It was purposeless. It wasn’t my fault. I didn’t do anything to deserve this, so no, Nora, I don’t want to kill myself. I want to take some fucking control. – Mark Linn-Baker
Welcome to the Nora Durst show, the darkest ever spin-off of a 1980s ABC sitcom. As the credits rolled, I sat back in a euphoric shock, wondering exactly what I’d just seen, and trying to parse some of the smaller details. But, in totality, this was as good as TV gets. It wasn’t just captivating and interesting, nor was it effective because of fast pacing or constant action. Instead, the pulse was staccato, and it was difficult, challenging, and altogether unsettling. It was also another hour of utter, unquestioned brilliance from Carrie Coon, who has become my favorite actress on the small screen.
Lily Garvey is back with her biological mother, Christine, something we discover as Nora rents a car and drives to Kentucky. That explains her absence from the premiere. We also get the answer as to how Nora broke her arm. She drove to the hospital, opened her car door, stepped out, and then slammed the door as hard as she could on her arm in order to cause the injury. We may not know the why as of yet, but we can jump to the conclusion that Nora’s action is her version of Kevin, the duct tape, the plastic bag, the lion, the witch, and the wardrobe.
Nora’s work with the Department of Sudden Departure has greatly deepened her cynicism in society and certainly in otherworldly events. She was the victim seven years ago, the one member of her family that stayed behind and wasn’t selected as part of the seemingly random two percent. She’s in love with Kevin Garvey, but she’s unhappy in her life. She never recovered from that first occurrence, and she’s easy to sympathize with, because we wouldn’t recover from it either. We might wake up the next day, go to work, grab a drink, and make love, but how can a memory that jarring ever fade?
Ask Mark Linn-Baker, who still can’t understand why he was the only one of the four main Perfect Strangers characters not to be taken. Before we move any further into the episode, let’s talk about how funny The Leftovers can be amidst its misery. When the original ABC theme song hit off the top, I laughed out loud until it stopped. Then I remembered Perfect Strangers being my favorite sitcom, along with ALF, when I was a child. At the time, I had no idea what the original concept was (none of us did), but the final product was quirky and funny. Bronson Pinchot had a Robin Williams quality to him, the two lead women were super-cute and fit their significant others, and Larry “App-lay-tone” was the perfect buttoned up roommate to form the odd couple needed for the jokes.
To use that show and Mark Linn-Baker himself as part of the story left me smiling, and even as I compose this review, I’m still unable to avoid grinning. It was ridiculous, but in the best kind of way. “Don’t Be Ridiculous” was the appropriate choice for the episode title as well, because not only does it reflect skepticism, it also happens to be Balki Bartokomous’ most well-known catch phrase on Perfect Strangers. Had Nora felt the need to do the dance of joy, I might have actually exploded into a mountain of sweets. Stuff like this is why I love TV.
Nora believes the neutron radiation news to be a scam, using big words like Low Amplitude Danzigur (sp) Radiation to bilk hopefuls out of their money. Mark says he thought the same thing, and for him it was a hotel in Phoenix, rather than a room in St. Louis. Durst has spent her time with the DSD debunking claims of departure, and doesn’t show much remorse as she breaks people’s hearts with rational explanations that destroy faith and wonder. “You are a heartless bitch,” one that also pokes fun at the idea Kevin might be Jesus Christ. That was a pretty ghastly move to print out the photo and place it on public display. Nora’s face showed she knew it sucked, but had no interest in it not sucking. She forced the information out of Matt, and the idea the story wasn’t true meant she had to expose it, more because she’s depressed and upset and doesn’t really care to see anybody else in any other state. She’s not selfish, though. That’s a misread. What she is…
…is damaged. Irreparably, unthinkably damaged. So damaged she laughs when Kevin tells her he wants to have a baby with her, that he loves her and it’s time. That’s something you would think she wants, based on the incident on the playground with Lily, and the way she held the baby last week, but apparently not. She’s in such a rough condition she immediately jumps to the conclusion that with the two of them happy (they’re not), “Let’s not fuck that up, okay?”
But occasionally, she got jokes.
If we can’t have a sense of humor about you being The Messiah, we’re going to have a problem. – Nora Durst
However, she thinks back to her kitchen that morning, the time when departure was real, and perhaps she has a few seconds of wishful belief. She watches the testimonials on her laptop, but isn’t sold on anything. There’s one thing to keep in mind as you watch The Leftovers. What Nora says is accurate, but only in our world. In hers, she’s jaded, frustrated, and emotionally spent. In a universe where a small percentage of the population can randomly disappear into thin air, what exactly is impossible? Sure, it could be a scam, but on this show, it could also very much NOT be a scam. Who knows? It probably is, but it’s The Leftovers. It’s Damon Lindelof for crying out loud. I mean, it is a scam…I’m pretty sure it’s a scam. I’m reasonably certain it’s a scam.
Now, what in the holy hell happened in Australia by that river? The police chief hits a kangaroo, makes a deputy stay late at work, and then ends up dead (we think) after being drowned. Grace Playford (Lindsay Duncan) thinks this man, also by the name of Kevin, is our Kevin. She believes he’s Jesus, or at least a god that can return from the dead. She submerges him via rope and seesaw, waits until he drowns, and then brings him back to the surface. His eyes never open, and then comes the second last moment character reveal in as many weeks. In the premiere, it was an aged Nora, and last night, it was Kevin Garvey, Sr. walking out the front door of the house to see what the commotion is by the water.
Kevin’s father was the Chief of Police in Mapleton before the Departure, and then came the voices and the psychiatric issues, and the personal mission. For him to pop back up just after Grace believed she found her savior is an incredible way to end an episode. Does that mean Aussie Kevin is also our Kevin, or is there something else we haven’t seen yet? Last week, I called The Leftovers the true successor to Lost, and with everything we saw down under in “Don’t Be Ridiculous,” I can now say my opinion is (un)officially factual. This was bonkers, and I’m still trying to piece my brain back together, almost as if I was the “roo” whose grey matter was splattered against the police vehicle.
I have to rewatch this episode, but I feel I almost need to rewatch the entire series again. If I had the time, believe me I would. I probably will over a snowstorm during the winter. The Leftovers is so good it’s Balki level crazy, and we’ve only got six more episodes. The first two have been incredible. This one should net Carrie Coon an Emmy, if there’s any justice in the world.
What an hour.
I’m @JMartOutkick, and I’m standing tall on the wings of my dreams. It’s my life, my dreams, and nothing’s going to stop me now.