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The Leftovers season 3 episode 2 review: Carrie Coon stuns yet again in latest instalment of HBO's showstopper

Award ceremony bosses may as well etch the actor's name onto all the trophies now

Jacob Stolworthy
Wednesday 26 April 2017 17:07 BST

Considering there are just seven episodes to go before The Leftovers draws to what is likely to be a beautifully contentious close, it's astounding just how much season three is intent on moving at its now-trademark unhurried yet never languid pace.

What has always set this series apart is a willingness to thrust particular characters to the fore for entire episodes. After a commendably bold opener, The Leftovers this week returned to that format with an outing focused squarely on its ace in the pack - Nora Durst (Carrie Coon).

It's a phone call that changes everything. Mark Linn-Baker - the actor who starred in US sitcom Perfect Strangers (1983-1996) - contacts Nora to tell her he has found a way to venture to the same place their loved ones disappeared to seven years previous. It's The Leftovers' approach to the Sudden Departure that grounds the series in realism, and Lindelof's attention to detail reaches a new peak with Baker's cameo appearance: Perfect Strangers was mentioned way back in the series' second episode when Kevin Garvey's father (Scott Glenn) told his son how all four of the show's lead actors had departed. It was revealed in season two that Baker had, in fact, used the event to fake his own disappearance. This week, he shows up to pull the plug from Nora's insanity.

As Nora sits in a hotel room, taking drags from a cigarette miles from home while scrolling through videos of people who are so desperate to see their loved ones they'd fry themselves with radiation, the character reaches a point of no return. Having endured seven years since her husband and two children disappeared to who-knows-where, Nora is done with papering over the cracks with her 'cushy' life in Jarden. Every event in this episode serves to widen what has become an irreparable rip: the constant, almost fated, reminders that she is now childless (case in point: the scene in which an airport computer inexplicably glitches when asking her if she's carrying a baby on her lap - it refuses to let her press 'No.')

The Leftovers' mysteries never outweigh the torment its characters face, perhaps the key reason why Damon Lindelof's series is a cut above the rest. Nora explains the sad story behind a brand new tattoo - which is to account for her bandaged arm - to Erika Murphy (a returning Regina King) who is now living alone following the death of her daughter Evie: she got her kids' names inked onto her forearm only to get the Wu-Tang Clan logo painted over them instead. This sums up the series succinctly: while sadness courses its veins, The Leftovers is tinged with its own brand of heartbreaking comedy recapitulated best with Lindelof's choice of opening credits song, the Perfect Strangers theme this week taking the place of Iris DeMent's 'Let The Mystery Be'.

Take for instance Nora's anger when she drives to Kentucky to see Lily, now reunited with her mother Christine (Annie Q), and spots another child stealing her toy shovel, as well as the scene where she loses her shit with a ticket barrier. Or the climactic scene where she walks in on Kevin with a bag on his head. These moments effuse sadness and yet you chuckle - because if you don't, you'll sob in the corner of your room. Theroux's suppressed cries as Nora laughs hysterically in his face when he asks if they should have a baby should have their names on every acting trophy going).

The Leftovers Season 3 - Trailer

It's hard to pinpoint when exactly the world fell in love with Carrie Coon, the Gone Girl actor who brings this extraordinary character to life (she'll next be seen in Fargo's third season). In just 21 episodes, she has traversed every emotion a character would be fortunate to convey across decade-long shows. Coon doesn't so much bring Nora to life than embed her as one of the most engaging female characters television has seen - she could well be mentioned alongside Carmela Soprano (Edie Falco).

Early on in the episode, Kevin tells Nora she's the calmest person he knows, and her casual wit and heartwarming demeanour make it hard to disagree. However, 'Don't Be Ridiculous' takes a sledgehammer to this facade with Nora coming out the other side with her head free from the sand. Kevin and Nora are now going to Australia, the latter with $20,000 in the hope of rediscovering her past life, and ultimately her happiness. Quite how she will end up refusing to acknowledge the man she loves in an unspecified time in the future- as we saw at the tail-end of last week's premiere episode - remains to be seen.

Also, quite why a group of Australian women are drowning police chiefs named Kevin remains shrouded in mysticism but it's clear that Matt's belief Theroux's protagonist displays Messianic attributes will spread to the other side of the world upon his arrival. The fact his father is there - Glenn returning as the former police chief of Mapleton - blows the show's scope wide open and indicates that answers - however head-scratching - are a-coming.

The Leftovers airs in the US on HBO and will air on Sky Atlantic this July.

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