[Editor’s Note: The following article contains spoilers for “The Leftovers” series finale — Season 3, Episode 8, “The Book of Nora.”]
Of the many emotional moments packed into the 72-minute “Leftovers” finale, hearing Laurie’s voice on the other end of Nora’s emergency phone call was perhaps the most shocking. After spending the past two weeks (or two months, if you’re a TV critic given access early on) coming to terms with Laurie’s decision to “go scuba diving,” it took a minute (or a day) to wrap your head around the fact that she didn’t kill herself.
While obviously an ecstatic, life-affirming, “holy fucking shit Laurie is holding her grandchild right now” moment, it demanded a shift in understanding from what we’d come to accept at the end of Episode 6. All the interviews with the creators and Ms. Brenneman led us to believe she was, in fact, dead — and with good reason. When the episode was shot, Laurie was dead.
“When Patrick [Somerville] and Carly [Wray] wrote that script, Laurie was dead.” co-creator and showrunner Damon Lindelof said in an interview with IndieWire. “The intention was that she did kill herself.”
Lindelof said when Brenneman asked him what Laurie’s intention was in that moment, he was “90 percent sure” that she was going to kill herself — “she twists the knob, if you will,” he said.
But unlike every other difficult choice made in the writers’ room — and this is a show chock full of tragedy — this decision didn’t sit well with the group.
“Most of the time when we make difficult decisions on the show, once they’re made everybody feels some sense of relief and then we move on,” Lindelof said. “We were not able to move on in this case. The writers’ room completely and totally just locked up. We were unable to break Episode 7. We were unable to break [Episode] 8. Everybody was depressed.”
In addition to the mournful case of writer’s block, it was Brenneman’s performance that helped change minds.
“Even though I had told Amy that Laurie killed herself, she was playing it with a certain degree of courage and bravery,” Lindelof said, remembering when he watched the dailies of her suicide scene. “I was like, ‘Maybe there’s a nobility to killing yourself, but this just doesn’t look like someone who wants to die.’ And when I think about suicide it doesn’t feel like it’s something that’s courageous or brave. It feels like it’s something that’s done with resignation.”
Additionally, Lindelof cited the scene between Nora (Carrie Coon) and Laurie as another reason the latter wouldn’t kill herself. When Nora essentially admits to Laurie that she’s ready to use the machine meant to connect her with her departed family, even if it kills her, Laurie promises not to tell anyone by accepting payment in the form of cigarettes — making Nora Laurie’s patient, and Laurie Nora’s therapist.
“That feels like it’s the beginning of a relationship between two women, not the ending of one.,” Lindelof said.
All of these culminated into a crisis of confidence in the writers’ room. Questions started flying and a debate Lindelof referred to as “tremendous” raged on.
“There probably wasn’t a subject talked about more in ‘The Leftovers’ writers’ room over the entire three years that I was doing the show than Laurie’s death,” Lindelof said.
“All of those things started combining, and we realized did Laurie actually not kill herself?” Lindelof said. “Has our intention basically been completely and totally subverted by the performance and the show itself? Should we listen to what the show is telling us? Are people going to be disappointed when Laurie kills herself? Are they going to think it’s unearned? Is it going to feel like a cop out if we bring her back to life considering that was our original intention?”
The questions proved too pressing to ignore, and Lindelof said they decided — without committing to anything — to consider what might happen if Laurie was alive. After establishing plenty of reasons why Laurie might not kill herself in that moment — including everything from the idea that she never intended to kill herself, to that she backed out in the last moment — one connection to what might have been became the defining answer.
“What if she came out of the water and she stayed married to John Murphy and she went back to Jarden and lived out the rest of her life? And then she actually got a phone call one day from Nora Durst, who basically said I need to talk to my therapist?”
“Once we pitched that idea — I can’t remember who said that for the first time — a smile just broke out on everybody’s face,” Lindelof said. “It was like, ‘Yes, we’re going to do that. Let’s not overthink it, let’s not over rationalize it, let’s not talk ourselves out of what the audience perception may be. That feels like the right idea.”
The concept of Nora calling Laurie as a patient in need of a therapist connected too many dots to ignore.
“We showed at the beginning of ‘Certified’ that Laurie had lost efficacy as a therapist — she couldn’t do it anymore,” Lindelof said. “She couldn’t help people any more, and that’s why she joined the GR. Now she is a therapist again, and she’s helping a person that we care very much about. She’s helping that person move towards the other person that we care very much about (who just so happens to be Laurie’s ex-husband). Yes, that feels right. That feels like the way we should use her. And so we pulled the trigger, and we did it.”
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