OK. Deep breath. It’s time for the series finale of The Leftovers. It’s not what you expect, but I think it’s what we all needed. There’s a lot to say and it’s going to take more than one post to cover it all, but we have to start somewhere. So let’s begin “The Book of Nora” and remember that it’s OK to cry. Because you will.
The “previously on” focuses heavily on Matt and Nora, going back to the first episode. And this week’s theme song is the Season Two theme, “Let the Mystery Be”. It’s so good to have the visuals synced up to the right audio as we close things out.
We open with Nora recording the waiver/testimonial for the physicists. They reject her first attempt because it’s not believable. Nora takes that as well as you can imagine, and we get the backstory that she basically bullied them into letting her use the machine. Then they insist that she include the names of her children in her waiver, and you can tell it hurts to say those names out loud.
As Dr. Eden leads Nora and Matt through their operation, they catch sight of what can best be described as a large geode with a person-shaped absence in the middle. Eden likens it to a fossil, and Nora tells Matt she can keep his. And now, it’s time to explain the procedure. After a saline drip, she has to disrobe outside the truck then enter and walk to the Event Chamber. She has to climb in and curl up (they demonstrate this with a doll in a bowl). The chamber will fill with a liquid that feels like water is full of irradiated metal. It will solidify around her and she can’t ingest any of it. It sounds horrifying, but Nora is ready to go.
During her saline drip, she and Matt prepare her obituary as a Mad Lib. Said Lib actually mentions her departed loved ones and Matt’s terminal illness, so it’s more of a Sad Lib. (TM Travis McElroy) It’s cute, and Carrie Coon and Christopher Eccleston have such amazing chemistry in this scene They feel like brother and sister and it’s so natural, but when you think about it, they’ve barely had any scenes together over the course of the series. Either the producers actually raised them together from childhood in the interest of building this rapport, or else these two are both just phenomenal.
They talk about how her grandparents used to send her to Bible camp and she hated it, but Matt would always send her a Mad Lib in every letter, addressed to “the bravest girl on Earth”. And this episode made me cry several times, but I just now noticed that she calls them “Matt Libs”, and that absolutely destroyed me. She loves him for not talking her out of this even though he’s scared for both of them. He’s scared to go back to his family and he’s scared to die, and he’s more scared that he might live and he’ll never be able to stand up in front of people and tell them he has the answers when he doesn’t know anything.
Nora asks if he wants to come with her, and he answers “I think, dear sister, that defeats the purpose”. He promises he’ll only tell people what she wants him to about today and now. The doctors interrupt to ask if she’s ready and Matt says of course – “she’s the bravest girl on Earth”. And then, it’s all Nora. She takes off her clothes outside the truck and goes forward. Inside the truck, it’s a naked woman surrounded by coils and high-tech equipment, and it’s a nice reverse of the dude in the nuclear submarine. As she walks, she flashes back to the last time she saw her kids and we’re reminded that the very last thing she did was scream at her daughter for spilling juice on her phone. Nora enters the chamber and she’s holding it together, but just barely. They give Matt a chance to say “I love you” over the intercom and then the chamber starts to fill with fluid. She starts to scream something at the last second, and then we cut to blue sky.
It’s the scene from the end of the season premiere where “Sarah” delivers the doves to a nun. As far as I can tell, it’s the exact same scene but it’s just cut a little bit differently so we see Nora’s face occasionally. And let’s call her Nora because otherwise it’s going to get very confusing.
Later I’ll talk about where my head was at throughout this, because you had to wonder whether this was a dream or her version of the afterlife, or maybe the other place where everybody went. But it’ll be explained so for now let’s just accept everything that happens and we’ll find out why and how soon enough.
The first time we saw this scene, it ended with Nora saying “no” when the nun asked if the name ‘Kevin’ meant anything. Later, I assumed that had something to do with all the talk of an immortal police chief by that name. But now the scene goes on – she says somebody named Kevin was looking for somebody matching her description and he had a picture of her. Nora bikes home and makes some breakfast then she seemingly has this flash of insight and starts packing in a panic. And then there’s a knock at the door – it’s Kevin. He’s got gray in his hair and he’s a little wrinkled but he’s handsome as ever and smiling in a way we don’t usually see from him. He introduces himself and wonders if the remembers him from Mapleton. He says they only talked a couple of times, but they talked in the hallway at that high school dance. Nora can not figure out what he’s going, but Kevin goes on to say he’s been on vacation and he saw her riding around and thought he’d say hi.
She gets upset because that’s not what happened. Like, on any level. She starts to argue, but he just asks if she’s seeing anybody because there’s a dance in town tonight and he always wished he’d asked her to dance so why not give it a shot. Nora asks him to leave and he’s super cool about it. He takes it in good humor and just says he’ll be there if she changes her mind.
This leaves Nora shook and she immediately reaches for a cigarette. She then rides out to a phonebooth in the middle of a field, makes a call and demands to know “did you tell him”. She’s talking to… Laurie! Laurie didn’t tell him because she has boundaries. (“I don’t tell you about the people here and I don’t tell the people here about you”, which is such loaded phrasing if you’re still trying to figure out what realm this is.) Laurie doesn’t know what he’s doing in Australia and asks Nora what she wants. The fact that she called means that she’s maybe looking for somebody to tell her it’s OK to go to the dance. Nora doesn’t take this well. She’s so mad and I love it. So does Laurie.
She heads back home and locks every door and window. Then she draws herself a bath and this is crazy, but the door to the bathroom does not really seem to be attached. Like, she has to move it into place by herself. Also, the doorknob is at eye level, which is super weird. My friend Sam has a door in his house that’s at knee level, and that’s no less weird. After she cleans up, she can’t get the door unlocked and there’s this moment of panic and she finally has to throw herself at the door to knock it loose.
And sure enough, she ends up riding into town and there’s very definitely something happening that’s just filling the streets. But if you look around, it’s not a dance – it’s very clearly a huge outdoor wedding reception. She spots Kevin, who’s sitting at one of the tables. Also, everybody seems to have beaded necklaces. Nora calls him out on the “dance” and he concedes that it’s a wedding, but people are dancing. Kevin explains how he met the couple, and he really just ran into them at the hotel bar and made friends. Nora wants to know why he came to Australia, and he explains that his father talked about it a lot so he had to try it out. Nora asks if he’s going to keep this up and just gets a “Keep what up?” It’s not totally clear what’s happening just yet, but I really like this side of Kevin. In fact, I just realized I’m not calling him by his last name, as is my usual wont. He’s so happy and friendly, he just seems more like a “Kevin”.
She asks him about their past, either trying to jog his memory or catch him in the lie. He claims to not even remember the second time they met, at the courthouse when she invited him to go to Miami. He admits he knows her brother – “I was hoping you would come to the funeral”. It was a beautiful service, a crowd of 400, Mary gave the eulogy. That’s a tough moment for both of them. Then Nora asks about Jill and Tom, and Kevin is surprised she remembers their names. (“That’s a little creepy, but I am impressed.”) Jill got married and they have a one-year-old daughter. Tom’s marriage didn’t go so well, “but he landed on his feet”. And Kevin never got married again because he was waiting for Nora. Oh, also Senior is still kicking at the age of 91. Nora jokes about the Garveys being immortal, and Kevin assures her that he’s mortal. He actually has a pacemaker and offers to show her the scar.
The bride comes by to be impressed that Nora came and asks if they turned in their messages. Yeah, they’re collecting messages of love to go out around the world. This custom baffles me, but it almost seems like that’s why Nora and the nun have those doves – people rent them out for weddings and tie messages to their legs but rather than spreading around the world, they fly back to their coop. This is very confusing to me because I don’t go to a lot of elaborate weddings. Anyway, the bride makes a speech and then they release the doves. Nora asks Kevin what he wrote, and he doesn’t want to tell her. The groom gives a speech about the virtue of mistakes, and it’s goofy and sweet. And then there’s a goat. There’s a custom where a goat would be sent out into the desert, burdened with the sins of a community as some sort of cleansing ritual. The beads represent their sins and the guests just load the scapegoat with their beads.
KEVIN: At least they didn’t sacrifice it.
NORA: Have you ever seen somebody sacrifice a goat.
KEVIN: No. That’d be weird.
Oh, I am loving every second of this.
Kevin asks her to dance, and it’s very tender and for just a moment it feels like everything’s going to be OK. Until Nora asks how he found her and he repeats his exact story from before. She breaks away in tears – she can’t do this because he’s not telling the truth. And she leaves him. She bikes home to find her coops empty and that’s just the last straw. She climbs up on the roof, a recurring idea this season, for a better vantage point. Nothing.
She rides over to the nun’s place (by which I mean a convent, but I feel like there’s only one nun and that seems like the wrong word for the place where just one nun resides) and runs into a man climbing down from a second floor window. Dude makes the sign of the cross and then rides away on a motorcycle, and I honestly thought he was meant to be Celebrity Departure Gary Busey for the longest time. Nora knocks on the door and asks about her birds. The nun did what she always does and they haven’t come home yet. Nora is really aggressive here and the nun is very calm. So Nora asks about the guy she saw and suggests that he and the Nun took a trip to the Bone Zone. She swears that didn’t happen, but it’s also clear that this conversation is so much less important to her than it is to Nora.
As she rides home, the front tire gets wound in up some beads and she takes a tumble. She picks herself up and sees the goat tangled in a fence. She pulls herself up a steep incline to get to the poor thing. She frees the goat and leads it back to her house. Nora makes the goat some breakfast and heads outside to see the goat chowing down on messages of love – the ones she removed from the birds the first time we saw “Sarah”. She looks through some messages, and they’re sweet and silly. And then Kevin pulls up. Right away, he starts telling Nora how he found her and he’s mad. Not scary mad but sort of at the regular Garvey levels. He didn’t believe Matt when he said she was gone and he couldn’t believe the last time he would ever see her was that fight in the hotel. Every year, he spent his two weeks vacation in Australia showing her picture to people asking if they know here. And it’s Australia because that’s the last place he saw her and he can’t stop coming back. Then the nun recognized the picture. When he saw Nora, he didn’t know what to say so he decided to just “erase it all” and start fresh. Which obviously isn’t possible, but that was all he could do.
Nora invites him inside to tell him what happened. Well, first she asks how much of what he said at the wedding was true. The bit about his heart, Matt’s funeral, and everything he said about his family was true. He’s still in Jardin in the same house and people don’t really call it “Miracle” anymore. Michael’s running the church, Erika comes by sometimes, John’s still with Laurie and still living next door. Nora admits she talks to Laurie, but since Laurie’s her therapist, she wasn’t allowed to tell Kevin anything.
Nora explains that she went through. She went to where the Departures went. She woke up naked in the same parking lot she left, only there were no trucks and no people Empty houses, abandoned buildings. When she found a store, she took some clothes off the rack and kept walking. Finally, she met two people who told he about Departure Day. A man who said everybody in the grocery store vanished except him and a woman who lost all her children and grandchildren. These two are people who departed our world, but from their perspective, everybody else disappeared. So they live in a world where 98% of the population disappeared seven years ago. That is an awesome and chilling idea.
She set out to find her kids. There aren’t enough pilots in that world so she had to take a boat from Australia to Mapleton. She found her house but couldn’t bear to knock. As she watched the place, she saw her kids, seven years older. And there was her husband with a woman and everybody was happy. She realized how lucky they were – in a world of orphans and loneliness, they always had each other. Nora just left them alone. She went and found the scientist who invented the machine that sent her over – he tested it on himself after all. She talked him into making another machine and he sent her back.
She wanted to find Kevin and be with him, but after so much time had passed, she thought it was too late. And then he’d never believe her if she told him what happened. Kevin, simply, convincingly: “I believe you”.
Nora: “You do?”
Kevin: “Why wouldn’t I believe you? You’re here.”
They hold hands and it is a truly beautiful moment. She’s here. They’re here. As the camera pulls back, Nora’s birds return to the coop with their messages of love and The Leftovers ends. It was a love story the whole time.
You can probably tell that I thought this episode was fantastic, and there’s so much to say but this is already long and I’m short on time. I’m going to take the weekend to process it and do a follow-up next week. In the meantime, I’d love to hear what you thought – hit me up in the comments and let me know. We’ll get through it together.