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One Fate For All Men
Image: HBO
Carrie Coon as Nora Durst in 'The Leftovers'

Note: As with all TV recaps, there may be some mild spoilers below for those who did not watch the episode. If you’re only looking for a content advisory, I’ll tell you: this HBO show, were it a movie, would be rated R for language, violence, sexual content, and thematic material, but it changes from week to week. The first commentary carried a Caveat Spectator, so you can check that out.

It certainly had its faults, but part of what made HBO’s Six Feet Under relatable to so many was that it took the book of Ecclesiastes seriously when it says this:

It is the same for all. There is one fate for the righteous and for the wicked; for the good, for the clean and for the unclean; for the man who offers sacrifice and for the one who does not sacrifice. As the good man is, so is the sinner; as the swearer is, so is the one who is afraid to swear. This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that there is one fate for all men.

Each episode of the show opened with a death—occasionally of a named character in the show, but usually just some anonymous person. Sometimes it was a bit of macabre comedy; other times it was deeply tragic. But the point was: everyone dies. Good people and bad people. Children and adults. Preachers and prostitutes. Old people and young. At the end of the day, their fate is the same.

For those left in the land of the living after the departures in The Leftovers, the universe seems similarly indiscriminate—no rhyme or reason to who was taken and who was left behind. But that doesn’t keep them from trying to figure it out, and in this episode Nora Durst is looking for reasons and patterns.

Part of this is precisely because the departures defy that Ecclesiastes passage, which is to say that actually, nobody knows what the fate of the disappeared is. Are they dead? Are they living somewhere else? Will they be returned?

That leads to some awkward situations: for instance, if your husband just sort of disappears without a trace, are you still married to him? Apparently they’ve decided you are, because we see Nora in the courtroom, dissolving her marriage now that she knows her husband was sleeping with their children’s kindergarten teacher, but it’s important, and unavoidably cruel, to stipulate that “should the departed return, this will be be binding.” (Should that come to fruition, that would be pretty awkward.)

But Nora won’t change her name, because she isn’t moving on at all. In the opening sequence of the episode, we see her shopping for groceries (far too many for one woman), then going home and throwing out the same groceries from last week, full gallons of milk and boxes of cereal, and replacing them with the new ones. She can’t bring herself to replace the paper towels.

And because she’s afraid she’ll stop feeling, stop missing them, if she moves on, she has to feel some other way. So she calls a prostitute named “Angel,” puts on a bulletproof vest, and asks her to shoot her—“right below the heart.”

“What happened to you?” the girl asks, horrified. But she complies.

This whole episode focuses on Nora in the way that “Two Boats and a Helicopter” focused on her brother Matt, revealing her to be a woman on the edge of a nervous breakdown. Outwardly she’s calm and even funny, but we keep catching hints of something dangerous festering below the surface. After all, Jill spotted a gun in her purse in an early episode (the gun Nora hands Angel in this episode).

Watch This Way
How we watch matters at least as much as what we watch. TV and movies are more than entertainment: they teach us how to live and how to love one another, for better or worse. And they both mirror and shape our culture.
Alissa Wilkinson
Alissa Wilkinson is Christianity Today's chief film critic and assistant professor of English and humanities at The King's College in New York City. She lives in Brooklyn.
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One Fate For All Men