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The Leftovers: Guest

Nora looks at the empty paper towel roll
"Will I forget them?"

Of all the open questions raised by The Leftovers (what's the deal with Dean? will we ever need to tell the twins apart? what really happened to Kevin's white shirts?), possibly the most pressing has been: when is The Leftovers finally going to deliver on the promise of its deep well of talent, source material, and a growing number of very, very good episodes?

"Guest" answers that question.

grenade in hand

"Two Boats and a Helicopter" has plenty of fans, and "Guest" has a similar tight focus on a single character. The difference is that "Two Boats" stepped a bit outside the main narrative flow, almost operating as a short story rather than a necessary chapter. It was an unquestionably strong episode, but it never quite seemed essential. "Guest," on the other hand, feels like a much-needed transition out of the scene-setting early episodes and into what I hope will be a clear arc for the second half of the season.

Moreover, it's the first time we've seen the characters begin to move in a positive direction — the first time something has gone right for someone other than Patti. We've been hoping that any of the characters would begin to move past their depression, isolation, and any number of unfortunate lifestyle choices, so it's a relief to see both Nora and Kevin making progress toward being happier, healthier people. By the end of the episode, Nora is no longer buying groceries for her departed children or arranging for strangers to shoot her in the chest, and Kevin is a) not drunk and b) finally and adorably asking the cute girl he likes on a date (it must take the edge off when your crush has already invited you to go to Miami for the weekend).

"Guest" also features more of a certain element that previous episodes have sometimes lacked: entertainment. From Billy Magnussen's hilarious, quintessential "that guy," to Nora high as a kite and dancing on the hotel furniture, to the creepy but ultimately satisfying trip down the final rabbit hole to a certain dark hotel room, "Guest" provided plenty of highly watchable scenes that filled me with actual popcorn-chomping glee. I haven't been turned off by The Leftovers' occasionally relentless dourness (see: Gladys), but it sure is nice to see some sunshine through the cracks.

Wayne sitting in a dark hotel room

While "Guest" obviously rides on Carrie Coon's capable shoulders, Paterson Joseph gets the episode's MVP award. The Leftovers has been teasing this crucial scene for half a season, and Joseph succeeds in making the audience believe the previously unbelievable: that Wayne could be capable of "taking" the pain from someone who has experienced an unfathomable loss, who has been locked in grief for years.

We believe that not only is he capable of such a thing, but that he does so without any supernatural help. We believe that this man's personal charisma, intuitive empathy, and one heckuva hug could move Nora from skeptical wariness to pure, heart-wrenching and heart-healing catharsis in a matter of minutes. We no longer have to wonder where Wayne lies on the spectrum between predatory con-man and Antichrist. The refreshing candor ("I don't give a shit about you") and genuine warmth he displays in "Guest" shift the character toward something even more mysterious: a human being.

Bits and Pieces:

— The heavy metal track Nora plays as the soundtrack to her being shot in the chest by Angel? "Angel of Death" by Slayer. Oh come on, show. You know Nora would be a Nine Inch Nails girl.

— "ATFEC." "Departure-Related Occupations and Practices." "Post-Departure Delusion Disorder." The post-rapture bureaucracy is some of my favorite world-building.

— How did HBO resist showing nudity in the conference party scene?

— Nora seemed awfully quick to shell out $3000 to Angel and another $1000 to find out what happened to Patrick Johansen, until I remembered that she's spending her benefit money from losing her family. I'd want to flick a lit match at that cash, too.

— I've been trying to avoid too much Googling about the show, but I got curious about how many awards it had won. Answer: one measly Emmy nomination (Ann Dowd as Patti), and no wins. I can only imagine the deafening chorus of "WTF"s at the time The Leftovers was on, because... that ain't right. I may need to create a new award (the Lefties, naturally) to hand out at the end of each season.

— I appreciated the understated misdirection in revealing the reason Nora owned a gun. A lesser show might have trumped up suspense over whether the gun was intended for the preschool teacher, but here the misdirection served as a subtle grace note underscoring how Nora's pain had been redirected inward, not outward.

— Wayne's crew was probably wise to ask for $1000 to reveal what happened to Patrick Johansen, rather than for any particular emotional effect. For every hug that produces an emotional catharsis, there must be a dud that just makes the recipient want to take a shower. Best to ensure that no one can ask for their $1000 back.

Angel pointing the gun


Nora: "OH — you're not joking."
Kevin: "I don't know how to joke."
Nora: "Do you want to go to Miami?"

Margery: "I mentioned a correlation between eating cereals high in sugar and pre-adolescent departures in a cocktail conversation, and then you made me cry in front of a room full of people."

Marcus: "You have a choice, Guest. You can play by the rules of this fucking depressing conference like everybody else, or you can go down the rabbit hole with us."

Security guard: "Jesus. Your whole family. What are the odds?"
Nora: "One in 128,000."

Nora: "You're not in pain! Because if you were in pain, you would know there is no moving on. There is no 'happiness.' What's next? What's fucking next? Nothing is next! Nothing!"

Kevin: "You should know, though, that I'm a fucking mess."

Nora sitting in her car

Overall Rating:

In the words of Meg, it was only a matter of time. "Guest" sticks the landing for the long-awaited...

Four out of four "yes"es on 121,



  1. “Guest” was easily my favorite episode of season 1, and one of the best in the series. Carrie Coon gives an absolute master class here. The way she’s wearing this mask of being at peace with what happened to her, and if anyone tries to shift that mask in any way to see what’s really underneath is met with the savage intensity of her real pain that’s still very much there. This was the episode that completely hooked me on the series as a whole.

    I liked the review very much (the Holy Wayne insights were things I didn’t think of), but I left this with a very different sense at the end. I still think the kids (Nora and Kevin) are very much not all right. Nora reminds me of the stray cat you bring in and think you’ve domesticated and then one day with no warning the claws come out. But just like you I was smiling through this one and hopeful for the best.

    1. Great to hear that you enjoyed this one as much as I did. I loved your comment about Carrie Coon's performance, which I really should have praised more. She just makes it look so easy. I get choked up just thinking about her anguished "Nothing is next! Nothing!"

      I am under no illusion that everything will be sunshine and roses for Nora and Kevin. I'm just happy to see a pause in if not the beginning of a reversal to Kevin's downward spiral, and clear signs that Nora is emerging from her dark cloud of grief. Carrie Coon and Justin Theroux have terrific chemistry, and I'm looking forward to seeing that relationship evolve.


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