the bigger mythology, despite the show’s attempts at playing it off. He definitely has a Christ thing going on, predicting his death, but offering to take away Nora’s pain. I won’t lie, I teared up during this scene, as he reads Nora’s deepest heart feelings like they were obvious. She wants hope, but thinks she doesn’t deserve it.

Carrie Coon, who’s co-starring in the upcoming thriller Gone Girl, delivers a powerful performance in “Guest.” In her every scene, she’s so magnetic, I couldn’t look away. By the end, when she sobs in Wayne’s arms, I was crying and hopeful right along with her. She portrays a range of emotions with rawness and honesty.

“Guest” is the second episode now to stray from the Garvey family, and I dare say those episodes are the best of the bunch. Although Kevin pops up in the early moments and again at the end, “Guest” is all about Nora and The Leftovers feels like a new show. There’s an issue if we’d rather spend time with other characters than the ones set up as our inroads to each of the show’s major plotlines, but there it is all the same. The Leftovers repeats itself whenever the Garvey family is heavily involved, but soars in their absence. Maybe they’re building up to some major story moments, but in the meantime, it’s killing the flow. More episodes like this please!

“Guest,” although with its own moments of difficult drama, manages to lift the bleakness that overshadows this season with a hint and promise of hope. Will it stay? If we believe Holy Wayne, not a chance…something big is coming. Let’s just hope when it gets here, we haven’t departed from this show.

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