The Leftovers’ running gag about Perfect Strangers has long been a funny, seemingly random element. If you’re a fan of that gestating joke, you’re going to love “Don’t Be Ridiculous,” which builds on it in such an unexpected and grandiose way that you have to wonder if “random” was ever really its intent. We’re introduced to this season’s new theme song (curiously absent last week), “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Me Now” by David Pomeranz — which is also the Perfect Strangers’ theme. And early in the episode, Nora, after investigating the supposed recent departure of Jarden’s pillar man, receives a phone call from a man who says he’s Mark Linn-Baker, the star of Perfect Strangers who in season two was revealed to have faked his own departure. Baker calls Nora out of the blue and asks if she wants to see her children — themselves departed — then informs her that he’s in St. Louis.
And it really is Mark Linn-Baker, as Nora discovers when she — perhaps unsurprisingly — heads to St. Louis, a trip she lies about to Kevin, saying it’s merely business. Nora’s impulsive curiosity is one of her most definable traits, and though she plays it cool, she can’t resist even the small possibility that her children really are still out there somewhere, somehow. And maybe her chance to reconnect with them is less a fool’s hope than it once was, as Mark explains to Nora that there’s a piece of tech that can blast people with radiation and send them to the realm where the departed now linger. Others have done it, he says. Nora can, too.
As this revelation sinks in, we see flashes of memory popping up to remind us of Nora’s happier, technicolor moments with her family, mini blasts to mimic the larger ones that might provide that connection should she go forward with Mark’s offer. The existence of this tech provides some insight to just where Nora now stands in her life: She may be in a committed relationship with Kevin, she may have moved on — but before her St. Louis trip, when a doctor removes her arm cast, he claims his orderly saw her break it herself by slamming it in a car door. It reminds us that the destructive Nora from season one, the one who longed for pain to feel the physical repercussions of her loss, is still in there, still pushing through the days despite their happier glean.
The rest of the episode focuses on Nora’s cross-country jettisons, first to Emmence, Kentucky, where she meets up with Lily, who now lives there with her birth mother, Christine, and her new baby. Lily, who we later learn has been renamed, doesn’t know who Nora is anymore, after her custody was handed back to Christine. The hurt on Nora’s face as she checks in, then drives away unremembered, is palpable. Whatever solace she was looking for in Lily has gone unrecognized, another dead end in her post-departure quest for meaning. Lily was never hers, could never fill that void, and Nora knows it, even if the truth is hard to reason with.
Next, she heads to Austin, Texas, where she meets up with Erika, who has settled there after the death of Evie. Over beers, Nora explains to Erika the nature of her arm injury, and her new tattoo, a Wu-Tang Clan symbol she randomly selected off a tattoo parlor wall to cover the names of her children. She feels insane, barely held together. When she asks Erika how she holds it together after Evie, Erika reminds her that unlike Nora’s loss, hers had a quantifiable ending. She got to bury her daughter. Nora’s children are somewhere untouchable, perhaps cosmic. As Mark Linn-Baker told her in St. Louis, they’ve “gone through.”
Nora then returns to Jarden. At home, she catches Kevin in the middle of the plastic bag choke we saw in the premiere. “I tear it off every time. I just do it to feel. I don’t want to die,” he explains to Nora.
“It’s okay. You don’t need to explain, Kevin,” she responds, showing him her tattoo, relating their battle scars.
“Let’s have a baby,” Kevin says then, unexpectedly, an announcement so bizarre that Nora can only laugh, then dismiss it so as not to “fuck up” their happiness.
But are they truly happy? They both say they are. But it feels vague. Undefined. If they’re so happy, why does Nora moments later accept an offer to go to Australia with $20,000 to try to find her kids? It seems, though it’s hard to say for sure, that both Kevin and Nora, despite outward appearances, know they’re living on borrowed time. Does Australia hold the key to what they’re looking for, or is it another diversion on their path towards absolution?
— Like last week, the epilogue of this episode takes us to Australia, where we’re introduced to a police officer named Kevin (not Garvey) who crosses paths with a troupe of women who claim to know who he is, though he doesn’t know them. They apprehend him, tie him to a board, and stick him underwater. But the blessed event they were hoping for doesn’t come to pass, and their Kevin turns purple and appears to drown. That’s when our Kevin Garvey’s father, Kevin Garvey, Sr., emerges from a door asking what’s going on. It’s impossible to gather what’s going on here, but it looks to be a trend — every episode is ending with a puzzle piece that will hopefully click together eventually.
— Nora has taken to teasing Kevin for his new Jesus-like status. “If we can’t joke about you being the messiah, we’re gonna have a problem.”
— Mark Linn-Baker gives Nora a thumb drive that, when plugged into her computer, pulls up a series of testimonial videos of people who have apparently “gone through” and experienced the dimension where the departed now live. Or something to that effect. It’s hard to deny that this tech feels more like a trick to get Nora to Australia for some reason.
— Nora runs into Tommy on her way back to Jarden, and he mentions that he’s still in contact with Christine. He’s also the one who clarifies that Lily now goes by a different name, though we don’t learn what that name is.
— This whole episode has major Lost vibes. Blasting someone with radiation to expose them to another dimension sounds a lot like Desmond getting blasted into the afterlife. And Nora’s cross-country visits were reminiscent of Kate visiting mainlanders with requests from her old island mates after her return.
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