Before diving into what was simply an outstanding finale for “The Leftovers'” superb second season, let’s take a moment to talk about structure. Lindelof and Perrotta have proven themselves masters of storytelling over these past two seasons by ordering their episodes — and, consequently, their stories — in a way that delivers maximum dramatic impact, gripping teasers for what’s to come, and yet somehow almost always lets the individual hours feel whole. Each episode has an arc that proves satisfying on its own, but it still connects to form something even more admirable by season’s end.
In Season 2, Lindelof and Perrotta took it to another level, jumping around in time by tracking individual characters in seemingly random (but oh so carefully chosen) order. Just look at the finale: what began the final episode was a scene from the very first. Instead of staying with the Murphy family or following Kevin back to his new house, we watched as Evie got into her friend’s car, revealed her allegiance to the Guilty Remnant and set the stage for one epic con. But that wasn’t all. When she arrived at the reservoir and started planting evidence to make it look like she departed, Evie and her friends spotted Kevin — the last man they spoke to at the house in a scene that felt haunting for a while but now has been given its second half. They saw Kevin with knowledge he didn’t possess, and then he saw them with a secret all his own.
As of now, “The Leftovers” has not been picked up for a third season (and co-creator Tom Perrotta said they’re basically waiting to hear from HBO). In a year when we’ve already lost one of the best TV shows to low ratings, it would be crushing for “The Leftovers” to leave us, as well. Yet Perrotta and Lindelof have crafted an ideal ending for their situation: Seeing Kevin in the same room with his family, fully appreciating them all for the first time, is an immensely satisfying resolution to a story very much about the many threats to family (and happiness in general). At the same time, Miracle is in disarray. The Murphys are broken. The Guilty Remnant (or Meg’s version of it) is running wild. There’s plenty of story left to tell, even if a significant plotline feels complete. We won’t be happy if this is the last episode of “The Leftovers,” but at least it leaving wouldn’t feel like another Departure.
1. Jill and Laurie did not patch things up.
“You’re going to have to talk to me eventually.” Jill (Margaret Qualley), quite astutely, called her mother out on the hypocritical nature of her spontaneous statement, but it did not bring the laughter Laurie (Amy Brenneman) hoped it would when she knowingly repeated it back to her daughter. (Viewers at home, though? Howling. Or at least I was.) After the two were left alone together in Episode 8, it seemed like a safe bet the fractured relationship would be forced into healing — or at least start the process. The latter is as close as they came, with Jill refusing to tell her mother to leave the new Garvey family household (a rather shitty position for Laurie to put her daughter in, considering Jill’s lack of choice the first time Laurie left). They remained somewhat unified behind Kevin, but a lot of fence mending remains if these two want to get back on speaking terms.
2. Mary is a badass international assassin, and Nora is still broken.
I think we all saw it coming — Mary’s (Janel Maloney) awakening — from the second Nora (Carrie Coon) turned her back on her comatose sister-in-law. Sure, the earthquake — now officially a sign of great change in Miracle — solidified our hunch, but resolving Mary’s pregnancy debate was already high on the list of expected answers for a finale that did feature quite a few. How did she come back? Well, after seeing her get a delivery in Kevin’s alternate reality, I think it can be safely assumed she beat the shit out of her would-be killer and fought her way back to life. Okay, maybe not “safely assumed” (Mary, after all, has no memory of such things, or at least didn’t say as much), but it’s sure more fun to think of her that way.
Yet for as strong as Mary appeared, Nora seemed as weak as ever. Lashing out against an innocent little radio that dared to suggest someone was still brokenhearted, Nora’s angry “Fix that, Jesus,” wasn’t fooling anyone. Believers may even say she caused the earthquake, as God demanded to be listened to by showing His/Her power via Mary’s miraculous recovery. Nora didn’t even blink, though, remaining spiritually stubborn and in need of help to the episode’s end. Kevin returning is certainly part of it, but she’s got aways to go before she’s actually “okay.” (Side note: How badly did everyone want Nora to catch up to that crazy woman who stole her baby? Oh, man, that lady has no idea the pain she invited onto herself.)
3. Kevin is home.
Much like Don Draper’s seven-and-a-half season quest to find happiness in what he already has, Kevin, too, went on an agonizing journey to rediscover his love of family. He was forced to confront the false statement he kept falling back on — that he loved his family — first by Patti, then when Nora left and again after being shot by John. After some ultra serious soul-searching, he’s discovered the why, making the final shot of him entering his house and being greeted by the smiling faces of everyone close to him (sans Dear ‘Ol Dad, who we would’ve liked to get an update on) extraordinary. Hold onto it, Kevin. Then help Nora find it.
1. Is anyone home at the Murphys?
As sweet as it was for Kevin to invite his would-be murderer over to the house if no one answers at the Murphy residence, John has a lot of work to do in repairing his broken family. They’re in the same place the Garveys founds themselves in to start Season 1 — certainly not by accident — with one member part of the Guilty Remnant, another prone to violent outbursts (John), someone else absolutely livid (Erika) and finally, the religious outcast who’s made some extreme choices (Michael, who, lest we forget, aided in an attempted murder and allowed his grandpa to commit suicide).
Somehow I don’t think they’ll find much solace in knowing they’re not the first family to fall apart. How they get back up is the question at hand, and the answer lies where it did all season: with Evie. What will it take to save her from the GR’s clutches? What decisions might her family make in doing so, and could any of them drive her further away? Ultimately, the question is whether her actions have permanently fractured the family, or if they’re more like the earthquakes shaking through town — unsettling, but not destructive.
2. But what if Kevin had to sing “Like a Virgin”?
“I don’t believe you.”
“Because it’s stupid!”
Damn it, I love Kevin so much. His response to his former hangman’s demand that he go onstage and sing for his salvation is so direct, so uncensored, so purely Kevin that you had to laugh when the words came spilling out. Yet you likely also laughed as a form of release. After seeing what Kevin had to do to get back the last time, believing he just had to sing a little song to save himself seemed like too little at best, “stupid” at worst. Acknowledging it did maybe half the work for Lindelof and Perrotta in making the scene resonate with an audience. The rest was all Justin Theroux, who if we haven’t said so bluntly before, let’s do so now: Give this man an Emmy. Give him a Golden Globe. Hell, for making an old Simon and Garfunkel tune as profound as anything in the finale, I’d give him an Oscar. (For a full list of the songs on the wheel, see the “side notes” section below.)
3. Did Evie give John the “real” cricket, or was she pulling a prank on dear ‘ol Dad?
Sadly, I have to side with Erika on this one. Like all questions on “The Leftovers,” there’s arguments to support both sides. For those who think Evie was just pulling her dad’s leg, you have to start with what she did right after giving him a gift. She lied and deceived her family, friends and the entire town. Obviously, she’s not feeling all that loving. Throw in the fact that Erika heard a cricket (as did we) after waking up to the earthquake that very night, and boom — there’s your case against the cricket being “the one.”
But not so fast: Evie did tell her Dad it was the best gift he’d ever receive, making him wait to open it until she left as to not embarrass her in front of her friends. Plus, despite John’s behavior, there’s no way of knowing there was only one cricket in the house. There could have been one, two or a dozen. All Evie had to do was catch one. Plus, for as anti-family as the GR is, everyone has their weak moments. Maybe that was Evie’s way of saying goodbye to her family and old life…or maybe Evie just likes telling jokes. God knows she’s good at it.
1. Tommy was never a part of the GR, and he’s certainly not going back to Meg.
Tommy not only has a history of committing to false prophets and then questioning that decision, but he pretty much followed the same pattern as last season. As a “seeker,” Tommy is in need of answers. He needs to understand how to cope with what happened, and that makes him an easy target for emotional manipulation. Meg exploited that, luring him to the GR and then pushing him away. The back-and-forth, however, seems to have backfired. Tommy didn’t seem fully committed to the group’s plan as much as he looked stuck in a situation of his own making. Yes, he could’ve exposed Meg’s lies (if he knew there were no explosives) or done something more to stop what happened. But he was largely powerless, thus adopting the role of a follower he’s so ably embodied before. Yet when he saw Nora on the ground, about to be trampled, he finally took action. He stepped up, and he won’t be going back. He may not understand what he needs or even wants, but I think him being at home with the Garvey family illustrated that he’s done running.
2. Evie won’t last long in the GR.
We went over why Evie would joining up with the Guilty Remnant last week, and we only got slightly more insight into her decision in the finale. Kevin suggests she didn’t love her family, and that’s why she faked her departure. That’s not entirely true, as it seems Evie has held deep, internal scars from when her father was sent away (aka, when her father “left,” to keep with the theme of the show), and she never really knew how to cope with such a loss. Little Evie, crying so loudly and for so long her brother had to flood the bathroom to drown out her wailing, is an incredibly powerful image; one told to us from a pulpit, giving it more than enough weight for us to believe such a loss stuck with her for this long. Much like Meg did when she lost her mother, Evie faked it (and faked it well) for a while, but when presented with an outlet for her anger she grabbed it with both hands.
Now she’s a member of the GR, but not as devout a disciple as we might think. Sure, she faked her departure. Yes, she knew what she was doing on that bridge. But there’s a big difference between pretending an RV is loaded with explosives and actually standing in front of a real ticking bomb. Evie’s actions are relatable when we step back from the dramatics surrounding them, making me believe she could come back home with a little love from her parents and the right words from someone who’s been there before. (Yup, I’m looking at you, Laurie.)
3. We won’t be leaving Miracle anytime soon.
Despite the increase in episodes specific to individual characters and a seasonal structure conducive to location change, I don’t expect Season 3 to leave Texas (again, if we’re lucky enough to get a Season 3). The Murphy family is a huge question mark at this point. Grandpa is dead and buried in the woods. Michael seems to be suffering a crisis of faith. Erika and John are at odds, to say the least. And Evie…well, Evie needs some help. The Garveys are in better shape (ironic, given Kevin’s would-be fatal stomach wound), but Jill and Laurie have plenty of work to do, Tommy is a big question mark and Nora remains the furthest from being “okay.” The Guilty Remnant’s town takeover is another area in need of exploration and, practically speaking, Nora sunk all their money into that dump of a house. But, more than any of that, my main reason in believing “The Leftovers” would remain in Texas is in this final episode and its central theme: home. “I Live Here Now” is both the title of the episode and a statement not made lightly by Kevin. He found himself in this town. He had his own miracle(s) here. He’s not leaving, and neither are we.
Side Notes and More Photos:
– I’m not one to be overly nit-picky over details like this, but shouldn’t the guards at the entrance to Miracle be better armed? Considering how desperate people have proven to be in trying to enter, they must have encountered a time when a stronger show of force was necessary. Plus, with a load of C4 on the bridge and the fact it’s October 14, shouldn’t they have had more security in place by the time the GR overran them?
– For some reason, I was never concerned about Kevin actually dying, but I did start to worry when he failed to follow his dog toward the trailer where we last saw Nora and Tommy. I felt like his dog, who refused to leave his side, was leading him somewhere. I guess Kevin knew best, and maybe, just maybe, that’s not Kevin’s dog.
– Other songs on the karaoke wheel: “Angel of the Morning” by Juice Newton, “Don’t Stop Believin'” by Journey, “Livin’ on a Prayer” by Bon Jovi, “All My Exes Live in Texas” by George Strait, “I Would Die 4 You” by Prince, “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen and, of course, “Like a Virgin” by Madonna.