What Are The Odds? For Nora Durst, They’re Even Sadder Than You Think


The Leftovers episode “Guest” focuses on Nora Durst, who lost her husband and both children in the Sudden Departure that launched the series. Nora was already one of the most sympathetic characters on the show, but a specific line from the most recent episode – which may have been overlooked by many – makes her character and situation even more sympathetic.

But before I get to that, let me back up a little. Upon hearing the premise of this show, I started trying to figure out different situations and the odds of Departure. Knowing that one out of every 50 people on earth vanished, questions bounced around in my head: How many different people in some population subset would have disappeared? What was the likelihood of families being torn apart? I started crunching numbers because I love math and it was interesting to me as an experiment, but also because then I could try to relate to and understand the characters and their situations.

So when introduced to Nora, I immediately calculated the odds of three of her family members departing. If 2 percent of the population disappeared, the odds of any three specific people all disappearing would be one out of 50 cubed, or one out of 125,000. And since the Pilot, that's what I was thinking were the odds of being in Nora's situation. But, after seeing “Guest” I realized I had made a crucial error.

In “Guest,” when the head security guard questions Nora and she describes her situation, he rhetorically tosses out a question: "What are the odds?" I knew this was the kind of show – and Nora the kind of character – who would offer up such odds. So imagine my excitement – and then confusion – when Nora says "one in 128,000" instead of my pre-determined “one in 125,000.” It’s a tiny difference, but my error immediately hit me. I had forgotten what Nora most certainly did not: I had calculated the odds of her losing three family members, while she calculated and memorized the odds of her losing three family members…with herself still being left on earth. Multiplying the odds above by Nora's 49 out of 50 chance of remaining, gives about one in 127,551, or roughly the one in 128,000 figure that Nora told the security guard.

The most interesting part? Her calculation – and the number she presented – highlights the way that Nora views her situation. It’s so much more poignant and, really, is a small, defining clue about her mindset and suffering. From the outside, you might look at her family and sympathize with her three losses. But the fact that Nora clearly took the time to calculate those odds – and the way in which she did so – indicates how she views her situation in contrast to how an outsider might.

Her family didn't just depart – they departed and left her to be alone.

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