Sunday's episode of The Leftovers pulls back the curtain on one of Mapleton's most grief-stricken residents, Nora Durst. Supervising producer Kath Lingenfelter, who co-wrote the hour with Damon Lindelof, spoke to WatchingTheLeftovers.com about the origin of some of the episode's most provocative elements.
Nora hires "Angel" to shoot her while wearing a bulletproof vest using the gun viewers first saw when Jill Garvey spotted the weapon in Nora's purse.
"We needed to pay off: 'What is the gun for?' There's also this idea of: What do you do when the pain builds to a point that's incapacitating? There are many ways to look at the action of the gunshot; one way is that it's a reset. When the pain gets so pervasive and spreads out wide, the gunshot centers Nora again; it pulls all of that pain back in. There's also the idea that she's done it before and maybe it's happening with more frequency – so this is a way to communicate to the audience that the way Nora is living is unsustainable. Thirdly, there's this idea: Why were they taken and not me? Nora's continuing to play the odds… Maybe this time they don't hit the vest."
As Nora enters the DROP Conference, a Guilty Remnant member shoves a grenade into her hand, embellished with the words "any day now."
"We got excited by the idea: What does the G.R. in Manhattan look like? There's this idea of a franchise quality to the G.R., so each chapter has its own way of doing things. We thought the G.R. would be way more prevalent in Manhattan, and that they would up the level of aggression. New Yorkers are a tougher breed and tune out a lot, so what would it take to get someone's attention on the streets of Manhattan? We pitched a lot of ideas. We do a lot of 'It's not this, but…' The example was throwing a Loved One off the top of a building. Eventually the idea of the grenade was pitched, which would really snap you out of whatever you were doing. It also speaks to one of the missions of the G.R., which is to get people to be very present in the reality of the new world order. 'Any time now' means that something else is coming – that's what they're waiting for and preparing for."
The question on the Department of Sudden Departure questionnaire reads: “In your opinion, do you believe the Departed is in a better place?" Prior to her encounter with Holy Wayne, all of Nora's interviewees answered yes.
"The number 121 pops up a few times, so people can think about that… We liked the idea that Nora's grief radiates a certain energy that fills a room and takes over a situation. Is there an influence that's unspoken? When you're collecting data from people, is it possible to influence them unintentionally through the pain you're carrying? So if Nora changes in this episode, can that change be seen in other ways? No. 121 was a chance for us to show that it's not just that Nora's wearing a little more lipstick, but the way that she associates with people has changed as well."
The What's Next Book
Nora confronts author Patrick Johansen in the hotel bar in an ugly showdown.
"Obviously a lot of our conversations in the writers room centered on grief. Among the many qualities we discussed was the idea of competitive grief – that sometimes when you've encountered a tragedy and you try to share that with another person, their response is to share their experience with grief. They're trying to be helpful but are saying: ‘Well, what you're going through is nothing compared to what I'm going through.’ You can't compare the quality of one person's grief to another person's grief. There's no baseline. We love that idea of presenting the audience with the idea that this woman lost her entire family – three people – and what if she met somebody who lost four? What would that do to you? Would you be competitive? Would you want to find out their secret? Would you start finding ways to poke holes in their grief so that it doesn't threaten the power of yours?
"Originally, Johansen was going to be a much larger part of the story, we were going to explore that dynamic between those two people, but then it became a nice thread woven through the episode with the payoff at the right time. He was a vehicle for getting her to rock bottom."
The Loved One
When Marcus, a Loved Ones salesman, asks if he can kiss Nora, she plants one on his Loved One counterpart instead.
"There were a lot of conversations when we first decided we were doing the Nora episode. Some of us were like, 'She's still processing and handling this idea of her husband cheating on her.' She's had a handle on, ‘I lost my family and here's who they were, but then [Nora’s brother] Matt Jamison hijacks that grief and interrupts it by telling her, ‘Your husband is not who you think he was and he wasn't faithful to you.’ Now that's added onto her loss. There's also the divorce in the episode so for me the moment when Nora kisses the Loved One is a little payback to her husband. The impulse is there, and yet Nora is still the kind of person that she can't fully cross that line – not so much that he would kiss the actual Marcus.
“I think the recklessness that she's feeling goes back to the knocking sh*t over. [Nora deliberately tossed a coffee cup off a table in ‘Penguin One, Us Zero.’] She wants to act out because she feels that the world doesn't care what's fair or what's right…
“We also wanted to pull in an element of the convention into the party to add to that idea being outside of the world that you're used to and your comfort zone. Damon was like, 'He should have a Loved One that looks like him.' Then it became a 'lap dance' and then it became 'making out.'"
The DROP convention features plenty of speakers, panelists and creative fodder.
"A lot of the background conversations are like fun little ideas about the post-Departure world at large. I will say that some of the breakout sessions that are listed in the background are a nod to a story that's to come. There are little Easter eggs in there teasing ideas that are ahead of us."
For more insights on The Leftovers, follow Kath Lingenfelter on Twitter at @retlefnegniL. For more on Nora Durst and "Guest," read WatchingTheLeftovers.com's interview with Carrie Coon.