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‘The Leftovers’ Review: Carrie Coon and Justin Theroux Deliver The Ending We Need, and One of the Best Finales Ever

Damon Lindelof, Tom Perrotta, and Mimi Leder dream up a romance for the ages in one of the greatest series finales ever imagined.

The Leftovers Season 3 Episode 8 Carrie Coon

Ben King/HBO

3. Over the last three weeks, the credits music told us more about the series than the episodes. 

After spending the majority of Season 3 incorporating new, telling songs to play over the opening credits, the last two weeks reverted to “The Leftovers'” roots. In the penultimate episode, we heard Max Richter’s original score, which played over the title sequence crafted for Season 1, filled with pained earthbound faces being tugged toward a bright light in the ceiling of a cathedral. But Episode 7’s visual sequence remained the same: We heard the reverberating horn and pensive strings of Richter’s magnificent Season 1 score, but we saw photographs with one subject absent, filled in by a mysterious natural outline.

Then in the finale, the credits sequence first revealed in Season 2 was again paired with Iris Dement’s “Let the Mystery Be.” That the craftsman behind “The Leftovers” chose to emphasize the Season 2 in their series finale speaks to its significance. Whether you love the entire show or were won over by the tonal shift in the sophomore season, Season 3 wouldn’t exist without the developments — on and off screen — in Season 2. Critics unified behind the series as Lindelof, Perrotta, and Leder pushed the boundaries of televised drama, and it’s fitting to send the series off on these notes, especially given the hopeful nature of the overall ending.

I’ll always defend Season 1 as a necessarily blunt introduction to a devastated world, but Kevin and Nora’s sweeping romance needed a light touch; a light touch represented by the Season 2 credits.

READ MORE: ‘The Leftovers’: Damon Lindelof Explains the New Season 3 Credits Sequence — Watch

Big Questions

The Leftovers Season 3 Episode 8 Finale Justin Theroux

1. Are there enough awards in this world to properly honor Carrie Coon and Justin Theroux?

No. No, there are not. As if the season leading up to the finale wasn’t an Oscar-worthy campaign on its own (and no, that’s not a typo — their performances transcend television), the work done by the two leads of “The Leftovers” in its final hour should merit them any and every damn award out there.

In an hour dedicated to Coon, the Tony-nominated actress took full advantage of “The Book of Nora.” Her walk up the ladder and trepidation-filled time inside the bubble were, again, enough right there for the Emmy, but it’s Coon’s nuanced attention to detail in the future that brought us to our knees — most notably, in the wedding scene. The hidden glances; the variant amounts of water filling her eyes; the mix of anger, fear, and love that cross over her face when she first sees Kevin at the dance; these are marks of a measured performance, but more so of someone who’s living in these moments with her character.

READ MORE: Why Do Machines Hate Carrie Coon on ‘Fargo’ and ‘The Leftovers’?

Coon spoke with us about her process earlier in the season, which gives a good idea as to how she’s able to convey so much in such fleeting moments, but her credit to her co-stars speaks to the graceful tennis match constructed by both her and Theroux throughout the episode. He, too, knocked us back within seconds of being onscreen. Kevin’s re-introduction to Nora was a kind mask made to ease the tension between the two long-separated parties. Kevin built a shield for himself by claiming he just happened to be in town, and he just happened to see Nora ride by on her bike.

The Leftovers Season 3 Episode 8 Finale Justin Theroux

But that transparent (and charming) front came crumbling down in one telling pause. “If I didn’t ask you to dance tonight… I’d never forgive myself,” Kevin said, and right there, in that space where a comma belongs, Theroux cracked open Kevin’s facade. His lips stopped working. The corners of his resolutely smiling mouth turned down, fearful of what would come after he ended that sentence. His eyes closed, and he stared into the pain of their past, knowing full well it was still with them. He had to push past it to get through to Nora, and Theroux’s recovery — another forced smile and a polite, “OK” when told to leave — set up perfectly not only their intimate tête-à-tête at the wedding, but more so his confession at episode’s end.

Standing alone and with no props, no movement, no exaggeration, Theroux was magnetic. He was angry and desperate, but totally vulnerable; speaking to Nora about his decades long quest to find her. It was a scene straight out of a 1940s romance movie, except for the free-flying f-bombs, as Kevin let his true frustrations shine through. Yes, he was holding a candle for her, lovingly tending the flame, but we felt the full weight of his wait because Theroux was pissed off.

“Every year I come to fucking Australia!” Believe it or not, that “fucking” was why his final point — “That’s how I found you, Nora. I refused to believe you were gone” — landed so well. We needed to feel his frustration; the struggle of his belief, despite everyone telling him otherwise. The not knowing combined with the blind faith would have made Kevin angry, and we saw that sneak out in his speech. It’s not just that no one swears quite like Theroux. It’s that no one makes their cursing so integral to the character.

Now then. Can we skip the suspense and just hand them their trophies, please? If not, I’ll write more. Don’t tempt me.

The Leftovers Season 3 Episode 8 Finale Justin Theroux Carrie Coon

2. Kevin believes Nora, but do you?

Perhaps my favorite thing about the finale was how it stayed true to the ambiguous nature of the series. “The Leftovers” has never been about telling people what to think as much as it’s focused on expanding viewers’ perceptions of what’s possible. That the series ended with one more unseen story only further emphasized that you can believe whatever you want — including whether or not Nora really did travel to the other side.

For the conspiracy theorists / non-believers out there, you’ve got plenty of ammunition. So much of the gorgeously captured episode (thanks to the talents of director Mimi Leder) felt otherworldly — disconnected from reality in both the remote setting as well as the visual splendor. Kevin arriving at Nora’s house and parts of Nora’s final speech featured white backdrops that felt torn out of dreams or depictions of the afterlife.

READ MORE: Damon Lindelof on the Finale’s Two Endings and Why You Can Believe Both

Maybe Nora did kill herself, and this place was heaven. It could explain why Laurie was the only other series regular shown in the episode (which would require you to believe she killed herself in Episode 6), or, if you prefer an even starker vision of reality, Nora’s last shot in the present — screaming from within the machine before the water overtook her — could allude to her backing out of the project. Like Kevin’s first guess, maybe she changed her mind and was too embarrassed to go back to America.

But we’re not buying it. Call us romantics, believers, suckers, whatever — we’re on Team Durvey. Nora did everything she said she did because that’s what we choose to believe. That’s what we’re told. That’s what’s here.

Continue reading for the final takeaway from “The Leftovers”: the ultimate purpose behind the pain.

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