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Review: 'The Leftovers' Season 1 Episode 6 'Guest' Turns Everything on Its Head

Photo of Ben Travers By Ben Travers | Indiewire August 3, 2014 at 10:55PM

Damon Lindelof takes us on another singular journey, this time tracking Nora as she ventures to New York for a life-changing conference.
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Paterson Joseph in "The Leftovers" on HBO

A few weeks back, we were given an entire episode of "The Leftovers" focusing on one central figure: Reverend Matt Jamison. One of the few characters he interacted with during "Two Boats and a Helicopter" that we'd met before the episode was Nora, who was then revealed to be his sister. She got her own hour under the close examination of Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta in Episode 6, "Guest," and she managed to upstage her brother on almost every level. Here's what we learned, what we didn't, and what we think we might have after an enthralling week six.

Facts: 

1) We’ve gotten two episodes specifically about the Jamison family, though Nora does not want to be called by that name.

By the end of this week's episode, Nora seemed to consider forgiving her brother for what he told her about her departed husband (the cheating son of a bitch). But at the beginning, she wasn't about to take back the family name and feel even the tiniest bit closer to Matt. Granted, she also didn't want to distance herself any further from her children, who went by Durst. But the Jamison family dynamic got a whole new twist with Nora's newfound faith in the future and her brother's admittedly changed persona. The two will meet soon, undoubtedly, and quite the battle of ideals will ensue. Will they both embrace their newfound optimism, or will Matt be wary of Nora's cult leader? I don't know, but I want to find out almost as much as I want to know why these two get their own episodes and the Garvey family does not (or hasn't yet). 

2) Kevin and Nora are both officially divorced...and dating.

Hooray for moving on! Though I still don't fully understand Laurie's desire for a divorce considering her cult's M.O. is all about remembering, Kevin honored her wishes and is trying to move forward with his life. Nora had more selfish reasons for axing her own marriage, but now the two can hopefully find some solace in each other's company...though I doubt it (see Theory #3).

3) Holy Wayne "curing" Nora is a big win for the Master Hugger.

There was an interesting parallel in "Guest" created when Nora was thrown out of her hotel for destroying bar property. She said she wasn't there. They said she was. We didn't know because it was a quick cut from her making out with a fake corpse (wow) to being awakened in her dark hotel room. Could she have blacked out from the booze/pill combo and done the deed herself? The story seemed awfully familiar to that of her new beau, the Chief, when his sanity has repeatedly come into question with the Guy With the Truck, the bagel, and his shirts. For a second, I thought he and Nora might have more in common psychologically than grief, but then she was proven correct in her suspicions of an existing evil impersonator. Will she be proven correct again regarding the best $1,000 hug ever? Well, that leads us to our...

Carrie Coon in "The Leftovers" on HBO
Paul Schiraldi/HBO Carrie Coon in "The Leftovers"

Questions: 

1) Is Holy Wayne the real deal?

Like with every episode of "The Leftovers" thus far, just when I think I know what's about to happen, Damon Lindelof & Co. pull one over on me. I was certain Nora would recover quickly from her emotional confession to the very observant Holy Wayne and yell at him just as she did to the man who cribbed a book of Hugging Wayne's techniques.

But no. She didn't. In fact, she seems cured. She's not stalking the adulteress school teacher. She's not replacing perfectly good groceries. She's not staring at the same torn paper towel roll. She even saved the kind apology from her brother, and stopped lying about question #121 (clearly, not all of her clients said "Yes"). Could Holy Wayne have actually taken away her pain? (see Theory #1 for more)

2) Are all those conspiracy theories true?

I think we are all pretty relieved to find out there really was a Nora impersonator and one of the show's most empathetic characters wasn't just a drunk looking for a way out. "Guest" had a great arc for Nora, progressing her story nicely (and with more of a significant impact on the rest of our characters' lives than her brother's nearly isolated episode). But what about those background bits? It may have been easy to miss in all the excitement, but her conspiracy-spewing panel replacement said something about Nora's organization burning the superficially confusing questionnaires and only doling out money to keep anyone from suspecting a scam. 

It's a crazy theory, sure, but wouldn't it also fall right in line with "The Leftovers" main story? No one was prepared for October 14th. No one handled it well. The insurance companies, always stingy to pay out to their customers, could have panicked and made up a bunch of phony questions to try to sift through who's deserving and who isn't. The rest of the world may have to settle for an "I don't know" explanation -- one repeatedly offered in multiple episodes -- but businesses cannot. They need reason and rules to run properly. So maybe they just made them all up.

3) Is Nora "cured," or just temporarily relieved?

She went about her day as if nothing had changed, only everything had. Watching Nora buy groceries for herself and not fake one for her whole departed family was perhaps the lightest moment of "The Leftovers." Sure, it was with mixed joy we watched a new disciple of Pedophile Wayne try to move on from her tragedy, but at least it was some form of optimism after five weeks of pretty much zilch. Then, at the very end, when she finally wrote down her client's truthful answer to question #121, Nora's didn't smile. It was more of a grimace. Almost like "Magnolia" in reverse, Nora hinted that she was just going through the motions of someone who wants to start feeling better, but can't, like a still hurting ex-couple who tries to look at the bright side too early. Obviously, we all hope it sticks -- just maybe not because of Wayne. 

The Leftovers

Theories: 

1) Holy Wayne isn’t good, bad, or holy but he’s helping.

Whether Holy Hugging Wayne took Nora's pain away for good or just for a while, he helped her. It's certainly a healthier way to spend a grand than dropping it on a hooker who's going to shoot you in the chest. His persona was painted early on as a loony bird who takes advantage of hurt souls and young women for easy profit. Now, though, it's hard to argue with his results. He's two for two of people we've seen go in and out of the Hugging Chamber (don't forget about Buddy Garrity in the pilot!). 

Wayne's positive attributes only add to the show's complexity. Good and bad people were taken on October 14th, with no rhyme or reason. Good and bad people are members of the GR (though they're quickly turned for the worse). Good and bad people are members of the town. Now Wayne appears to be both good and bad simultaneously. Perhaps "The Leftovers" is trying to teach us there is no good or bad. There are just people, and we're all in this together.

2) Damon Lindelof had some meta messages for skeptics this week.

“I don’t know how to joke.” - Kevin Garvey, speaking the blunt truth even when macking on a pretty lady. The line was so matter of fact, so on the nose, it brought out one of the biggest dark laughs of a series polishing a few gems. It also, at least to me, spoke to Damon Lindelof's self-awareness. He knows what he's writing. He knows why he's writing it (I hope). Not everyone has to jump on board, but he's going to keep plugging away with it because it's working so well. This line was just a way for him to nod in acknowledgement while getting a big laugh at the same time. 

The same minus the laugh can be said for the repeated, borderline obtrusive references to the unknown known, aka that we'll never know what happened on October 14th or why it did. “No one knows, but we can’t waste our time sitting around and waiting for something that may never come,” Patrick Johannson, the Wayne-cured novelist tells Nora. She angrily replies, "Back. That may never come back," before unleashing her full fury on the phony self-help author and then calmly, kind of triumphantly, taking a last sip of her free cocktail. The encounter functioned as Lindelof's way of lashing out against his own critics, those who still don't understand what the show's about (see Theory #1). If not, fine. Watching Nora take apart a writer whose work is handed out in tote bags was still fun.

3) Nora and Kevin are not good for each other, especially when it comes to his son, Tom.

I know, I know. I want Nora and Kevin to be each other's healing soulmates, too, but it's just not meant to be. Kevin is still very much in love with Laurie -- filing the papers only confirmed it, given that was the one thing she's asked him to do -- and Nora probably isn't ready for anything serious. She may be healing (maybe), but she ain't healed. 

Also, Nora's new way of life courtesy of cult leader Hugging Wayne creates a dramatically intriguing bridge to Kevin's son, who's still on the run with Wayne's lady friend (to put it nicely). At some point, Kevin's going to go searching for Tom, and if he ever finds out what Nora did -- which he has to right? -- he'll use her to find his kid. That could lead to some tense third date conversation if she's not willing to rat out her savior. Oh, baby. The plot thickens!

Grade: A

This article is related to: The Leftovers, TV Reviews, Reviews, HBO , Damon Lindelof, Carrie Coon





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