Nora watches children running around in a playground, stocks her house with sugary cereals that her own kids surely enjoyed (throwing out the unopened ones she bought previously, natch) and gazes forlornly at the unfinished puzzles they left behind. These are half-measures she takes to fill the void left by her family’s disappearance. She has also escalated her attempts to uncover the mysteries of the Sudden Departure, hiring a prostitute to shoot her while she’s wearing Kevlar, in hopes of temporarily glimpsing what lies on the other side. Neither type of coping mechanism is doing her any good (obviously).
Nora has been a bit of an enigma throughout The Leftovers, and so the unequivocal focus on her does help us to understand a little more about the character. Her job at the Department of the Sudden Departure, asking people questions from a lengthy questionnaire so that they can attempt to cash in on life insurance policies for departed family members, is both a way for her to make up for the emptiness in her life and for her to dwell on the departed – her own way of never forgetting, but she still gets to talk. Though Nora is taking incremental steps forward, like filing for divorce from her unfaithful, absent husband, she’s still stuck in a rut. “Guest” doesn’t completely clear the character up for us – when she spontaneously asks Kevin to go to Miami with her, then says “fuck your daughter” when he makes excuses, it feels very out of character. That might be the writers trying to do too much, or just another side to Nora that doesn’t get top billing in this episode.
When Nora goes to New York for the second annual Departure Related Occupations and Practices (DROP) conference, she temporarily leaves behind the grim insanity of Mapleton for a different kind – one more based around faceless ethical politics than explosive shows of self-expression. How does she fare? Well, after arrival, she learns that someone is masquerading as her (hence the title – lacking a name tag, she’s simply designated as a guest), so that’s not great. However, this episode is first and foremost about Nora’s quest for identity, so perhaps she needed someone to pull that stunt to realize something’s incomplete in her sense of self to begin with.