On The Leftovers this week, Nora struggled to maintain control. We compiled several striking images that hint at the turmoil beneath her stoic facade.
We loved the most recent installment of The Leftovers for many reasons. Perfect Strangers star Mark Linn-Baker made a cameo as himself – the bittersweet punchline to a series-long running joke. Christine returned, however briefly, and seems to have recovered from her time with Holy Wayne. Carrie Coon demonstrated again why she should be a household name. The words “holy balls” were uttered.
Above all, it’s a masterpiece of visual storytelling. On the surface, “Don’t Be Ridiculous” seems rather ordinary; there are no spectacular landscapes or dramatic long takes. But director Keith Gordon (also responsible for the similar season 1 episode “Two Boats and a Helicopter”) lends an intriguing ambiguity to even the most mundane moments.
Here are a few images that particularly stood out to us:
First, some context: Gary Busey numbers among the numerous celebrities who vanished in the Sudden Departure. In the season 3 premiere, we saw that some dudes have formed a cult of sorts around the actor, believing he will return on October 14 and erecting a giant, inflatable statue of him in the Jarden town square. It’s beautiful.
Looming in the background, however, the statue acquires an almost ominous quality. Its enormous blue eye casts inscrutable judgment on the oblivious mortals below like Doctor J.T. Eckleburg. Nora and KevIn, so proudly dismissive of religion, wear sunglasses as if to shield themselves from – or blind themselves to – its gaze.
Of course, humor permeates the existential dread. “Song of the Pious Itinerant (Hallelujah, I’m a Bum)” by The New Christy Minstrels accompanies Nora and Kevin’s descent from the lofty pillar, bombarding the non-believers with jubilant shouts of “Hallelujah!”
Nora’s trip to St. Louis takes an immediate turn for the worse, when an airport kiosk prevents her from answering “no” to the prompt, “Are you traveling with an infant on your lap?” (Hey, no one said God has to be subtle.) Despite the logical explanation provided by a helpful employee, Nora is rattled. As she walks away, the image goes in and out of focus, eventually becoming a complete blur.
The distortion produces a feeling of instability; you – and the world – could vanish at any moment, as though you never existed. Nora understands the transience of things better than most, still haunted by the mysterious loss of her husband and children. In a sense, she’s in a perpetual state of flight – unsettled, in between, never landing.
Neither can she escape. The roar of an airplane fills the air, drowning out Judy Garland’s chipper crooning – a vacuum of white noise.
From the airport, we cut directly to the Crown Central in St. Louis, where Mark Linn-Baker is staying. DP Michael Grady shows Nora approach his room in a jarring wide shot that emphasizes her loneliness; not a single other person is visible in the vast space. Viewed this way, the hotel resembles something from a dystopian science-fiction movie – all clean lines and muted colors, almost but not quite symmetrical.
If you’re getting flashbacks to Kevin’s well-appointed purgatory in “International Assassin”, it’s not an accident. Hotels play a crucial role in The Leftovers, loaded with symbolic meaning. They’re way stations – a place where wanderers converge, temporary shelters designed to provide comfort but discourage attachment. Everyone is just passing through.
By contrast, Grady films Nora’s conversation with Linn-Baker as a series of off-center close-ups, personal yet detached. Once they sit down, the characters don’t fully appear in the frame together.
Here, Nora appears to be alone, staring into a void. Her question – “Go where?” – could be directed at anyone. Or no one.
When Nora pulls up to the playground where she finds Lily, she’s briefly obscured by the glare of sun on the windshield before emerging in the shadows. She doesn’t exist, and then she does.
The camera continually shifts focus as Nora watches Lily. The background (the playground) and foreground (Nora) are never clear at the same time, reinforcing the distance between them. In this shot, Nora’s eyes are framed by the car’s rear-view mirror. She’s trapped in the past, isolated from the world.
Distraught from her encounter with Christine, Nora pays Erika a visit. She marvels at the other woman’s composure. How can she not be losing her mind after she lost Evie? The secret, Erika says without malice, is closure. Her daughter didn’t disappear; she died and left a body to bury. Also, she bought a trampoline, which is as good a coping mechanism as any.
At first, this scene might seem arbitrary and goofy (the jarring use of Wu-Tang Clan doesn’t help). But it actually represents the crux of the episode. On the trampoline, Nora finds what she’s been searching for: control. She snatches glimpses of freedom – of salvation – in the air before returning safely to the ground.
Just when you think Nora has completed her journey, Tommy stops her on the bridge outside Jarden. He mentions that Christine told him about the playground meeting, and their lighthearted banter quickly deteriorates into hostile accusations. The tension is exacerbated by the confined space and the flashing siren of Tommy’s police car.
The siren has three intertwined functions. It’s a visual manifestation of Nora’s repressed anger; a warning of impending danger; and a barrier, like a stop sign. During her argument with Tommy, we realize that Nora isn’t as content in her new life as she appeared in “The Book of Kevin”. Even after all these years, she doesn’t feel like she belongs in the Garvey family. Tommy’s anecdote, however well-meaning, serves as a reminder that she’s fundamentally an outsider, cursed.
Nora finally comes home to find Kevin asphyxiating himself. Although she assures him that it’s okay and he doesn’t need to explain, something about their dynamic has noticeably changed. Her inappropriate (albeit, for us viewers, cathartic) reaction to his suggestion that they try to have a baby indicates a disconnect that wasn’t there at the beginning of the episode.
There’s an intimacy to the lovers’ overlapped profiles, reminiscent of the end of “Orange Sticker”, when Nora first handcuffed herself to Kevin to prevent him from sleepwalking. Yet, here, they’re facing away from each other.
Speaking of handcuffs, notice the label on the box in this shot after Nora’s phone call:
Everything in the above image, from the low-angle perspective to the dim lighting, accentuates the space separating Nora and Kevin. All of a sudden, without anyone noticing, they’ve drifted apart, lost their tenuous grip on the lifeline that once bound them together. It now lies between them, useless.
How worried should we be?
The Leftovers airs Sundays at 9 p.m. EST on HBO.