No one who has watched even 30 seconds of “The Leftovers” would tell you it’s a cheery show. HBO’s ambitious, poignant, and periodically gut-wrenching drama often chases one devastating moment with another, occasionally pausing to give the viewer a brief, teary respite — if we’re lucky.
Enter Season 3. In any given episode of “The Leftovers,” tears are a sure thing, but there are scenes that spark tears of joy. From Nora’s awkwardly endearing comebacks (“Fuck your daughter!”) to Kevin’s attempts at family bonding to a giant blow-up doll of Gary Busey, the laughs are there, if you can smile through the pain.
It wasn’t easy, but we’ve rounded up the happiest, most bittersweet moments of “The Leftovers” so far. Between Season 1 and 2, the show only seems to be getting cheerier, especially following the Season 3 premiere.
[Editor’s Note: The article below contains spoilers for the first three seasons of “The Leftovers.”]
“Hail to the Chief!”
Episode: 1.09, “The Garveys At Their Best”
The penultimate episode of Season 1 takes us back to before The Departure, when the Garveys and everyone else in Mapleton were leading normal lives… which, unfortunately, isn’t to say that they were actually happy. The episode’s title, “The Garveys At Their Best,” is ironically accurate; this is certainly the best and happiest that we’ve seen them, but they are far from OK. Laurie is talking, Jill is carefree and adorable, and Tom is actually a functioning part of the family, but almost all of the cheery aspects of this episode are tainted by the knowledge of the change soon to come.
Arguably, the happiest moment comes at the “Man of the Year” party thrown for Chief Garvey (Sr). Matt gives a well-meaning speech before Kevin takes the floor, sharing an excerpt from something his dad read to him as a child: “A man said to the universe, ‘Sir? I exist.'” However, the universe replied, ‘That fact has not created in me a sense of obligation.'” He continues, “A lot of people think that the world owes them something, but you, Dad, you built your life, and mine, on your own. And now look at me. Look what I’ve got.” It’s a bittersweet moment, and one of the few times we get to see the Kevins at peace together, without the resentment and fear that ultimately defines their relationship.
“Look what I found.”
Episode 1.10 “The Prodigal Son Returns”
“I want to believe it can all go back to the way it was. I want to believe that I’m not surrounded by the abandoned ruin of a dead civilization. I want to believe it’s still possible to get close to someone. But it’s easier not to.”
Nora’s goodbye letter, which echoes over the last few scenes of the Season 1 finale, is addressed to Kevin but is also a final goodbye to her departed family. As she lays the makeshift “corpses” of her children to rest in their bed, Nora continues, “It took me three years to accept the truth, but now I know. There’s no going back, no fixing it. I’m beyond repair. Maybe we’re all beyond repair.”
She approaches the Garveys’ front door to deposit the letter and leave Mapleton behind, and suddenly turns to see, of all things, a baby. It seems especially fitting that Nora, whose original children disappeared without explanation, should be saved by the seemingly miraculous appearance of a new daughter. Just as Nora gives up on her formerly happy life, the universe presents her with the means to create a new one. She may not be able to go back to how things were before The Departure, but life at the moment is suddenly looking up.
[Editor’s Note: This inspiring memory is all but ruined by the Season 3 premiere, given that little Lily is missing from the Garvey home. Still, she did save Nora’s life. So that’s something.]
“What do I need to know?”
Episode 2.02 “A Matter of Geography”
We’re reintroduced to the Garveys in Season 2 as they sit in the living room with Nora, feeding their new miracle baby. No one knows how to ruin a happy moment like Kevin, however, and he decides that it’s time he and Nora really get to know each other. He confesses his recent sleepwalking adventures and Patti’s ensuing death, explaining that he and Matt buried her and that no one else knows about it. There’s a brief, terrifying moment when we’re not sure how Nora and Jill will react, and then Nora counters with perhaps the only confession that could make Kevin’s look normal:
“I hire prostitutes to shoot me.”
They sit there for a moment, processing all these new, crazy revelations, before ultimately deciding, “It’s okay.” It’s an oddly refreshing way to kick off the Garveys’ Season 2 storyline, and if the characters seem like they don’t know whether to laugh or cry, that’s okay too. Neither do we.
“Let’s make a family.”
Episode 2.02 “A Matter of Geography”
From the discovery of and decision to keep the baby, the episode takes a brief time jump, skipping ahead two months to her official adoption. Nora and Kevin convene at the adoption agency (he’s late, in true Kevin fashion) and meet with a representative to make their new family official. It’s a rare, at-times humorous scene, with our favorite crazy couple struggling to make their lives sounds as uncomplicated as possible in order to meet the requirements. It turns out that their worry was unfounded, as they are not only granted custody of Lily (as they name her), but are offered a two-for-one deal on another baby. Figuring that one is probably enough, they politely turn down the second child and commence rejoicing in their new, adorable daughter.
“You’re The One That I Want”
Episode 2.04 “Orange Sticker”
“Orange Sticker” opens with one of the most affecting scenes of the entire show, as Nora wakes up to an empty bed, sees that Evie is missing from next door, and promptly assumes that Kevin has disappeared in a second Departure. While she eventually finds out that he was just sleepwalking, and the bulk of the episode is spent with Kevin as he tries to cover up his involvement in the girls’ disappearance, the opening and closing scenes are some of the show’s most haunting.
The final scene of the episode is set to a somber cover of “You’re The One That I Want” by Lo-Fang. (The Season 2 musical choices are, all-around, phenomenal.) Tension has been brewing between Kevin and Nora all day due to his late-night absence, and as he sits down to take off his shoes, she finally forgives him. In a last-ditch attempt to stop his sleepwalking, Nora handcuffs herself to Kevin, saying, “We’re in this together, right?” Calling it a happy scene may be a stretch, considering we’re well aware that Kevin is still very much connected to the disappearance of the girls, but it’s another comforting moment in which Nora takes Kevin’s craziness in stride.
“Is this real?”
Episode 2.10 “I Live Here Now”
The 73-minute Season 2 finale is a rollercoaster of emotions and events; basically a mini-movie wrap up to an insane season. While many of the interconnected stories flip from joyful to tragic within seconds, there’s one plotline that takes a turn for the best and mercifully stays there. It hasn’t been clear whether Matt’s story about Mary’s temporary recovery was real or just a wishful figment of his imagination, but when she miraculously wakes up in his absence, we’re as shocked as Nora. Despite his unrelenting faith and love for his wife, Matt never seems to catch a break, and seeing him beam in disbelief at the sound of his wife’s voice is a reward that’s been a long time coming. Matt and Mary’s reunion is a beautiful, actual-tears-of-joy moment, and it gives viewers a much needed breath before the bulk of the finale’s impending disasters begin.
Episode 2.10 “I Live Here Now”
When Kevin gets killed a second time, the afterlife hotel is no longer fun for anyone. It’s not an adventure anymore, it’s a trap that he desperately needs to escape. He wasn’t supposed to die again! We already did this! That’s why, when it turns out that all he needs to do to come back to life is sing a karaoke song, it’s both relieving and ridiculous. In the beginning, we’re with Kevin: This is stupid. But as he begins to sing, we can mark the exact moment that it begins to mean something to him, and in turn, to us.
As images of former and current families intercut with closeups of Kevin’s teary performance, the scene goes from absurd to emotional in a split second. We’re watching Kevin’s life literally flash before his eyes, and all we want is for him to keep on living it. He finishes singing, there’s a terrible moment when it doesn’t seem to have worked, and then all of a sudden, he’s back, gasping, lying in a kennel in a pool of his own blood, but alive. When it comes to this show, we’ll take our victories where we can get ‘em.
After the insane ups and downs of the finale, not to mention the season as a whole, it seemed unthinkable that Season 2 of “The Leftovers” could come to a satisfying end. The Murphys watch their daughter betray their love and trust by reappearing as a member of the GR, Mary and Matt make an ill-advised break for the town, Nora and the baby almost get trampled, and Kevin dies; not an easy list of storylines to happily wrap up. And yet, as Kevin walks back into the house after his double resurrection, they’re all there: Jill, Laurie, Matt, Mary, Tom, Lily and Nora. Somehow, even after the insane events of this horrific day, while the town literally burns outside their door, everyone Kevin loves is home. And finally, he is too.
Every Scene Between Kevin and Nora in the Season 3 Premiere
How. Freaking. Cute. Kevin and Nora have always been a pretty fantastic couple, but their flirtatious back-scratching, romantic reminiscing about when they met, and their Sunday morning ritual — pre-Kevin suffocating himself — all brought us ever closer to crowning them the second coming of Eric and Tami Taylor, a.k.a., the greatest onscreen couple in TV history.
Like Coach and Mrs. Coach, these two embrace each other’s flaws in supportive, but realistic ways. Yes, Nora ran for the hills when Kevin told her he was talking to a dead woman in Season 2, but she also stuck by him when he drank poison, got shot by their neighbor, and welcomed his ex-wife moving in next door. And Kevin has steadfastly loved Nora no matter what shenanigans she gets into. They are there for each other, but they’re also ready to protect themselves. It’s an authentic yet miraculous relationship; in other words, a perfect fit for “The Leftovers.” – Ben Travers