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REVIEW – The Leftovers: Series Finale

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SEASON 3, EPISODE 8: THE BOOK OF NORA

Over here, we lost some of them, but over there, they lost all of us. – Nora Durst

“Let the Mystery Be” – Iris DeMent (1992)

Everybody’s wonderin’ what and where they they all came from

Everybody’s worryin’ ’bout where they’re gonna go
When the whole thing’s done

But no one knows for certain

And so it’s all the same to me

I think I’ll just let the mystery be

So many things in each of our lives are out of our reach, beyond our grasp, and past our understanding. These items, these occurrences, these experiences exceed our control and act independently of our will. For some of us, it’s the addiction that comes after that first drink, that first website, or that first bet. For others, it’s the woman we treat like a queen that inexplicably wants an awful human being instead of us. Still others fall into jobs they didn’t earn, or end up in circumstances that seemingly make no sense.

The key to all of it is an implicit contract with the universe that there will be encounters with forces, both visible and invisible, that will both effect and affect us, without our consent or agreement. It’s the essence of belief, of faith, of compassion, and yes, of love.

The Leftovers never promised an answer to The Departure. Neither Damon Lindelof, nor Tom Perrotta began this series with any notions of telling the audience the why. This story was always concerned with the aftermath of an unforeseen, uncontrollable event. Through it’s dark sense of humor, the show was able to balance its bleak nature with an approachable whimsy. There simply wasn’t anything like it on television, and as we’ve now said goodbye to Kevin, Nora, Matt, Laurie, Senior, John, Patty, and all the rest, the only emotion I’m left with is gratitude.

It’s the brand of thanks that comes after both time and effort have been rewarded, when a group of people perform at the highest level, and when a story’s conclusion allows us to walk away satisfied, spent, and spellbound. When the credits rolled for the final time, I sat back and began to try and process what the episode meant to me, and what its purpose was for me as a viewer. This was utter magic. The finale was stellar, and the series is among the best I’ve ever seen. I loved it.

I will miss it, but it disappears on the highest of notes, following three terrific seasons. It didn’t outstay its welcome, didn’t have its down year, and never had an opportunity to get old or stale. Like Deadwood, we may appreciate it most because we all wanted more.

My own feelings may be unique from yours, which is wonderful. I hope you’ll share your thoughts after reading mine, but entertainment is both a personal and collective experience. We discuss these songs, these shows, these plays, these movies and many times, we bond with new friends over a connection to the art we cherish. But, when we’re alone, working to understand a creative intent, I’ve always found it best to take what I desire from the series first, and then discover the differences between my ending and the intended close.

“The Book of Nora” was the other half of “The Book of Kevin,” reflecting the truth for both title subjects. Nora’s book wasn’t written on paper, nor was it burned in an Australian hotel room, but once we finished hearing her tale, The Leftovers could take a bow and exit the stage. At its essence, this series was about these two people, and the others we encountered along the way were branches off one, or both of their trees.

It’s fitting that in the finale, we didn’t see many of the characters we’ve come to respect and appreciate, because the message was always within Kevin and Nora. Their world views may have shifted somewhat due to these other people in their lives, but this story needed to end around its two shaky beacons of flickering light.

Oh, and also around a literal scapegoat, with beads that transferred from the animal to the human, and then to a table in a house that would serve as the final set piece for one of the more extraordinary pieces of fiction in recent memory. Trapped on a hill by the crosses of others, Nora ended up being the actual savior, and also the combination to the series’ safe.

Those things that occur in our lives without explanation and without logic are frightening. The Leftovers provided us an extreme example of one such happening, and for three seasons, we watched those left behind attempt to piece together the shattered shards of what they once knew. It became apparent very early on that following the Departure, nothing would be the same.

Relationships were strained, minds and hearts wavered, and some took an oath of silence and cigarettes as a coping mechanism. Others engaged in orgies on ferries, done in honor of a virile lion. People burned their arms with forks, put plastic bags over their heads, put on bulletproof vests and shot themselves, or put their faith in scams. We can’t blame any of these individuals for what they did, because we have no idea how we would handle ourselves in a similar situation.

What we cannot control, we fear. But, through that process, we must never lose sight of what’s truly important. Here is where the finale struck every right chord, as it ended in soft, peaceful triumph. While none of us can know the exact second we’ll take our last breath, we have complete authority over each preceding breath…until we don’t.

Nora Durst spent her post-Departure life debunking fantasy theories and crushing dreams and spirits of those who wanted their “nicer story.” She was cynical, she was often cold, and she was internally tarnished and tormented. Rather than embrace the world, she instead did what she could to make everyone else feel her pain. She wasn’t evil, but she was broken.

Kevin Garvey was also broken, and whether it was Mapleton or Miracle, he was always unpredictably predictable. He was a walking illustration of self-sabotage, just as Nora was, and never allowed himself to be happy with what he had. For such a long period of time, these two people were both together and apart; best friends and perfect strangers. There was never a dance of joy, and in its place was a waltz of survival.

During the most outlandish of moments, The Leftovers still grounded itself in a foundation of the Departure making anything possible. Nothing was egregiously incorrect, because in a world where two percent of the population could vanish into thin air, who are we to cast aspersions on the legitimacy of any other event? This enabled the show to be gloriously weird and consistently off-kilter, and it also provided a sandbox for Lindelof, Perrotta, Leder, which they used to create some of the more stunning castles and structures we’ve seen on television in many years.

You drive me fucking nuts, but you’ve always been a great gecko, Matt. – Nora

It turns out the con wasn’t a lie at all, and the doctors and their crazy machine were who they said they were. Prior to Nora’s odyssey, she and Matt had their purest interaction, mixed with Mad Libs and geckos, and as she stepped into the truck, we knew those two people loved one another as brother and sister. They cared for each other. They wanted the best for each other. They would sacrifice for each other. And, sometimes they’d stay quiet and just support each other.

It took a while to get them to the point where it could be verbalized, but no words were even necessary. Carrie Coon and Christopher Eccleston’s eyes, their faces, told us all we needed to know. It was a masterpiece of an opening. We didn’t know then it would be the last time we’d see Matt Jamison, but it was a tremendous sendoff, just as Senior with his son on the roof was last week. These were two family relationships where the love gushed from every direction.

The scene that ended “The Book of Kevin” made a return, just as we all anticipated, but the video didn’t cut this time. We visited Nora’s new home, her job, and we even hung out for a while in her bathroom, at least until she freed us of the burden. Any thoughts that this was merely an alternate timeline went out the window as soon as she was asked if she knew a man named Kevin. Coon’s eyes raised almost to our level as she stared into the abyss, before saying “no.”

We weren’t in a parallel universe during the finale. We were in the future. Recall last week after the storm, Senior telling his son he didn’t know what to do. He had only planned to arrive on that one day, but the world didn’t come to an end. Laurie dove into the ocean, maybe to die, or maybe just to tell death to take its best shot, but she also stayed with us.

The world of The Leftovers didn’t stop, it continued onward as it always had, which was true one second after the Departure, every moment before it, and every moment after it. When the planet ceases to spin isn’t something we can plan for, and any attempts to do so aren’t just futile, they’re self-destructive and wasteful.

Nora? Kevin. Kevin Garvey. I don’t know if you remember me. I was the Chief of Police in Mapleton. – Kevin

The Kevin Garvey that showed up on Nora’s doorstep was an older man, but one full of smiles, full of life, and full of charisma. All of the fake-Kevin sequences were entertaining, but they were also the set-up for the Kevin Garvey that walked from that car and confronted Nora outside her home.

Everything that took place in three seasons of The Leftovers came down to that final 20 minutes and culminated over tea in Nora’s kitchen. It was one conversation, but the words we heard spoke volumes. The line I chose to begin this piece was one some had speculated might be in the offing, but it’s something many of us overlooked. Two percent of the population disappeared, leaving despair for the other 98 that remained. But, we should have stopped and considered the alternative. If that smaller group moved to another world, another plane of existence, imagine THEIR lives.

Two percent is significant, but 98 is something completely different. Imagine the desolation, the loneliness, the chances these people would end up in a place where they knew no one, but still remembered an absent everyone. Who were the Leftovers? Was it the crew we chilled with for three years? I’d say it was both groups, but if it could only be one, it would have to be those we never had much chance to know.

You called me because you want me to say it’s okay to go to the dance. – Laurie

Nora found her old home, found her husband and her children, and realized she had no place in the world. She was smart enough to find the original doctor and get out of there, back to the only place where she felt she belonged. This was heartbreaking to listen to, but it was also illuminating. Those that paid for the service and filmed testimonials wanted closure. Nora got closure, but not in the way she expected. She saw her family happy, and she knew she couldn’t be a part of that any longer.

It was beyond her control.

The Departure wasn’t explainable, and if The Leftovers had tried to give us a definitive “why,” many people would have poked holes in it and been disappointed. This is why I continue to argue the Lost finale was so good, because it did the only thing it could. It used God to tie up every loose end that a script couldn’t. This time around, Damon Lindelof again went with something simple, but it was somehow even more effective.

We can’t control everything, but we must remember, especially in the worst of times, that we can control what we do in the time we’re given, and who we choose to spend our one precious life with. That is what I took from The Leftovers. Despite all the hardship, confusion, and misery, Kevin Garvey and Nora Durst found each other. They would lose each other a few times along the way, once for many unrecoverable years, but love was stronger than anything else.

That’s how I found you, Nora. I refused to believe you were gone. – Kevin

These two people were meant to be together, and they were meant to endure the good and bad by each other’s side. What led to their first chat in that high school hallway was unthinkable, but it was greater than both of them. How do you cope with something so earth shattering? You wake up in the morning and you live, and you look for your purpose in another.

Nora’s story was haunting, but gorgeous, and although I was doing pretty well until we sat down for tea, I realized a few tears were flowing once they reached my cheek. The best stories breed involuntary reaction, and there was no stopping the emotions that welled up in that last few minutes. When she finished speaking in the single best scene on TV this year, nothing more needed to be said.

Kevin believed her, because he trusted her, and because after all they’d been through both together and apart, just as we couldn’t question anything that had happened on the show, he couldn’t question one word she said. Both Justin Theroux and Carrie Coon were just superb here, as they’ve been since moment one on this series.

The pigeons then finally returned, signifying that spread of love from the wedding reception. It had reached everywhere, because it had actually broken down the walls between these two people. All of the birds converged at once outside Nora’s home. The symbolism here was clear. Kevin Garvey and Nora Durst completed each other’s circle, and both had finally figured it out.

It wasn’t about what was. It wasn’t about what was taken away.

It was about what is. It was about what was given.

And, it was about what was yet to come.

I’m @JMartOutkick. Bruce has erectile dysfunction.

Written by Jason Martin