The Story Behind the Wu-Tang Clan Symbolism on 'The Leftovers'

John Russell
Van Redin/HBO.

Carrie Coon as Nora Durst and Regina King as Erika Murphy on The Leftovers.

Sunday night’s episode of HBO's The Leftovers starts off with a very obvious nod to Perfect Strangers, foreshadowing the ultimate payoff of the show’s long-running bit about the cast of the '80s sitcom. But as that familiar theme song plays over the show’s opening titles you may have noticed another, more subtle, pop culture reference embedded in the show’s credits.

The writing credit for "Don't Be Ridiculous" goes to “Tha Lonely Donkey Kong and Specialist Contagious,” names that come directly from the online Wu-Tang Clan name generator that turned one Donald Glover into Childish Gambino. So, you’d be safe in assuming that writers and creators Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta are as into the Staten Island hip-hop group as they are The Walking Dead, right?

Wrong.

“I can name like three members of the Wu-Tang Clan,” Lindelof admits on the latest episode of pop culture podcast The Watch. “I’m familiar with their music, but I can’t count myself as like…Martin Shkreli,” he explains, referencing the controversial pharma bro who purchased the group’s one-of-a-kind album Once Upon a Time in Shaolin for $2 million in 2015.

Lindelof goes on to explain that the idea for the episode’s inspired “Wu-Tang Trampoline” scene with Nora (Carrie Coon) and Erika (Regina King) started off with Nora’s cast and what she was covering up.

“The idea was she went to get a tattoo with her children’s names on it because Nora’s a character who, when we first meet her, is pushing coffee cups over in cafes so people will recognize her and basically they’ll look at her and they will acknowledge her loss. But now we’re seven years later and she’s in a place separate, far from her home and people don’t know what she’s lost anymore. So she’s like, How can I broadcast this fact that I’m basically a 9/11 widow? I need people to know. But in the process of getting her children’s names tattooed on her she totally becomes self-aware and says, That’s pathetic. I’m pathetic. I have to stop this. I need to cover up this tattoo. And she points to another tattoo on the wall to cover up her children’s names. What should that be?”

Story editor Tamara Carter suggested the Wu-Tang insignia, as well as the trampoline, as the non-traditional coping mechanism that Erika shares with Nora. Coon and King jumping on a trampoline to the right Wu-Tang track sounded amazing to Lindelof. “It has to feel the opposite of putting on a bulletproof vest or a bag over your head,” Lindelof says. “It has to feel like it’s healing, because Erika is basically like, The show is actually over for me. You go on, but I’m actually good now.”

While we all know at this point which members of the Perfect Strangers cast departed, Lindelof can only speculate on which members of the Wu-Tang Clan may have disappeared in the Sudden Departure. “I think probably Ghostface Killah would be the most obvious—Oh, no! U-God!”

The Leftovers, Sundays, 9/8c, HBO