[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “The Leftovers” through Season 3, Episode 8, “The Book of Nora.”]
As inevitable as it was improbable, in the end, Nora (Carrie Coon) and Kevin (Justin Theroux) found happiness. They found contentment. They found the mysterious ideal we’re all striving for in this complicated life of ours. They’ve got it. It took years — decades, even — and depending on what you believe, it took a bit of magic.
But they did it, and in doing so, “The Leftovers” provided the most unlikely answer of them all: if not the secret, than a secret to life; Kevin and Nora’s secret, which is the only one that matters at the end of this magnificent quest.
No matter what you expected going into the final hour of “The Leftovers,” it’s safe to say few were prepared for an hour of epic romance punctuated by tear-jerking, soul-baring speeches. Kevin and Nora finally spoke to one another, without secrets, and found comfort in unexpected acceptance.
Credit to Damon Lindelof, Tom Perrotta, and the writers’ room for crafting a few more unbelievable stories, as well as Coon and Theroux for telling them through such involving, impeccable performances (more on these two soon). Equal credit to director Mimi Leder, whose talents for grand, expansive wide-shots and moving, personal close-ups have rarely been so seamlessly woven together.
But more than surprise, more than admiration, these final 72 minutes evoked an immense sense of relief. At the beginning of the season, I wrote the world was ready for “The Leftovers” because the turmoil felt on a day-to-day level matched that of these characters. And today, it’s still difficult — inconceivable, even — to see how anyone is going to be OK two, five, or 15 years from now. Similarly, in 2014, it would’ve been impossible to see how the Nora and Kevin of Season 1 would become the laughing, loving, happy couple we see before us three years later.
And yet, there they are. They’re there. They made it. They’re going to be OK. And maybe, just maybe, we can believe we will be, too.
1. Laurie lives!
We were lucky enough to speak with Damon Lindelof about the decision to bring Laurie back for the finale, and he can explain the complicated, taxing, and ferociously debated choice better than we ever could.
That being said, I’ll admit to being internally conflicted at the moment of the reveal. When Nora’s phone call home found Laurie alive and well — that she didn’t commit suicide while scuba diving — my first reaction wasn’t relief, but fear.
Why? In preparation for the end, I had steeled myself for the worst: that Nora and Kevin wouldn’t get back together; that the characters would remain adrift, looking for answers; that no one would be OK. But in my heart, as corny as that sounds, I knew otherwise. We’d come too far and gone through too much not to be given something to believe in during this final hour.
I used Laurie’s suicide as the rationale for that belief: Life ain’t all sunshine and rainbows, and we had to have a tragic end for someone before “The Leftovers” wrapped up. So many writers, fans, and casual viewers said as much themselves. The audience was prepared for the worst, and I was willing to accept a devastating ending for Laurie, especially after watching “Certified,” if it meant Nora and Kevin could find happiness.
But when we heard her voice, I thought the trade wasn’t going to work out like I’d planned; that Laurie was OK, so therefore Nora and Kevin wouldn’t be. What that says about me, well, I’ll leave that for a therapist (like Laurie) to decide. Obviously, it’s better that all three characters turned out OK, and the ending proved all our worst fears wrong. But damn, did it scare me when Laurie’s voice came over the phone.
2. John, Erika, Jill, Tommy, and Senior didn’t appear in the finale, and that’s just fine.
For a series that doesn’t dwell on answers, the finale sure gave us a lot of them. Even though the full hour was spent in Australia, we learned the general fates of all the primary characters living back in Jarden (which isn’t called Miracle anymore).
During the wedding, Kevin caught Nora up on what she’d missed over the years. The conversation was casual, but constructed around their connection as a couple. Each little snippet of exposition was a stalling tactic between a shy former couple as much as it was a pertinent discussion both had been waiting to have for years. In short, it was elegant writing brought to beautiful life.
But for us, the information provided just enough closure for characters deserving as much. Jill has a one-year-old daughter, Penelope, and is happily married. Tommy’s marriage “didn’t work out so great,” but Kevin’s sure he’ll be OK. Senior, of course, is “fantastic.” “He’s 91 and still kickin’.” He’s not immortal — a conversation that told us more about Kevin than his father — but he’s still the pistol he’s always been, even if we’re not sure what his latest journey has become.
Matt, who we got to spend valuable time with earlier in the episode, did succumb to his cancer. “Mary gave the eulogy” at his funeral, Kevin said. “She really loved him,” and that was all we needed to know, because it was all that Matt needed to know.
Later in the episode, we got a brief summation of the Murphys: Michael is running the church, Erika is “great,” and John and Laurie still live next door. Life is as it was when we left Jarden, but a bit better. It’s as close to a happy ending as you could ask for, and finality we appreciated hearing as much as Nora did.
Continue reading for the only two questions we’re left with at series’ end.