“In your opinion, do you believe the Departed is in a better place?” —Nora
Of all the damaged people in The Leftovers, Nora Durst is the only major character who actually lost someone close during the Rapture. In her case, it’s made her a minor celebrity in Mapleton because she’s the rare 1-in-128,000 case who lost her entire family—husband and two young children. What makes her even more unusual is that she now works for the government’s Department of Sudden Departure, interviewing people like herself with an intrusive questionnaire before they can receive the government’s generous payout for their loss. That she works for the government in such an official capacity was a surprise to me; when we first witnessed her at work, badgering the parents of a departee with Downs syndrome, I suspected that she was a fraud, callously freelancing in order to quell her own pain. After all, this is The Leftovers.
Turns out, Nora carries a badge, so to speak. She also carries a gun in her purse, though that’s not in any official capacity. Jill and Aimee first spotted the concealed weapon at the coffee shop weeks ago, the first time we also witnessed Nora’s warped satisfaction in her own sad celebrity. As painful as it is, she revels in the hurt while welcoming—and even courting—the sympathetic attention that comes with it, even if it’s just free coffee. But is the gun a symptom that she’s suicidal? Is she dangerous to others?
After restocking her kitchen pantry with her dead kids’ favorite breakfast cereals—untouched food that she’ll throw out and replace with new boxes next week—Nora makes a surprising phone call, ordering a female escort named Angel who advertises that “nothing is forbidden.” But despite the inflatable mattress she sets up in the living room, Nora doesn’t have a taste for kink. “I want you to shoot me,” she tells Angel, while trying to hand her the gun she carries in her purse. She’s not suicidal, per se; she puts on a Kevlar vest and instructs a freaked-out Angel where to aim so as not to kill her. “You’ve done this before?” asks the escort. “Yes,” replies Nora, though she adds that her last shooter won’t return, despite the $3,000 she’s willing to pay for the special service. While Slayer’s “Angel of Death” throbs, a panicked Angel reluctantly shoots a calm and composed Nora, who flops backward onto the inflatable mattress, motionless—until she takes a huge gasp of air.
There are at least two ways to view Nora’s reckless behavior. One, that her shooting ritual is a flirtation with death that breaks through the numbness of her everyday misery and reminds her that she’s alive. Or, more likely, that the process of staring down the barrel of a gun and absorbing a bullet in the chest is a sense of dread and terror that she feels she deserves. Combine that with her masochistic decision to interview tortured souls like herself for the DSD and she becomes a person who isn’t just wallowing in her sorrow but feels obligated to punish herself on a daily basis. Why? Is there part of her that is tempted to forget her children, part of her that wants or needs to move on from the tragedy? And she hates that part of herself.
NEXT: Stolen identity