[For The Leftovers‘ “Lens” or any other recaps on Fetchland, assume the presence of possible spoilers.]
Lens Nora is irritated by unexpected visitors; Kevin’s predicament becomes impossible to ignore.
It’s interesting that the HBO summary doesn’t even mention Erika (Regina King’s character) for the episode “Lens” because her character’s light shines brightest in this one. Nora also plays a brilliant role here and they’re each a lens through which we see the incidents and emotions playing out in this particular storyline. But it’s really Erika we get to know as her heart beats through us here. Part of this comes from the fact that she answers a bunch of our questions clearly and quickly in “Lens” and the other part is that we experience her heartbreak, delusions and pain firsthand. Even when it’s about Nora, somehow it’s still all about Erika too. “Lens” is an episode about focusing our sights on the source, like a magnifying glass with sunlight streaming through.
There’s a set of scientists who have a theory that certain people among us are lenses. This means their mere presence in your life could cause you to depart. Because Nora lost her entire family and then three teens seem to have departed the very day she moved in next door to one of them, these scientists think Nora’s a lens. In the first scene of “Lens” one of these scientists, Dr. Joaquin Cuatro knocks on Nora’s door and alienates her with his probing questions and lack of tact. So, she’s not really in the mood later when Cuatro’s colleague calls to apologize for his abrupt manner
A guy from the DSD (Department of Sudden Departures) comes to Nora’s yard and she tells him she’s on leave from the DSD herself. As they talk neighbor Erika quickly leaves to get in her car and ignores the DSD guy’s cries to get her attention. Erika wears a hearing aid, so it’s unclear if she’s ignoring him on purpose. Then she drives to the forest and digs up a shoebox just like the one she dug up in a previous episode with the bird that flew away when she opened the box. This time there’s a dead bird inside. Erika removes the dead bird and places it near a pile of other dead birds nearby. Afterward in town the moms of the other two missing teen girls approach her and say she’s got to cooperate with the DSD. Erika says no she doesn’t.
Later Nora joins the DSD guy at Smittys and finds out info about the current departure investigations – the three teenage girls. He tells her the DSD thinks maybe the teen trio did actually depart. She finds out they’ve even changed the questionnaire now to focus it better. Then Nora asks if the DSD thinks one person can be responsible for another’s departure. He says yes and tells her about “lensing.” The DSD guy describes it as being like when a kid holds a magnifying glass to an ant and burns it with sunlight. There was an article about it in Scientific America last month, he tells her. She goes straight home and reads the article.
Then Erika treats a clinic patient beaten up for selling water. She realizes it was her husband, John that pounded the guy and says he should let it go. “Let him slide, just this once.” He asks why and Erika says so she won’t see him back there again that night, fixing him up because he got beat up again. When she gets home Erika sees Baby Lily in her carseat on the hood of the Garvey truck outside. She brings Lily to Nora who says Kevin was supposed to be watching Lily. They tell stories about each losing their children for brief periods and Erika finds out Nora lost two children before.
Back at the Murphy’s John asks Erika if she blames him for people throwing rocks through their window. She says he needs to hit people because he needs to hit people, like the man he beat up this morning. John claims it’s because the guy was “selling lies” …but maybe he’s just angry. Erika seems to think so. But she hugs him when he says he’s trying. There’s a lot of forgiving wife syndrome going around this morning in Miracle – Nora was also uber quick to forgive Kevin for his negligence with Baby Lily.
Then Dr Cuatro’s colleague calls Nora again and this time she asks if they think she’s a lens. The doctor says yes. Nora asks why and she says the research is divisive but they think it has to do with the demon Azrael choosing her to do his dirty work. Nora hangs up before the woman finishes explaining – either laughing or crying, it’s unclear which. Next she takes Mary to visit Matt at the campground and says she’ll pick him up on their way to Mary’s OB appointment the following week. He asks why Nora looks dressed up and she explains that they’re going to a fundraiser for the missing teens straight from there.
Erika changes her hearing aid batteries but hasn’t put them back in her ears yet when she sees a boy dropping off a pie at her front door. She races after him, fast and focused, arms pumping and heart pounding across streets and around corners. Erika narrowly avoids an oncoming car right before finally catches him. She asks him why he ran but can’t hear because the hearing aids are back home so Erika tells the boy to repeat and speak slow. Then she brings the pie out to the old man Michael visits for prayers. He’s in a field with raising sparrows. Turns out he’s related to Erika and left the pies on their porch. Now she knows Michael visits him to pray. Erika’s mad and doesn’t want his damn pie or for him anywhere near her family. He asks if she wants to take a bird with her when she goes and she denies any interest.
Then Jill goes to the fundraiser with Michael Murphy and Nora meets Kevin there. Nora donates $500 to the cause and then gazes longingly at the DSD guy’s briefcase – tucked next to his chair in front of her. The two women who approached Erika in town run a slideshow with pictures of their girls growing up together. As the slides flow Nora peeks inside the DSD guy’s briefcase and takes out the questionnaire file, slips it into her handbag and leaves. The guy who slaughters goats enters and lays down his plastic. Erika tries to stop him and then we have a round of Erika Explains It All for a bunch of Miracle mysteries. She pronounces that because he killed a goat on the October 14th Departure date many townsfolk think maybe he saved them. So, now he gets a pass to kill goats whenever he wants. Then Erika focuses on the wedding dress lady and says she’d tried on the dress on Departure day and thus now she wears it every day just in case that detail was what saved them all. Miracle’s a town with subscriptions to numerous superstitions in the hope of staying safe and sound. Yet here they are with three missing girls and no wedding dress or goat can change that.
That night Nora goes to Erika’s front door and hands her the questionnaire from the DSD guy’s briefcase and explains it will help her be prepared to answer them. Nora says Erika’s scared that if she answers the questions she and Miracle will find out that maybe Evie didn’t depart. Erika says so come in and ask me the questions, then. So, Nora sits with her and goes through them. One of the questions is the last words Evie said to her. Erika doesn’t remember the answer to this but answers all the rest of the questions completely. One of the other questions is about withdrawing a large sum of money from the bank and why. Erika admits she withdrew a large sum recently because she planned on leaving John. Then she talks about her grandma who told her Miracle was so special you can bury a bird in the woods for three days and it will fly away when you open the box on the third day. Her grandma told her if the bird’s alive you can make a wish and it will come true. Erika says she knew it was all pretend as a kid but because of the Departure happening she no longer knew what was pretend anymore. She told Nora she buried a sick sparrow for three days and wished her kids would be OK if she left John. Erika knew Michael would be fine because of his faith but that Evie would be heartbroken. So, she’d really been wishing Evie would be OK without her. The bird flew out, a medical impossibility. Thus Erika got her wish. Then the next night her daughter was missing. So, Erika believes she is the LENS that lost her Evie.
Nora feels the weight of Erika’s heartbreak about this because she also felt responsible for losing her children and thought it was her fault but, she explains to Erika, she’s evolved past the guilt now. “Terrible things happen in the world and the only comfort we get is that we didn’t cause them,” she says. “I’m sorry but this had nothing to do with you.” Then Erika asks if her children departed or died and Nora says they departed. Erika asks what their last words were to Nora but she doesn’t answer and just leaves in tears.
When she gets home Kevin says they need to talk. She asks if it can wait until tomorrow and he says no. He asks if she notices that he’s been losing his mind. Then he tells her about how he’s seeing the Ghost of Patti. Just as he finishes explaining it a rock crashes through their front window. Nora turns to look and Erika stands there long enough to catch Nora’s eye and stare right back, completely unabashed about being seen.
Mysterious and shocking sidebars:
After she’s dressed up nice for the fundraiser, Erika confronts Michael about visiting the old man and tells him not to anymore. She says do you know what your father would do if he found out? And Michael says, “Shoot him again?” Oh snap. It appears that maybe John went to prison for shooting Erika’s father – or something like that.
In a tiny scene Laurie, Kevin’s ex wife (Amy Brenneman) calls Nora on her cell and asks if Tom is there with them in Texas. Nora says no, she’s never even met Tom. Laurie replies that if Tom ever does come there to tell him she’s worried about him and she’s sorry. Nora promises to do so… Uh oh. Sweet Tom who was the self-proclaimed healer and redeemer last time we saw him is missing now.
Regina King, who plays Erika, was the guest on Thursday night’s Late Night Show to talk about The Leftovers and during the interview she described the show as a sort of “Misery Porn” for people. This is particularly true of the last two episodes in season two. What began as a glorious feast of hope and only a side salad of dread has now officially spiraled into a sadness festival of a season. Thing is now even the most sad-averse of us are hooked on it completely. With its two mothers, the indomitable Erika and vulnerable Nora as our lensesof insight and heart wrenching emotion we can’t let go of The Leftovers anymore than they can let go of their departed children.