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The Leftovers 302 - Nora Durst (Carrie Coon) and Mark Linn Baker meet as perfect strangers.

Perfect Strangers – The Leftovers 302

We don’t think we’ve ever seen a television show use another show’s theme song before. Since the first episode didn’t have an opening title sequence, we were especially curious to see if the third season of The Leftovers would have a brand new title sequence, just like the two preceding seasons. The sequence used the same visuals as Season 2, but the “Perfect Strangers” theme song was so off-the-wall and perfect at the same time, Paul laughed the whole time it played. We knew we were in for a wacky ride and this episode didn’t disappoint.

Big Themes
Perfect Strangers

Several recurring themes came up in this episode. The idea of “Perfect Strangers” came up over and over again, first with the theme song, but then in several character interactions. You could say the Pillar man and his wife Sandy were perfect strangers. Once he went up on the pillar, he cut himself off from the majority of human contact. We saw him interact with Michael, but Matt tells us, “he never acknowledged her,” meaning Sandy. Sandy can say whatever she wants about what the Pillar Man was doing, but at the end of his life, he died a stranger to her whose motivations Sandy and the audience may never really know.

The sad interaction between Lily and Nora was a heartbreaking example of two people that had become perfect strangers. You can’t blame Lily, she’s just a tiny kid and that’s just how tiny kids’ memory works.

You could argue that Nora and Kevin themselves have become perfect strangers. Kevin hides his self-suffocation activities. Nora hides the turmoil she still feels about her departed children (husband not so much). They live together, love each other, and don’t really know each other anymore.

Being Cursed

Nora brings up the idea of being cursed in her story with Erika. She broke her leg right after the Departure and a local paper dubbed her “Nora Cursed”. Nora’s interactions with electronic devices could also be called a “curse”. Could her bad luck with electronics be related to her possibly being a “Lens”? Or could her having been so close to three departures changed her in some fundamental way that occasionally impacts her ability to work electronics? Maybe. Nora would take that curse any day of the week compared to the curse she feels about being able to keep her children safe. Nora has been parent to three kids, and none of them are around any more. That curse colors everything she does now.

Choices Spiraling Out of Control

The Pillar Man could have wound up on the pillar through a series of snowballing decisions and rationalizations that probably started small. We know Sandy tried to crucify him before he took to the pillar, so there most likely was some sequence of events that drove him up there.

You could argue that the girls who “departed” with Evie last year fell into this trap. One second they’re pulling a prank, the next they are being targeted by a drone strike.

Similarly, Nora’s cast resulted from choices leading to other choices until one day Nora goes and breaks her own arm in a hospital parking lot. The post-departure world drives situations to extremes.

Coping

This is a huge one that runs through the entire series. What do you do to get along after something huge goes bad? Nora calls the pillar the Pillar Man’s coping mechanism. Sandy refers to her cigarette as her coping mechanism. Later, Nora finds Kevin engaged with his coping mechanism (asphyxiating himself). The whole episode explains Nora’s own attempts to cope with what’s going on. Her passionate disproving of all secondary departures, her using the trip to St. Louis to visit Lily, her tattoo / cast fiasco… Just like in season 1, she’s another person who “doesn’t want to feel this way anymore.”

Absurdity

The heavy themes in this episode required a balancing force to keep it watchable. The Perfect Strangers theme song served as a mighty salvo in the war to strike a balance this episode. You do no get any more absurd than 80’s sitcom theme music. Max Richter’s re-use of the theme song as piano background music lightened our mood a little right before the super-heavy Lily / Christine realization. The trampoline scene was a great coda to Nora’s super-heavy conversation with Erika. Season 1 would have left us with the super-heavy scenes with no relief. It makes us glad Damon and Tom balanced out the bleak.

Big Plot Points

The Pillar Man

Remember last season? Specifically, you need to remember episode 5, “No Room at the Inn.” This is the episode where Matt and Mary get caught outside Miracle without their wristbands. In that episode, we met Sandy (Brett Butler) and her son Reggie (Lowell Bartholomee). They gave no indication they were related to the Pillar Guy (but why would they?). We witnessed Sandy and Reggie’s family dynamic during a bizarre, public beating with an oar in exchange for money. Ring a bell? In tonight’s episode, we learned of Pillar Guy’s place as this charming family’s patriarch. We also learned he had first perched atop his pillar some five years ago now. He dedicated himself to… something, at the cost of everything, including family. We may never know what though, because he died before he told anyone. Everyone in town, including Sandy, Matt, and random townspeople, all assign some purpose to his pillar-bound exile, but none truly know why he went up there.

The purported secondary departure surrounding his disappearance sickens Nora. People claiming secondary departure within Nora’s jurisdiction have no idea what kind of hell they are in store for. They represent an affront to the tragedy of her own life. So, when she gets an assignment, she goes into attack mode. Is it better for people to believe a happy, fairy tale ending for people like the Pillar Guy? No, not in Nora’s opinion. People deserve truth, no matter how ugly and Nora gleefully delivers.

Mark Linn-Baker as Mark Linn-Baker, sole remaining perfect stranger, post-departure.

Mark Linn-Baker as Mark Linn-Baker, sole remaining perfect stranger, post-departure. Image by HBO, copyright 2017.

Meet Mark in St. Louis

The false departure of Perfect Strangers alum Mark Linn-Baker (MLB) has been a running gag for the life of the show. The first season mentions his departure in passing, much the same way as TV reports mentioned the  pope and Jennifer Lopez. Just a bit of Departure trivia. In the second season, a news crew found MLB hiding in Mexico and that his departure had been a ruse. The second season, especially at the beginning when this was mentioned, was noted for being somewhat more light-hearted than the first season. The visual of a camera crew chasing MLB around in a Mexican cantina provided a laugh where before there had been so few.

Now we get to know MLB’s story. He has become entangled with a group claiming to be able to help people “depart” by bombarding them with the same radiation scientists found on October 14 at the sites of departures. MLB explains all of this to Nora, but she, like this review team, believes these scientists have simply created some kind of instant cremation machine and are charging people to use it. She is all but ready to arrest him (if that’s actually within a DSD agent’s jurisdiction) until he explains his story.

MLB’s fake departure was funny until we saw how it related to Nora’s own story. Like Nora, he was part of a group of four (in his case, cast regulars), of which he remained while the other three departed. This, plus MLB’s stated desire to take back some “effing control” struck home with Nora. Nothing in her life since October 14th has felt very under her control  and she too, would like to take some control back.

Sadly, Nora (Carrie Coon) and Lily are now perfect strangers.

Sadly, Nora (Carrie Coon) and Lily are now perfect strangers. Mother of the century, Christine (Annie Q), looks on. Image by HBO copyright 2017.

Lily

Yay! Lily’s alive. Boo! She doesn’t remember Nora. What a way to take advantage of the “Perfect Strangers” theme song. Lily never shows any recognition of the woman who adopted her and raised her for at least a couple years. Although as adults, we all understand – that’s just how kids’ minds work. Knowing it doesn’t make it any easier to watch. Carrie Coon’s portrayal of Nora during that scene broke our hearts, watching as her face crumbled. We hoping chucking the toy shovel out of her car symbolized her closing out Lily’s chapter in her life.

Since Holy Wayne is very dead, Christine (Annie Q) was the only viable character to have any claim to Lily. We just don’t -like- her is all, with the abandoning Tommy with Lily and the being a snot before that. The conception time of the child in her carrier and her fight to get Lily back gave us a little question mark though. How stable is Christine in her new life with Lily and half-sib? We don’t think the viewers get to know.

Another pair of perfect strangers: Nora (Carrie Coon) and Erika (Regina King).

Another pair of perfect strangers: Nora (Carrie Coon) and Erika (Regina King) have a beer and talk about bad decisions. Image by HBO copyright 2017.

The Tattoo, the cast, and the Trampoline

Oh Nora. So, we though you’d made progress from the woman who paid prostitutes to shoot her in Season 1, but apparently there’s still work to be done, sanity-wise. Lots of parents with children who have passed will get a tattoo of their kids’ names. Lots of people get tattoos they regret and then get other tattoos to cover them up, such as the emblem of your favorite band. Or in Nora’s case, a band whose emblem is big enough to cover the mistake (“The Wu-Tang Band”). It’s another thing to go and break your arm so that a cast will cover up the double-mistake tattoo just to postpone having to explain it to anyone.

She knows the truth and the absurdity of the whole situation when she goes to talk to Erika. It was so nice to see Nora have a friend. And Nora earned that friendship, at that. If you recall, they took turns breaking each other’s windows last season. Now, Erika is comfortable enough with Nora to share her own attempt at self-therapy: her trampoline. The sequence only takes a few shots, but the women get a chance to clear their heads and focus on nothing but how much they enjoy the child-like act of jumping as high as you can. The act of jumping defies the universe’s control over their lives. They know they have shit to worry about, but right then, right there, they defy all that and just jump.

We’re getting a trampoline.

Roo. Pre-creaming.

Roo. Pre-creaming. Image by HBO copyright 2017.

Australia

This scene reeks of a multiple timeline situation. Why? The horseback ladies quote a passage from what must be the Book of Kevin. In the main timeline, Matt says there is only one, handwritten book, and very few people know about it. Is this timeline as far ahead as Old Nora (or Sarah) was in last week’s coda? We don’t think so. The presence of a hobbled Kevin Sr. suggests a time further along than Kevin is in Jarden, but sooner than liver-spotted Nora. I’m willing to revise as we get more clues though.

Whenever we see 4 humans riding horses in a story with biblical underpinnings, we think of the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse. It doesn’t really matter that they are women in this case – who says all the big parts go to men? Anyway, as noted on the TV in the police department, the world is coming upon another departure day. The weatherman jokes about end-of-the world stuff like locusts and blood boiling up from the depths of hell. Perhaps we are far enough into the future this kind of humor wouldn’t be considered “too soon”. Either way, for many, Departure day will always hold the specter of “The End of the World” over it.

If you’re keeping score, the horsemen are named: Pestilence, War, Famine, and Death. Bad stuff, right? We only know two of the horsewomen’s names at this point: Grace (the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings) and Florence (“Blossoming” or “to flower”). Not direct opposites, but still pretty good things, right? We bet the other two women’s names are not Tiffany or Sheena. Also, Playford, Grace’s last name, is a present day suburb of Adelaide, Australia, which is where the Millerites we saw last week were.

Favorite Quotes

“I bought a trampoline.” – Erika Murphy

“Cruiser one’s got ‘roo brains all over it, so give it a wash, will ya?” – Chief Kevin (the Australian one)

“Then I guess I am just wasting my breath, huh?” – Mark Linn-Baker

Predictions

Kevin and Nora go to Australia and Nora tells Kevin what her true motivations are before they board the plane.

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