The Leftovers S1-Ep6 Review: The Existential Angst Gets a Little Less Existential
Tonight's Nora-centric episode of The Leftovers, was a little less navel-gazing than previous episodes, and more concerned with painting a detailed picture of the post-Departure world. The choice to center the show around a family that was only indirectly impacted by the Departure allows the writers to focus on the abstract psychological unraveling that follows a global tragedy, while focusing this episode on Nora, who was nothing if not directly impacted by the Departure, allows the writers to explore the nitty gritty of the ways in which society has been affected by this event. (The slightly lighter tone also allowed the writers to have a little self-aware fun at their own expense, Kevin's "I don't know how to joke" was clearly a meta statement about the usually dour tone of the proceedings.)
The episode was thoughtful about the potential social impact of such an event; the canniest observation about modern society, in my opinion, was the line about the PC name for loved ones of the Departed: "Legacies, Orphans, Survivors, whatever they want to be called this year." This line was not meant to be taken completely seriously, but instead was intended to demonstrate a realistically growing population of people that are unsympathetic and callous towards Legacies and the Departure in general, especially since it was said by one of the many people who are exploiting the grief of the Legacies for commercial purposes.
The differing perspectives on the government's response to the Departure also rang very true; Nora believes that she is helping these families by ensuring that they have benefits, cynics point out that families of the Departed are effectively denied benefits because insurance companies won't provide for them and the intrusive survey deters them from seeking them from the Department of Sudden Departure, while conspiracy theorists go so far as to accuse the DSD of being an insidious smokescreen intended to silence- everyone, I suppose. Add a throwaway line about North Korea pretending that none of their citizens departed (because of course they would), and you have world-building at its finest.
On a more abstract level, Nora's main psychological conflict in this episode (besides just general turmoil) seemed to be her ambivalence towards the notion of finding comfort in artifice. On the one hand, she was presumably lying on her questionnaires (or otherwise influencing people's answers) in a desperate attempt to convince herself that her children were in a better place, but by the end of the episode, seemed to face the possibility that the reality is less comforting. On the other hand, she began the episode a critical thinker who called out "bullshit" wherever she could find it, but ended it by accepting a magical hug from Holy Wayne.
I wasn't sure if this shift was completely earned; when a man who creates fake corpses for the bereaved families of the Departed waxes poetic about giving them something "real," she shows him that he traffics in pure, hypocritical artifice by kissing his manufactured counterpart instead of him. When she meets a man who wrote an acclaimed book about the experiences of a Legacy, he tells her (accurately, in my opinion) that the loss is much harder to accept because it's "ambiguous." But in spite of the fact that his statements ring somewhat true, the fact that he is able to make money off of saying them inspires Nora to call bullshit. And then, within a couple of scenes, she is completely taken in by Wayne's clearly cult-ish soliloquy about hope. His words are powerful, but I wasn't sure that the Nora we know thus far would be comforted by his words, or his hugs. This may imply that Wayne is, in fact, supernatural in some way, but I hope not. It would be much more interesting if the show could convince us that, like real-life cult leaders, he is able to take people in simply by preying on their vulnerabilities.