Season 2, Episode 6: “Lens”
For a moment, we’re left to believe something interesting is about to happen. The episode begins with a well paced and enigmatic tracking of a researcher’s effort to argue that – in contrast to the beliefs of the MIT group we saw earlier in the season – the departures were driven through specific people, not location. The idea is referred to as “Lensing”, where apparently someone emits ultraviolet rays in such a way that causes people to lift and depart. When you initially hear this theory, its fairly infuriating, akin to learning in The Phantom Menace, that The Force is just a whole bunch of microscopic organisms (seriously, fuck “midi-cholrians”). Given David Lindelof’s thoughts on such issues in the past, it’s clear this idea isn’t meant to be taken very seriously beyond creating enough doubt in Nora to make her fundamentally reassess her responsibility for her family’s departure.
In a highly un-Leftovers fashion, we get a lot of answers in this episode to some earlier mysteries and recurring oddities. For instance, its noted that the continual goat sacrifices are one of a variety of rituals different townsfolk have adopted in the belief that they contributed to their immunity from the departure.
More importantly, we learn that Erika considered leaving John before her daughter’s disappearance. In an uneven episode, this penultimate scene of “Lens” is one of the best crafted moments of the season. Nora begins blithely administering the revised departure questionnaire, subtly asserting her authority, as she has countless times before, and searching for any sign that she’s not a lens. The shots become tighter and tighter, drawing the audience further into the tension and gradually inverting each character’s status. Nora slowly begins to break Erika down, resulting in a host of admissions, the most notable being that she feels personal guilt over Evie’s departure because she wished her kids would be ok without her. It turns out her release of a buried bird in “Axis Mundi” was tied to a myth her grandmother told her about wish-making. It’s a fairly convoluted explanation for what would be inexplicable behavior in any other context or show, but the borderline instability characters exhibit in a post-departure world has always been a hallmark of the show and only heightened in Season 2.
These schizophrenic overtones are evident throughout “Lens”. Erika lashes out at the town for its adherence to superstition, but a cites a fantastical yarn to explain her daughter’s disappearance and presumed departure. Nora acts unfazed by the prospect she might be personally responsible for her family’s loss, but Erika sees through the facade and exposes her underlying insecurities. Their relationship is a subset of the larger dualism between the Garveys and Murphys more generally, who couldn’t seem more different on the surface, but have so much similar grief between them. And then of course there’s Kevin, whose actual schizophrenia continues to reveal itself.
While we get some minor plot movement along the way – we learn Tom has left Laurie and is probably heading for Jarden – the major focus is on Nora and Erika. I can’t help but compare this season with the most recent iteration of True Detective and note the similarities in how well the show seems to execute on the little things, perhaps at the expense of the larger narrative. That show hit its stride in the last two episodes before puttering out in the finale. Something similar will probably happen here, and with four episodes left things are going to start moving pretty quickly, so this might be one of the last character heavy pieces we see until the finale.
When is Mary going to speak? Janel Moloney may not be a household name, but her profile as an actress is certainly high enough to warrant more screen time (whether through more visions or an actual awakening).
“Let he who is without sin cast the first stone” – the reference here is fairly on the nose, but it’s fun to see it bookend the episode (first with Nora breaking Erika’s window and then vice versa).