After last week’s grueling, miserable “Gladys,” a meditation on the resolute nature of the Guilty Remnant that seriously lost points for its needlessly shocking depiction of the title character’s murder, I finally put The Leftovers on probation. One more episode, I promised myself, to determine whether or not showrunner Damon Lindelof’s bag of tricks was one I wanted to keep reaching inside. How canny of Lindelof, then, to follow up “Gladys” with an episode so distanced (both physically and thematically) from Mapleton as to be an utterly unsuitable ‘decider’ hour, as it were.
“Guest,” perhaps because it gets away from a lot of the tropes The Leftovers has revelled in up until this point, is one of the first season’s better instalments. However, that same dissimilarity between this episode and the ones which preceded it also make the hour feel somewhat inconsequential. A showcase for Carrie Coon’s portrayal of town sadsack Nora Durst, who lost her husband and children in the Sudden Departure (odds of that are 1/128,000, she tells us), “Guest” ambles along almost affably – just without significantly furthering the stories of any characters other than her.
The episode that viewers will most certainly compare “Guest” to is “Two Boats and a Helicopter,” which similarly peered inside the head of Reverend Matt Jamison (Christopher Eccleston), Nora’s brother who is determined to bring the general public inconvenient truths about how the departed were no angels. Looking at both episodes, though, while “Two Boats and a Helicopter” focused on Matt’s increasingly desperate actions during his quest to save his church from foreclosure, “Guest” is less about what Nora does than where her head is at as she does it. When it opens with Nora in Mapleton, going through the daily motions, she’s clearly resigned to her crazed existence. Nora’s almost like an amputee who keeps looking for the missing appendage – hardly registering its absence and attempting to call upon its services again and again, only to grow more anguished each time.