The Leftovers S03E02 Recap: 'Don't Be Ridiculous'

One of the things I would tell people who were skeptical about The Leftovers during the early episodes of season 1 was to wait for the Nora episode. Even now, after the show has reinvented itself not once, but twice in subsequent seasons, season 1's "Guest" still stands as one of its best episodes. It's the perfect representation of what Damon Lindelof's oeuvre wanted to be early on, outside of a fairly accurate adaptation of a rather mediocre novel. Nora is the character on this show that best conveys its central ideas of pain, loss and suffering. and "Guest" takes a deep dive on what makes her tick, all riding on the back of a spectacular perfornance by Carrie Coon. "Guest", as far as I remember it, is not a very plot-heavy episode of The Leftovers, but rather one that conveys the emotion that a lot of us felt from early on in the best way.

Now, three years later, The Leftovers could be said to be a very different show. Everyone jumped on the bandwagon after Lindelof won them over with season 2, or reaffirmed to the season 1 believers that they were right about him. Similarly, the season 3 Nora that we follow in "Don't Be Ridiculous" shares all the right similarities with season 1 Nora, but has also wildly evolved. "Don't Be Ridiculous" is, in that regard, reminiscent of "Guest", but curiously, it also moves the plot further than any Nora-centric episode of the past, an honor usually reserved to Kevin Garvey, whose contributions to the episode are limited to a couple of interactions with Nora and a kind of hilarious juxtaposition of where his and hers secrets lie with respect to one another.

The bulk of "Don't Be Ridiculous" follows Nora on a quote-unquote "business trip" in which she investigates a mysterious phone call she receives from Perfect Strangers star Mark-Linn-Baker, playing a fictionalized version of himself here whom we know from previous seasons' Easter eggs to have faked him own departure after his three co-stars from the aforementioned 80s sitcom actually did depart. Linn-Baker is now working with an organization that claims to be able to send people to wherever it is the departed went on October 14th, by showering people with the same kind of radiation that was found all over the place on that date. Nora calls this out as a crazy scheme that just incinerates people, but Linn-Baker stands by it with a passionate speech about taking control and how the people who have already done it are all sane, tested and often highly educated people. Nora is skeptical, but watches the testimonials.

She also takes this opportunity to travel to Kentucky, where Lily is now living with Christine. Later in an interaction with Tommy we find out that Christine came to her senses after abandoning Holy Wayne's child and sued for custody. Nora didn't fight it, but she clearly misses Lily, and has suffered the toll of another child being taken away from her. Tommy kind of brutally tells her to get over it since being adopted kind of sucks and that he didn't even know Nora existed when he left Lily at her dad's doorstep. She also meets up with Erika, where she admits to her that she broke her own arm after a foolish night of getting her children's names tattooed on her forearm, and then deciding to cover it up with a Wu Tang Clan tattoo, figuring she didn't want to spend the rest of her life explaining who her departed children were.

In other words, Nora has a complicated couple of days, so when she gets the call to be in Melbourne in a couple of days with $20,000 in cash, she doesn't hesitate long before agreeing. It's arguable whether or not she'll let herself be killed in order to find out if the other place is real or not, but her curiosity is certain. A kink in whatever plan she might have is Kevin, who asks to go with her to Melbourne, seeing as his father is there, as we find out in the episode's tag, where four women on horseback kill a prickish police chief named Kevin, thinking that it was the other one who could come back to life, before Kevin Sr. makes his first appearance of the season.

"Don't Be Ridiculous" has a lot that got me excited, but nothing more than how it pays off this whole Perfect Strangers gag that has been brewing since season 1. Right at the beginning, season 2's theme is replaced by the Perfect Strangers theme, which weirdly fits with this show despite how dated it sounds. And then Mark Linn-Baker delivers what I truly believe is a tour-de-force in his scene with Nora, explaining not only this whole radiation business but contextualizing what may seem to an outsider to be the irrational behaviour of a person who acts the way he or Nora might in the face of losing an alarming amount of people around him. Nora might scoff at him faking his own departure, but lest we forgot that she's not only the person who breaks her own arm to hide a fucking tattoo for a few weeks, but when we met her she would pay a prostitute to shoot her in the chest in order for her to feel something. Nora and Mark Linn-Baker are ostensibly two peas in a pod. Cousin Larry just isn't shy by it.

And speaking of Nora's coping mechanisms, that really is the driving force behind this episode as a whole. Linn-Baker's coping mechanism was to fake his own departure, and then to represent this company because that was his way of taking control. Kevin's is to suffocate himself until he's on the verge of death, because he doesn't want to die but is also afraid of the prospect that he might not able to. Pillar Man, who dies in this episode's opening of a heart attack and subsequent fall off his pillar, had a pretty obvious one, but previously wanted to be crucified. His wife, who stood by him through all of this, including years of silence from her husband, just wanted to pretend as if her husband got what he wanted, so she orchestrated a lie with Matt to bury him in secret and pretend as if he departed.

Nora's coping mechanisms are complex, as we've seen, but a couple of big ones are sarcasm and attempts at facing reality. She spends much of the episode quipping other characters, particularly Kevin, be it through many jokes about how his friends consider him to be the messiah, and later by laughing right in his face after she comes home to find him trying to suffocate himself. Kevin looks like he just got caught masturbating and his next line is asking her if she wants to have a baby, and all she can do is laugh in his face.

Nora is a complex human who's been through a lot and doesn't quite know how to handle it, but her tells are obvious and they make her incredibly relatable. That drives this episode and makes it truly excellent, along with the really satisfying feeling begotten from getting a surprising amount of answers from Lindelof and Perrotta about where this final season is going. "Don't Be Ridiculous" is truly a great show at its peak, and it gets 10 coping mechanisms out of 10.

Notes & Quotes:

  • Between this and Fargo, if Carrie Coon doesn't wind up with an Emmy nom this year I'm probably going to get a Wu Tang tattoo and then slam my arm into a car door.
  • Seriously, the intro with the Perfect Strangers theme is somehow more perfect than the season 2 song, even though it's the same video package. It perfectly encapsulates how weird this world continues to get.
  • Matt has a nosebleed the morning after burying Pillar Man, which must be a clue towards whatever he'll be doing in his episode.
  • Almost as weird as Mark Linn-Baker's appearance in this episode is Brett Butler's, speaking of sitcom stars of the past.
  • Lindelof and Perrotta wrote this episode, but their credits are listed as "That Lonely Donkey Kong" and "Specialist Contagious", which I'm assuming is some sort of nod to the Wu Tang Clan.
  • "Matt, I can literally see the lie wheel turning in your brain."
  • "Honey, you don't need to justify your desire to have three hampers."
  • "If we can't have a sense of humour about you being the messiah, we're gonna have a problem."