UK TV review: The Leftovers Episode 6 (Guest)
Ivan Radford | On 21, Oct 2014Reading time: 4 mins
Struggling along through the mystery’s haze of uncertainty, sometimes tempted to tune out altogether, at other times haunted by the guilt of contemplating doing so, The Leftovers isn’t exactly an easy watch. But with Episode 6, The Leftovers has done it again: delivered a hands-down brilliant piece of television.
After the masterful Episode 3, which followed Christopher Eccleston’s Reverend Matthew, it’s no coincidence that this is another hour that focuses on a single character. This time, it’s Nora Durst (Carrie Coon).
Remember Nora? The one that Kevin Garvey’s daughter saw in the cafe in the first episode, carrying a gun in her handbag? The one suspiciously entering the homes of those who have lost people? The one who, in turn, lost her husband and her two kids?
Now, we find out why: Nora works for the Department of Sudden Departure. Her job? To interview the leftovers to determine any patterns behind the event. Was the departed suicidal? Alcoholic? Do they believe their loved ones are now in a better place? (Curiously, they always give the same answer to that question.)
The gun, though, is strictly extra-curricular: a shocking early scene with a prostitute explains that one with no questionnaire necessary.
We’ve caught glimpses of Nora before, mostly through her interactions with Justin Theroux’s cop – conversations that have carried flutters of flirtation and even traces of smiles. The extreme contrast between Carrie Coon’s normally gloomy face and those hints of happiness has always been intriguing. Given 60 minutes to show her full range of expressions in between, it only becomes more so.
The actress is superb in the role, embodying the best qualities of the series; often infuriating, occasionally horrifying but always fascinating. We accompany her on her day-to-day menial duties as part of the Department of Departures. That means attending a conference, complete with panel discussions, protestors and name badges. It’s these kind of details that makes The Leftovers so believable; everything supernatural is rooted in mundane minutiae. So when Nora has to go to speak on a panel about the unexplained vanishing of 3 per cent of the world’s population, the most dramatic part is that someone else has taken her pass.
Symbolic, much? Of course it is. But Coon carries that kernel lost identity with a subtle panic; if she can’t take her place on the panel with her generic badge, how can she speak about her experiences? How can she maintain that connection with her departed family?
Distracted, she falls in with a guy called Marcus, who refers to her by the word around her neck (and, tellingly, the title of the episode): “Guest”. Things soon take a turn for the weird, as we explore the underbelly of the conference. Confrontations occur, laughs are had and there’s even a bit of dancing. But the episode never loses sight of her existential melancholy; even in the most bizarre, comedic moments, her most intense moment of human contact occurs with a Loved One (an inanimate replica of one of the departed).
The potential saviour of her malaise eventually arrives in the form of one of the show’s weakest characters – proof that even the dodgier subplots of the programme can be redeemed when approached in the right context. Indeed, away from the multi-stranded mess that has mostly defined the show so far, The Leftovers finds a sharpness of tone and miminalism of expression that is entrancing to watch.
Damon Lindelof & Kath Lingenfelter’s script is a perfectly formed human drama, giving Nora a natural arc that shows change and resolution is possible even during unchanging times. Like Eccleston’s showstopper, Guest informs the rest of the show’s storylines but never depends on them. In a world where our heroine is tasked with finding patterns to the departures – one hilariously tragic suggestion is that maybe frosted cereal caused it all – does Episode 6 confirm that The Leftovers works best in standalone chapters?
One thing is certain: when’s it’s good, The Leftovers is good. When it’s great, it’s astonishing. After struggling through hours of uncertainty and guilt, this is a cathartic hug that restores your hope in the whole show.
Season 1 and 2 of The Leftovers available on Sky Box Sets. Not got Sky? You can watch The Leftovers online on with NOW TV, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription that includes live and on-demand access to Sky Atlantic, Sky 1, FOX UK and more.
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