Previously on The Leftovers, “The Most Powerful Man in the World (And His Identical Twin Brother)”
I was so sure I was going to love this series finale, but I didn’t. The acting, music, and direction were all flawless, as usual. It’s the writing I take issue with, because for the first time, it felt manipulative. Of course, all writing is manipulative; the writer(s) wants you to feel a certain way. But The Leftovers has never left me feeling manipulated until now. So much so, that this episode changed the way I feel about the two that came before it: “Certified” and “The Most Powerful Man in the World (And His Identical Twin Brother)” — especially “Certified.”
The first 20 minutes or so are spent showing us what happened shortly after we last saw Nora in episode 6. She has convinced the scientists to let her use the machine and is filming her statement indemnifying them for her decision. Dr. Bekker, ever the skeptic, has Nora do it twice, the second time saying the names of her children. While they prepare the machine, Nora has a beautiful and funny conversation with Matt in which they play a game of Mad Libs (Matt Libs) to write her obituary, and he admits he fears dying and he fears living (and preaching) with the knowledge that he doesn’t have the answers.
Nora gets into the machine as instructed and the compartment fills with a mystery liquid that will harden once irradiated, leaving beyond a fossil of person. Just when it appears that she’s either going to scream and change her mind, or scream, take a deep breath and go through with it, the scene cuts.
We’re in the future with “Sarah,” who lies to the nun about knowing a Kevin. After she learns Kevin showed the nun a picture of Nora, Nora rushes home and prepares to flee until Kevin knocks on her door. He claims to only know her as the woman he spoke to in the hallway at the high school Christmas dance. They never fell in love, adopted a child, and moved to Texas. He’s on vacation and was shocked to see her ride by on a bike, but he wants to catch up that evening at a nearby dance. Nora declines, and immediately calls Laurie (yes, Laurie) to accuse her of telling Kevin where she was. Laurie insists she didn’t; she didn’t tell Kevin about her and she doesn’t tell Nora anything about back home. That’s been their deal.
Nora does go to the dance where Kevin keeps up the charade. They dance, but Nora cuts it short and rushes out. She can’t do it if it’s not true. Kevin comes clean at her house the next day. He’s been coming to Australia once a year, looking for her because he never believed she was gone/dead. Once he found her, he panicked and came up with the idea to act as though their messy past never happened.
Nora then admits that she went through the machine and landed in a world that lost 98% of its population seven years prior. It took a long time, but she eventually found her family — years older and happy — in the same house where she lost them. They don’t see her, and she realizes it’s for the best. She tracks down the scientist who built the machine (remember: he was the first to use it) and convinced him to build another to send her home. So much time had passed when she returned that she decided not to contact Kevin, and why would he believe her? But he does believe her and the series end with the two crying and holding hands.
They Had it Right the First Time
Listen, I’ve been all in on The Leftovers being, at its heart, a love story with extraordinary tales of how people cope with loss. Even though I had a soft spot for Kevin and Laurie (mainly due to my love for Amy Brenneman), I wanted the series to end with Kevin and Nora reunited and happy. But this doesn’t feel… earned. At all.
Last week, Assassin Kevin told President Kevin that they fucked up with Nora, and I said on the podcast that felt like it absolved Nora of the ways she contributed to their toxic relationship. I also said I hoped that “The Book of Nora” showed Nora work through her shit the way Kevin did. Though I didn’t think the episode had done enough to convince me that Kevin was “okay” and wouldn’t try to return to wherever the hell it was he went when he died on the next SD anniversary, I was able to live with it.
But did Nora work through her shit? Has she changed enough for us to believe these two would have a happily ever after? We’ll talk about her incredible story in a bit, but whether the machine worked or she changed her mind, the fact remained that she hid in Australia (presumably for decades) and let Kevin believe (as far as she knew) that she was dead. That’s… not okay.
He has spent every year since using his two weeks of annual vacation searching for her on a vast continent with nothing but a photo and his gut feeling. Romantic? Eh. Healthy? No. Then, when he does find her, he tells this huge lie. What the hell was he going to do if she went with it?
Also right the first time? Laurie’s death. I know I’m not the only one who was confused as hell when Kevin showed up with no memory of their relationship and Laurie answered that phone, and I’m sure many people considered (like me) that this was some kind of afterlife or that Kevin had followed Nora through the machine. Hell, we’ve all seen LOST. The Laurie reveal added to that because not only did her suicide feel certain, but the cast and producers gave interviews in which they confirmed it. Apparently, the decision to kill Laurie split the writers room so badly that it made it impossible for them to break the final two episodes. They hashed it out, and after Lindelof viewed the final scene of episode 6, they decided to include the finale reveal that she didn’t die. And I’m sorry, but, that’s exactly what it feels like. I’ve often applauded The Leftovers for not showing the seams, but this feels hastily, poorly stitched together.
Let the Mystery Be
I’d made my peace with not learning what happened to the departed, and it’s been fun speculating the show’s more supernatural elements. Nora tells a story that explains what happened to the departed, but doesn’t touch on why. I love the idea that the 2% actually have it harder because they lost damn near the entire world. And though we have no way of knowing how happy Nora’s family truly were seven years later (I’m sure there were times when Nora and Kevin’s family unit look happy and healthy to an outsider), it makes sense that she’d decide to leave things as they are.
That’s if she’s telling the truth.
The idea that she either came up with this elaborate lie on the spot or planned it doesn’t sit well with me — especially because this is, they keep saying, a love story. Since we were warned they’d never tell us what happened to the departed, we have to assume Nora is lying, right? If so, that doesn’t feel like the proper way to give this toxic relationship another chance. It’s possible that Kevin had already told himself he’d accept whatever reason Nora gave if it meant they might be together again.
In the end, it comes down to what you believe and what you want to believe. I choose to believe Nora is telling the truth; I need her to be telling the truth to feel better about choosing to believe that Nora and Kevin will spend the rest of their days together.
Please, don’t misunderstand: a disappointing episode of The Leftovers is still better than everything else currently on television. I suspect I won’t see performances such as the ones delivered by Coon and Theroux any time soon. Hell, their dancing and crying was more powerful than most dialogue.
The music has been perfection this entire series; especially Max Richter’s score.
I knew that if we got closure on the other characters it would come in the form of conversation and I’m fine with that. And it’s good to know that Mary worked things through with Matt before he died and that John forgave Laurie for drugging him and his son.
Leave your thoughts on the episode below or on our Facebook post for this review, and we’ll read them on tonight’s podcast.
The Leftovers S3E8
"The Book of Nora"
The Leftovers – S3E8 – “The Book of Nora” | Starring: Justin Theroux, Carrie Coon, Regina King, Christopher Eccleston, Jasmin Savoy Brown, Jovan Adepo, Amy Brenneman, Kevin Carroll, Scott Glenn, Margaret Qualley, Liv Tyler | Written by: Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta | Directed by: Mimi Leder