Nora Durst is my favorite Leftovers character. Her no-nonsense, tell it like it is, rational-minded personality would be a joy to watch in any scenario. It’s elevated so much more given the circumstances of this world, and what she’s personally been through. And she has certainly been through a lot. After all, she’s “Nora Cursed”.
It’s striking for an episode of this series to open with such an unambiguous event like the tower man’s death. We witness him collapse, fall off the tower, and die. It’s the rational, easily explainable answer. The Leftovers has always purposely walked a fine line between the real and the supernatural. Many of its incidents are left open to interpretation, but not this one. “Don’t Be Ridiculous” is Nora’s episode, and she’s not putting up with the bullshit.
As an agent of the Department of Sudden Departures, it’s Nora’s job to get to the bottom of any alleged departure. But as a person who lost her entire family on October 14th, a faked departure is a personal insult. The tower man is the new messiah in town, believed to be the first of many departures to come in Jarden.
So yes, Nora is doing her job when she digs up the body and takes a picture of it. But she goes a step further and prints that picture for all of Jarden to see. “You’re a heartless bitch,” the tower man’s widow tells her. Given what we learned just prior to this scene, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Sometime before this season’s three-year time jump, Christine returned to obtain custody of Lilly, her biological daughter. She brought Nora to court, and Nora didn’t fight it. Nora saw a mother who lost her child, just as she lost her own.
Nora says the tower man’s entire act was one five-year long coping mechanism. In this episode, she displays plenty mechanisms of her own. Her arm cast and Wu-Tang Clan tattoo are a means to cover up the names of her children. She couldn’t bear to see them, or have to explain who they were and what happened to them. She visits Erica, which leads to a moving conversation about life, death, and closure. Erica leads her to the backyard, where a trampoline is set up. In the beautiful sequence that follows, the two friends jump together, free from their pain, if only for a few moments.
Nora goes through a slow unraveling in “Ridiculous”. She’s reminded of her children, and faced with yet another “scientific” explanation for their departure. She falls apart when she visits Lilly at a playground. This is the third child she’s lost. A quick anecdote in her conversation with Erica reveals that she also lost her parents to a house fire at the age of five. These types of scars never disappear, despite how many tattoos and casts you use to cover them up.
While Nora uses her job to justify the trip to Kentucky, part of her is drawn there by the prospect — however unlikely — of seeing her children again. The same rings true when she accepts a trip to Australia. Even the most grounded character in The Leftovers universe is susceptible to believing in the outlandish, so long as it strikes the right nerve.
It’s in Kentucky that Nora meets Mark-Lynn Baker (as played by Mark Lynn-Baker). Nora sees someone who has experienced a similar plight to herself. Marc was the only Perfect Strangers series regular to not depart. Since that time, he’s struggled to understand why he had been left behind.
Baker is still alone, and left chasing this possibility of going to the “other side”. Baker asks Nora if she’s married. When she says she’s in a committed relationship, Baker concludes the meeting is a waste of time. Unlike Nora, Baker doesn’t have that other person for which to live. Yet Nora sees herself in Baker, knowing full well she could easily have ended up like him. It’s where she was headed before she met Kevin. The fact that the Perfect Strangers bit was a simple one-off joke from last season, it’s remarkable that the writers were able to run with it and turn it into something truly special.
Nora returns home to find Kevin suffocating himself with a plastic bag. It’s a comically twisted scenario, but one Nora understands immediately. “I don’t want to die,” Kevin tells her. She herself used to hire a prostitute to shoot her, not with the intention of dying, but just to feel something.
The episode’s final sequence is purposely jarring. After Nora declares she’s leaving for Melbourne, we see Australian news reports, and are introduced to a police chief named Kevin. He hits a Kangaroo (rather than a deer) with his car. This Kevin is unfortunately mistaken for our own Jarden chief, and is captured by a group of women who want to drown and resurrect him. They accomplish the former, but, of course, fail with the latter. The women have a similar look to the one we saw in last week’s closing shot. This makes me wonder if Nora will ever leave Australia once she makes the trip.