The Leftovers has come to an end. Three years of experiencing the maddening doubt of inexplicable loss through the eyes of an eclectic ensemble of characters and it turns out we were watching a love story the entire time.
“The Book of Nora” is as elegantly simple and simply beautiful a series finale as one could ask for. It provides potential answers while refusing to confirm anything; it gives us one final, meaningful look at characters we’ve grown to love; and it is as emotionally charged as anything on television has ever been.
This final hour (and a bit) devotes its first third or so to picking up where Nora (Carrie Coon) and Matt’s (Christopher Eccleston) adventures left off and seeing Nora through to her final destination, so to speak. She and her brother say their goodbyes, she records her last will and testament, she makes the final decision to enter to magical radiation departure machine, and she takes the plunge.
This sequence is wrought with tension; the description of the machine is horrific, and imagining being in the situation Nora is putting herself in is anxiety-inducing to say the least. One can only imagine the dread and nervousness she is feeling as she’s being prepped, unsure of whether or not she’ll die or be reunited with her family, or if something else entirely will happen to her.
Within this mini-chapter we are also treated to Matt’s final scene, in which he voices his fears about dying of cancer and leaving a world in which he has a wife who still loves him and a son who barely knows him, and in which he has far fewer answers than he once believed. For a man who was known throughout the series for his faith, his final words only illustrate doubt.
The same doubt permeates Nora’s world, not only when she enters the chamber that will ostensibly seal her fate, but in the following scenes as well.
Nora sits naked in a fetal position as radiated water fills her small cell, her fear growing. The liquid rises higher and higher until it is below her chin, and at than moment she appears to yell out.
But we do not get to hear what she yells.
Instead, we flash forward several years, and meet an older Nora (whom we already got a glimpse of at the end of the season premiere). She appears to be alive and well, and still within the same reality, keeping birds and laying low. And then Kevin (Justin Theroux) shows up and complicates things.
When I claimed earlier that The Leftovers turned out to be a love story, I was not only referring to the relationship between Nora Durst and Kevin Garvey. Of course, that love story is the most prominent traditional example in the series, but it is not the whole series. Rather, it is an effective lens through which the series has explored the concept of love in the face of grief.
Throughout the show’s run, we’ve seen characters react and respond to the Sudden Departure in many ways, and the ones who have managed to survive the loss they’ve endured have done so through love and love alone. All those who turned to hate and apathy, such as the members of the Guilty Remnant, met sad and ignominious fates. On the other hand, love of family, friends, god and life have all been saving graces.
So in the final moments of the series, after Kevin has apparently spent years trying to get back to Nora, never believing that she was dead or gone, the two hold hands and cry together. Nora claims she went to the other side and came back, realizing she did not belong in the world of the departed. But we never find out if this is true because we never see it with our own eyes—we only hear Nora’s version.
And that’s all we need, and all Kevin needs.
He believes her because she’s there.
It is unclear if the two will rekindle their relationship, though it seems likely. But ultimately it doesn’t matter if these two individuals are romantically linked. What matters is that they are there for one another, and that they understand one another, and that in a world in which a massive swathe of the population can be stripped away for seemingly no reason, all you really need is love.
- We, of course, never ended up getting an out and out explanation for the Departure, though Nora’s story was fairly convincing. In hindsight it seems like a no-brainer that any potential answer would have to be delivered secondhand, because that would be the only way to maintain the mystery.
- It looks like Laurie didn’t end up committing suicide, unless one decides to believe that the world we see in the finale is separate from the one we have been following. Either way, her final episode stands stronger on its own than in relation to this one.
- Ultimately, though we never got confirmation on anything, it is clear that some of the events taking place in the Leftovers universe are either supernatural or supernatural-adjacent. But beyond vague hints, I suppose we’ll never know for sure what was going on.