In the world of “The Leftovers” there is no character who has felt the weight of loss more than Nora Durst (Carrie Coon). Losing both her husband and children on October 14th — odds of 1/128,000 she cooly notes in this week’s “Guest” — have made her an odd symbol in the town of Mapleton. She's a human monument to the town's collective mourning, and a reminder even to those that did lose family members and friends, that their situation could be even worse. But three years on, Nora's grief — coupled with the revelations about her husband's infidelity — now weigh like an anchor around her neck. The more she tries to live with the pain or understand it, the more she is sent into a spiral of guilt and self-loathing that will take a miracle to overcome.
In the episode's cold open, we see how Nora's life has almost become like "Groundhog Day." A trip to the grocery store finds her buying all the items she would have obtained if her family were still there. She goes home and throws out full boxes of cereal and unopened jugs of milk, and replaces them with newer versions. Nora still clings to hope that maybe they'll, or that there will be some kind of resolution, but that feeling also eats away at her. Things take a turn for the weird when she sets up an air mattress in the living room and calls an escort. But it isn't companionship Nora wants — she needs to feel alive again. And so, wearing a bulletproof vest, with the mattress setup to break her fall, Nora hands the understandably freaked out escort a wad of cash and a gun, and tells her to shoot her in the chest. With heavy metal music at full volume to set the mood (and likely to mask the sound of a gunshot from neighbours) the escort reluctantly pulls the trigger, and Nora goes down like a ton of bricks. And there is a brief moment where she doesn't move at all — until she comes up gasping and gulping for air, like someone drowning, who at the last moment has been pulled ashore. For Nora, it's a pass moment of rebirth, allowing her to hit reset on her grief before it builds up to an unbearable level again.
But even Nora's well of hurt has its limits, as after the opening credits, she's in a courthouse getting her divorce from Doug finalized. His indiscretion doesn't deserve the well of feeling that consumes her each day, and letting him go — at least legally — is likely a small way to alleviate the burden she still carries on her shoulders, and senses each time she returns to her empty home. However, this week Nora won't be spending much time in Mapleton. Like the excellent nearly standalone third episode "Two Boats And A Helicopter," "Guest" narrows its focus to centre on Nora, with the action mostly taking in place in Manhattan at the Departure Related Operations and Procedures conference.
Even before she arrives at the event, Nora thinks about bailing on it altogether. Running into Kevin (Justin Theroux) at the courthouse, where he was also getting his divorced finalized, she awkwardly blurts out to him an invitation to spend the weekend with her in Miami. Noting that he has a daughter to take of, Kevin declines, so Nora heads to DROP anyway, though she likely wishes she didn't bother at all. Invited as a panelist, when she arrives to register, she learns someone has accidentally taken her badge, so she's given the more anonymous Guest pass. And then at the mixer she meets the douchey Marcus, who carries all the slick appeal of Christian Bale's Patrick Bateman from "American Psycho," refusing to wear a name tag and cajoling people into asking him what he does for a living, and when they do, he responds playfully, "You don't want to know." For Nora, it's a quickly tedious game.
For the most part, the rest of her day doesn't get much better. She spends her time dipping into various panels trying to find who is signed up under her name to track down her badge. During a talk on Post Departure Delusion Disorder (about figures who emerge after tragedies claiming to have prophetic powers, in a nice foreshadow of what's to come) Nora thinks she's found the fraudster, and follows her to the bathroom. But the woman isn't the fake Nora, but someone named Margaret Boutet, and she's encountered before. Margaret reminds Nora that at last year's conference, the latter called her a "heartless bitch" and reduced her to tears after an offhand comment during a cocktail. "I'm sorry, last year I was having a really hard time," Nora says, with Margaret countering sarcastically, "You're doing so much better now."
And just when Nora thinks things can't get any worse, she gets caught in an elevator with Marcus and his crew of his friends, and she's given a simple choice: come and party with them, or go back to the boring conference. Nora decides to let hair down, and soon drinks and pills and makeouts and dancing on couches become de rigeur in Marcus' hospitality suite. And Nora is propositioned by Marcus, who asks her for a kiss but she ups the ante slightly. It's been revealed that Marcus is the man behind the Loved Ones bodies last seen in episode four, "B.J. And The A.C." And in order show how good they are replicating the bodies and faces of the departed, Marcus has the artificial version of himself on display in the room. So instead of kissing Marcus the man, Nora straddles and "makes out" with Marcus the Loved One.