The Leftovers recap: Lens
People in glass houses shouldn’t throw rocks.
That is one of the themes in “Lens,” the first episode since episode 2, “A Matter of Geography,” co-scripted by author Tom Perrotta, who’s clearly invested in Nora’s story in season 2. She’s impulsive, as we know from her spontaneous purchase of the house in Miracle, and she holds a grudge, too. Early one morning, before the neighborhood is awake, she calmly walks next door and chucks a rock through the Murphys’ window. Oh, did we forget that John Murphy banished her brother, Matt, to carny-degenerate tent-city?
Evie and her friends are still missing, and their mysterious disappearance is attracting national attention. The Washington Post did a story, and the clipping — taped on weirdo Dr. Juaquin’s white board — telegraphs a last-act reveal: “…as many choose to continue doing the same things they were doing on the day when no individual disappeared.” Hence, the Miracle woman who was watering her lawn in her wedding dress and the daily goat sacrifice…?
Dr. Juaquin brings some credibility when he arrives in Miracle. Correction: He brings an orange box. Is he a quack? Has he cracked the Departure mystery? Erika is perplexed when he knocks on her door, but he’s actually in town for Nora. Did she cross paths with Evie, he asks Nora? Did they ever touch? Was she touching her own children when they Departed? In other words, did Nora cause this? Nora lashes out and literally kicks him to the curb.
Back in the Dunn/Garvey house, the night-handcuffing has prevented Kevin from any after-hours dates with Patti, but don’t think for a second that she’s gone dark. In fact, Nora’s play for morning nook-nook is interrupted when Kevin is startled. He says it was a cramp in his leg, but the odds are better that Patti lobbed an insult in his direction, killing the mood.
The mothers of the other two missing girls want Erika and John to speak with the Department of Sudden Departure to rule out the possibility that the girls Departed — or as the new term seems to be, Lifted. The genial DSD rep, George Brevity (Mad Men’s Joel Murray) isn’t the soul of wit, but he and Nora have a professional rapport, and he can’t hide his excitement about the new questionnaire. “None of the fraud flags popped,” he says about the girls’ families’ results over breakfast. “If the questionnaire says they Lifted, maybe they Lifted.”
Dr. Juaquin’s visit really rattled Nora because she asks George if it’s possible that someone can be responsible for another’s Departure. Funny you should mention that, he seems to say. It’s called lensing, “like a kid taking a magnifying glass and frying ants with it,” says George, apparently oblivious of Nora’s background. “Someone gives off ultraviolet rays or whatnot, causing everyone around them to Lift.”
Nora wants that new questionnaire. She has to prove to herself that she isn’t a curse.
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Meanwhile, Erika’s Audubon Society/voodoo jogs in the woods are losing their magic. She digs up another bird, but this one doesn’t fly away like before. It’s dead, and she discards its remains with the decaying victims of her other experiments.
At work, she sews up a man beaten for selling reservoir water for $500 per milliliter. We know him as nerdy-looking Dr. Goodheart, the man who met Evie and the girls at the swimming hole in the season premiere. Erika knows that John is the man behind the beating, especially since he forcibly took a palm print to see if Goodheart is linked to the scene of the supposed crime. Recall that it was Kevin’s muddy palm that left a mark on Evie’s friend’s car, and shame on the Texas police for not running those tests by now. At least John and Erika have a sweet deal going in Miracle: John beats people senseless, and Erika sews them up.
Nora is distracted by the lensing theory described in the Scientific American article. Kevin is wallpapering upstairs while obliviously engaging in conversation with an unseen Patti. And Lily is alone outside, sitting precariously in her babyseat on the hood of Kevin’s truck, when neighborly Erika returns her to her family. Some phony motherly banter, and Nora blurts out that she lost her two children. Do you think Erika suspects her new neighbor is jinxed too?
Dr. Juaquin’s colleague doesn’t think Nora is jinxed. She calls Nora and apologizes for his lack of people skills. But the data he gathered in Miracle is very promising, and she thinks she has the answer: Nora isn’t cursed, nor is she is emitting unusual nuclear magnetic resonance. She’s simply possessed by the demon Azrael, but good news — the Vatican has been contacted. This might have been the funniest moment in two seasons of The Leftovers, but Nora’s laughter quickly breaks down into tears.
In an episode where everyone is knocking on the Murphys’ doors, Erika sees and chases down the young man who left them a mysterious pie in episode 1. But he’s just the messenger, and the true gifter is the old man that Michael visited with to pray. He’s family, perhaps Erika’s father. He did something unforgivable once, something that caused John to shoot him. Is it possible he did the something careless that caused Erika to go deaf? It seems like she was born with hearing, and there’s bound to be something major behind it. He offers her another bird for the road after she warns him to stay away from her family.
NEXT: Nora and Erika have all the wrong answers
At least Matt is happy. He’s found his place, his calling. He’s no longer naked and locked in the stocks, but he puts in a few hours every day, I’m sure. “All I had to do was refuse to let someone else take my place,” he bubbles to Nora and Mary, when they come to visit him outside the walls. “Suffering breeds compassion.” Give him a few more weeks and Matt will be giving hugs to people to erase their pain.
Last we saw Tommy, he was hugging the world with his phony baloney Holy Wayne story. But Laurie has lost track of him, and rather than call her ex-husband or daughter, she rings Nora to see if Tommy has joined them in Texas. It’s an odd choice. But if Laurie has lost track of Tommy, then where is he? Has he struck out on his own? Has he relented and succumbed to the Guilty Remnant, the one place where he felt some semblance of meaning? Or, has Meg kidnapped him as part of her plan to hurt Laurie?
At the fundraiser for the missing girls, Nora swipes Brevity’s questionnaire. But Erika steals the show when Jerry the Goat Slayer makes his daily appearance and sacrifice. On Oct. 14, he was put in jail for killing a goat, but since Miracle was spared, his actions — and the mundane acts of others — are part of the town’s superstitious belief in why they were spared. Cecilia, the wedding-dress lady, is stop No. 13 on the tourist audio tour — because Miracle was chosen! God shed his grace on thee! Well, Erika is not having any of it any more. The girls weren’t kidnapped; they didn’t run away — they Departed, Erika rants. “We’re not spared! We’re not safe! My daughter is gone. So, no — no, Jerry!… She Departed!”
[Note: Regina King getting emotional and screaming “No, Jerry!” made we worry that Rod Tidwell was unconscious in the endzone again.]
That night, Nora knocks on the Murphy’s door, feigning concern. She wants to give Erika the DSD questionnaire, but she obviously has ulterior motives. “You’re scared that if you answer these questions, everyone’s going to know that your daughter didn’t Depart,” Nora says, getting her in the front door. They sit, and Nora asks the questions…and Erika’s answers are confessional. She was going to leave John before Evie went missing. She had withdrawn money from the bank — hence that bag of cash hidden with her hearing-aid batteries — and was planning to split. But she was worried about her children, especially Evie. So she used her grandmother’s old ritual about the buried bird to make a wish that Evie would understand what was to come. “I wished that she’d be okay without me,” she says. “The next night, my daughter was gone.”
Nora scoffs at Erika’s theory — or tries to. Because once upon a time, she too wished away her family at the moment they Departed. That morning of Oct. 14, her son was screaming for breakfast, her cheating husband was distracted by his phone, and her daughter spilled orange juice all over her own phone just as Lucy called to tell her about her job interview. The same job interview where she promised Lucy that for the next four weeks, it would seem like she didn’t even have a family. “Goddammit, I said two hands,” she screamed at her daughter, in what would amount to the last words she said to them. Alone in the kitchen, an exasperated Nora shook her head and looked up to the heavens, and you could practically see the thought bubble: “I wish my family would disappear.”
Did she wish them away? Did Kevin wish away the woman he committed adultery with? Did Laurie wish away her unwanted pregnancy?
“Terrible things happen in this world, and the only comfort we get is that we didn’t cause them,” Nora maintains, though she’s trying to convince herself more than Erika. “So I’m sorry, but, Erika, this had nothing to do with you.”
Erika gives Nora the death stare and chases her out of the house with a reciprocal question about her own Departed children. Everything Erika said only confirms Nora’s own guilty suspicions about her role in her family’s disappearance. Maybe she is the earthbound instrument for some demon after all.
Their exchange felt like an appropriate last scene of the episode, and the subsequent conversation, where Kevin confesses that he’s going crazy, seeing and hearing Patti Levin, felt tacked on. That alone could’ve been its own episode. But now we know that Patti is upset by Kevin’s blabbing — almost as upset as Erika is at Nora, judging by the rock that is returned through their glass window.