Carrie Coon and Mark Linn-Baker (Photo: Van Redin/HBO)
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The Leftovers might be television’s most beautifully realized show. Whether or not you like what the show is doing, there’s no disputing that it’s doing that thing as bravely and creatively as that thing can be done. There seems to be no stone unturned, no concept unexplored, no idea to small or weird to play around with. And it’s hard to argue with the method when the result is an episode that includes Carrie Coon and Regina King bouncing on a trampoline to the tune of Wu-Tang Clan and a wrenching dramatic monologue about life, death, and the nature of things performed by a former star of Perfect Strangers playing himself. Look, that’s just good TV.

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The return of Mark-Linn Baker worried me at first because his cameo last season as one of the Sudden Departure hoaxes worked so well as a quick joke, and to spend more time with him is to risk ruining that joke. But Baker’s appearance is extremely effective because instead of trying to double-down on or explain the joke, the episode examines the real emotion behind what seemed like just an absurd post-Departure headline. Creators Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta, who wrote “Don’t Be Ridiculous,” are constantly displaying how much thought and consideration they’ve put into this universe. The show has examined many different emotional responses to being left behind, from Nora’s crushing grief to Meg’s abiding nihilism, and with Baker, The Leftovers found another way to examine the anxiety an event like the Sudden Departure would create.

Nora is in the midst of investigating the death/disappearance of Jarden’s famous Pillar Man, who allegedly departed just before the seventh anniversary. The man’s wife, Sandy, who befriended Matt last season in the tent city, insists Pillar Man lifted, but Nora smells bullshit and tries to find the rational explanation for the man’s disappearance. With Nora already driven to madness by Jarden’s religious fringe, Mark Linn-Baker couldn’t have picked a worse time to call and offer, on behalf of a third-party, the opportunity to see her children again.

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With George Brevity’s blessing, Nora flies to St. Louis at Baker’s invitation to find out what he’s talking about, though she suspects it’s a garden-variety “carrot stick,” some kind of ruse that dangles the possibility of seeing departed loved ones again. Baker has already decided to go through to “wherever they went,” a wacky sounding procedure involving heavy doses of a rare type of radiation reportedly found at departure hot spots. He’s passing the opportunity onto Nora just as it was passed on to him in a hotel in Phoenix by a woman named Lauren. (Honestly, it does seem like the kind of service that relies on word of mouth from satisfied customers.)

Nora tries to explain that anyone involved in this was probably incinerated, but Baker is convinced he’ll be able to join his trio of Perfect Strangers co-stars in whatever plane of existence they’re all hanging out on without him. This is a version of post-Departure anxiety we haven’t seen before, a sense of unrest more akin to fear of missing out than the grief, sadness, and loss of purpose most people experienced. Baker isn’t trying to reunite with family members, he’s trying to reunite with co-workers who, in his mind, are probably getting blitzed and taking selfies at a celestial People’s Choice Awards after-party to which he wasn’t invited.

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When Nora first arrives in Baker’s hotel room, he asks for her cell phone and chucks it into the toilet. “Everything that matters is up there in the clouds, right?” he says, speaking to Nora’s ruined hardware as well as to how it feels to be the only Perfect Stranger who didn’t lift. Everything that matters is up there in the clouds, and if he mattered, he’d be up there too. The idea of Mark-Linn Baker struggling to cope with getting left out of God’s schoolyard pick is both hilarious and deeply sad, which is the sweet spot The Leftovers hits far more often than any show has a right to. And it’s really smart for the show to continuing to examine different kinds of existential crises and show how some people’s grief is privileged over others.

Nora is shaken by their conversation, then pushed over the edge upon watching dozens of final testimonials from people who underwent the illegal radiation procedure being pitched to her. Rather than cave into Baker’s insane pitch, Nora goes to see her child that didn’t depart, which requires a drive to Eminence, Kentucky. Apparently in the three years since the incident at the Miracle Visitor Center, Christine returned and sued for custody of the child she bore for Holy Wayne. Nora acquiesced, which was the obvious and objectively right thing to do, but is no less painful especially to someone already so familiar with abruptly losing children. Nora is hoping to be reminded that she still has some kind of maternal connection, only to find that Lily (who has since been renamed) doesn’t recognize her.

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Carrie Coon and Regina King (Photo: Van Redin/HBO)

The Eminence incident prompts Nora to visit Erika Murphy, who still lives in Jarden and appears to be doing just fine, all things considered. Erika looks happy and settled, in part because unlike her ex-husband, she has acknowledged that Evie is dead and was allowed the closure of burying her child. Nora never got that closure, and like many, she picked up a self-destructive coping mechanism. When it’s first revealed that Nora’s cast is the result of a self-inflicted bone fracture, it seems like the latest iteration of the same instinct that once had her hiring prostitutes to shoot at her. Instead, the cast was Nora’s desperate attempt to more completely cover up a spot on her forearm where her children’s names were tattooed. The “Wu-Tang Band” logo she chose at random from the parlor wall wasn’t cutting it, and it only served as a reminder of the reminder.

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All Erika has to offer is beer and use of her trampoline, which leads to what has to wind up on any rational person’s list of 2017’s best uses of pop music on television. But it’s not enough to quell Nora’s mounting grief, which by the end of the episode is so great that she’s willing to fly to Melbourne at short notice with $20,000 in cash to pay for the radiation procedure. Nothing’s gonna stop her now. “Don’t Be Ridiculous” is an excellent hour of television, a showcase for the amazing Carrie Coon, and another Leftovers that affirms why this is secretly TV’s most rewarding show.

Stray observations

  • As amazing as “Ridiculous” is, The Leftovers is already so dense, layered, and emotionally taxing, it’s all too easy for it to become too much of a good thing. The last stretch of the episode, which takes place entirely in Australia, hit that mark for me. There are several scenes toward the end that felt like a logical stopping point, but instead, the action moves down under, where an Aussie sheriff with a familiar name dies as a result of mistaken identity. A story that puts two timelines on a collision course will eventually require spending time with unfamiliar characters or in new terrain, and that always feels like homework. But here’s Scott Glenn!
  • Last season’s opening credits are back, but without “Let The Mystery Be,” which is replaced by the soaring, goofy “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Me Now” from Perfect Strangers.
  • In honor of Nora’s new favorite hip hop collective, Lindelof and Perrotta are billed as their Shaolin alter-egos, The Lonely Donkey Kong and Specialist Contagious.
  • Based on Nora and Mark-Linn’s conversation, whoever has come up with this techinque of zapping people to the other side is actively targeting people who famously lost people close to them in the Departure.
  • “If you don’t see someone, say something,” says the public awareness poster in the DSD field office.
  • Brett Butler is having the most fascinating career resurgence.

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