This The Leftovers review contains spoilers.
The Leftovers Season 3 Episode 8
If The Leftovers began with a sharp punch to the gut, it ended with a soft kiss on the forehead. In its series finale, The Leftovers was quiet and sublimely beautiful, wrapping up Kevin and Nora’s story, which last week’s episode proved to be the true heart of the series. Season 2’s credits theme “Let the Mystery Be” appropriately returned, because as promised, we never learned exactly what caused the Sudden Departure, but the show was never about that. The Leftovers was a series about grieving, about blind faith and ambiguity, the things and people we turn to when faced with unimaginable circumstances, and about love. The Leftovers series finale seemed to say that with love, the answers to life’s mysteries don’t seem to matter as much.
“The Book of Nora” begins with Nora recording her testimonial before she enters the Departure Machine. Nora claims she’s of sound mind, but she’s combative, emotional, and barely fighting back tears. Risking death to be reunited with her children, Nora doesn’t balk at the “fossil” that’s rolled past her on the way to the machine or the cold, industrial, yet slightly unorganized feel of the whole operation. Staying by her side until she enters the trailer that holds the machine, Matt mocks up a mad-lib obituary for Nora, the last bit of black comedy that the series produces. Their conversation turns more serious, with Nora recalling a story about her brother endearingly nicknaming her the “bravest girl in the world” and Matt relaying his fears about returning to Mary and dying. It’s the first time in the series that I’ve believed that the pair were actually siblings and it’s a memorable goodbye. Nora heads naked into the machine, but just before she’s submerged in the metal-infused liquid, she appears to scream “Stop!”
The screen turns sky blue before we’re back in Australia and reunited with older Nora, or “Sarah,” who learns that a man named Kevin is looking for her. Nora rushes home and begins packing her things, looking to flee before Kevin discovers her, but it’s too late. A knock on the door reveals an older Kevin, but something is off. Kevin is acting as if he and Nora were just causal acquaintances, not acknowledging anything that happened between them after their initial meeting at the holiday dance in Mapleton. Kevin says he just happened to be vacationing in middle-of-nowhere Australia when he spotted Nora, and remembering the slight crush he had on her, decided to see if she would accompany him to a dance in the town later that evening. At first glance, it’s like Nora is in some alternate timeline where the events of the show never occurred.
Clearly confused and shaken by Kevin’s appearance, Nora firmly asks Kevin to leave before she heads out to call her therapist, Laurie, who we learn is alive, well, and conspicuously with child. Laurie can’t wrap her head around why Kevin is displaying selective memory either, and Nora doesn’t believe that Laurie knew nothing about Kevin’s search for her. After a quiet evening in the bath ends with Nora almost locking herself in her bathroom, she decides to head into to town to confront Kevin. It turns out that the dance Kevin invited Nora to is actually a wedding for a couple that Kevin met at his hotel. The two begin talking and Kevin catches Nora up on life in the States while she sarcastically asks leading questions about their history together, the history that he is failing to remember. Caught up in a fun, yet moving wedding, the pair eventually get up to dance, but Nora breaks away, knowing that Kevin is lying about how he found her and other details about his life.
After some symbolic asides about Nora’s pigeons not returning, a lying nun, a scapegoat, and Nora emblematically donning the sins of man, Kevin returns to Nora’s ranch, dropping the act. Parts of his original story were true; Matt’s funeral was beautiful and well-attended, Jill is married and Tom is divorced but both are doing fine, Kevin Sr. is still kicking at 91, and he does have a serious heart problem. But Kevin is still living in Jarden next to Laurie and John, in the house that he and Nora shared, and of course he remembers their time together. Heartbreakingly, Kevin tells Nora that every year he uses his two-week vacation to come to Australia to look for her. Though it seemed crazy and illogical, Kevin believed that Nora was still out there and that he would see her again. It’s just another example of a character on this show giving into blind faith to cope with their problems. To avoid all of the horrible things he said to Nora in their last meeting, he decided he’d just act like it was all erased so he could start over.
If Kevin’s story is tearjerker, Nora’s is a devastator; she tells Kevin that she went through with the procedure and woke up in the same parking lot that she left, yet all of the people, trucks, and equipment were gone. It turns out that Nora did successfully send herself to the other side, an alternate Earth where 98 percent of the world’s population disappeared instead of two. After a long and difficult journey, Nora ended up back in deserted Mapleton to find her two children and husband, with a new wife in tow, living happily together. “In a world full of orphans, they had each other,” Nora says, finally realizing that instead of dwelling on her grief over her children, she could have embraced the people that she had left, like Kevin. It’s another perfectly executed monologue by Carrie Coon, but I have to question why the writers chose to just tell us this story instead of showing it to us. Perhaps instead of showing Nora’s strange journey on the other side and focusing on the show’s central mystery, the writers instead wanted to focus on Kevin and Nora’s love story.
The series ends with Nora telling Kevin that she never wrote or called because she feared that he wouldn’t believe her, but Kevin knows a thing or two about unbelievable trips to strange places. He compassionately grabs her hand and tells her that of course he believes her, because “you’re here.” That affirmation melts Nora’s defenses, and she smiles and cries tears of happiness. Reunited, with their demons behind them and the weight of the Departure relinquished, The Leftovers ends with Kevin and Nora gazing longingly in each other’s eyes as Nora’s pigeons return with their messages of love. For a show that could be so heavy and crushing, it’s such a comforting and lovely conclusion. The Leftovers was peculiar, upsetting, hilarious, powerful, and constantly engaging, a truly original show with a unique point of view and unmatched sense of daring. I’ll miss it dearly but can confidently say Damon Lindelof need not worry that he botched another ending, in fact it’s quite the contrary; he nailed it.