“Lens” turns its focus on The Leftovers’ mothers, chiefly Nora and Erika, who find they have things in common other than the children they’ve lost. But just because they understand each other doesn’t mean they’re going to become best friends. Oh yeah, and one of them might be a demon?
Both Nora and Erika deal with bothersome outsiders this week. In Erika’s case, it’s a persistent rep from the Department of Sudden Departures, the same agency Nora used to work for in Mapleton. The DSD would very much like to figure out if Evie and her friends’ disappearances were a true “secondary departure” since the circumstances surrounding the event sure suggest it’s the real deal. Doing so requires answering a specially-designed questionnaire, which Erika’s in no hurry to do... until she has a meltdown at a benefit raising money to help search for the missing girls, when Jerry, Miracle’s resident goat-sacrificer, tries to do his thing at the back of the room.
Finally, we learn what’s up with that: He did it on October 14, so he thinks he needs to do it every day to keep things copacetic. Same with the “lawn bride”—she was trying on her wedding dress when the departures happened three years ago, so now she wears it every day. Erika flips out. “If there are no miracles in Miracle, why does he get a pass?” she asks, pointing to Jerry and his four-legged friend. Her public rant comes after we’ve seen her mend a man beaten up by John (who paused his fists to take a palm print, too) for selling Miracle water. And she takes John to task over it. “You need to hit people because you need to hit people,” she says. And he doesn’t disagree, though he does seem somewhat regretful.
We also see her chase down a young man who’s left a pie on her doorstep... exactly like the pie that arrived the night Evie vanished. Though she races after him without her hearing aids in—finally, we get scenes from her POV that convey what it’s like to have diminished hearing—she’s able to get the source of the pie from the kid: it’s Virgil, the old man who lives in the trailer at the edge of town. We know Michael prays with him, and we also learn that he’s somehow related to Erika, and he did something terrible to the family. Beyond that, he’s still an all-knowing enigma. Like, he knows when the family is about to be sad for whatever reason, so he brings them a pie. Hopefully we’ll get the full story on Virgil soon, because it seems like he might be helpful for a lot of reasons. But not this week, alas.
Nora, meanwhile, is fending off researchers who’ve become convinced she’s a “lens,” someone who can unwittingly make others around them depart. It’s Nora’s worst fear realized, that she was somehow responsible for her family’s departure, and that she may have made it happen again. Though her DSD colleague directs her to a Scientific American article on the subject, the researchers who’re after her have a more esoteric theory: “We believe the demon Azazel has chosen you as his earthbound vessel,” says the clipped British accent that’s been phone-stalking Nora all day. (Azazel, the scapegoat.) Nora—whose snort-sob reaction is so perfect—doesn’t want to believe it (neither do we, because we like Nora, and the idea also sounds very conspiracy theory-ish), but she’s not really sure what she believes anymore. When she steals the DSD questionnaire to share it with Erika, we can tell she’s silently answering those left-behind questions for herself, too.
The final scene between the two women is a powerful one. We learn that Erika was planning to leave John way before Evie’s disappearance (one could kind of see how living with him would be a drag ...) but to make sure she was doing the right thing, she deployed a bit of folk magic taught to her by her grandmother. Her grandmother believed Jarden was “chosen” long before the miracle of the departure; she told Erika that if she put a live bird in a box, buried it for three days, and it survived, she could make a wish that would be granted. We saw Erika dig up a live bird in the first episode; now we know that she was wishing that her kids—specifically the sensitive Evie—would understand, and would be okay if she left John. Her wish was granted, but at what cost? Since Evie vanished soon thereafter, Erika wonders if it’s her fault.
Nora tells her “your logic is a little all over the place,” but she knows all too well the power guilt has over logic. She feels it every day. All day.
Other advancements this episode, crucial and otherwise: Matt is still in the camp outside the fence, repenting, but he’s allowed to suffer while wearing pants, so that’s a step up. Mary is still Mary, and is now one more needy creature that Jill (who’s now dating Michael) helps take care of—along with Lily, an especially important role now that Kevin is cracking up. He finally tells Nora that he’s being shadowed by a walking, talking Patti, who doesn’t actually appear to our eyes this week. Apparently, she’s hopping mad that Kevin spilled the beans to Nora, though—given her fondness for violence, that probably won’t be a good thing.
And then, a strange wind blows through Miracle when a frazzled-looking Laurie calls Nora, looking for Tommy. Tommy is missing. Has Tommy the Hug Healer gone rogue? Will we be seeing either Tommy or Laurie show up in Miracle? It’s the first time the Kevin and Laurie storylines have connected this season, other than in flashbacks, and it seems inevitable that they’ll intertwine.
There are only four episodes left, so stuff’s gotta start happening fast. At the risk of leaving a lot of unanswered Big Questions, however, these small-scale episodes are working just fine for The Leftovers, especially with actors like Christopher Eccleston (so good last week), Carrie Coon, and Regina King grounding some of the show’s more far-fetched ideas with deeply-felt performances.