The Leftovers: “The Book of Nora” Series Finale Review

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Love. The worst thing to lose. The thing we hunt most. The scariest thing in the whole fucking world. There’s no nuclear bomb, orange-faced troll, or supernatural event more powerful than love. Cheesy? Not on The Leftovers. Somehow, after the insane highs this show was able to achieve, it once again outdid itself. “The Book of Nora” is a masterpiece that caps off the larger masterpiece of season three which caps off the larger masterpiece that is the entirety of the show.

But perhaps the most surprising thing about this finale is that the show might’ve stopped letting the mystery be. The extended opening scene shows Nora’s preparations for the machine, giving us a beautiful, tender goodbye between her and Matt. With the bleakest mad libs ever. Even in the end, The Leftovers was able to make us laugh at its own insanity. But after entering the machine, we hear Nora scream a name just as the liquid is about to envelop her, and we cut to the teaser left at the end of “The Book of Kevin” of an older Nora going by Sara. There aren’t any answers for much of the episode’s runtime, with the show trickling out information that wraps up the series in a neater bow than most of us probably expected.

Laurie didn’t kill herself, a huge relief. Jill had kids. Tom got married and divorced. The Murphys are okay. Kevin Sr. is somehow still kicking. Matt passed away. Mary gave the eulogy to a crowd of over 400.

But Kevin never stopped looking for Nora. Her self-imposed exile, aside from occasional calls to Laurie (“Same time next week?” gutted my tear ducts), shows Nora’s inability to move forward, the crux of her arc throughout the entire series. She literally takes the world’s sins off that freaking goat and puts them around her neck. Kevin, meanwhile, just wants to forget it all happened. Upon finding her, he puts up a facade that they never met again after their meeting in Mapleton, adding that he’s had a crush on her forever. He asks her to go to a dance. Despite the age makeup, The Leftovers reverts these two to teenagers. Laurie teases Nora on the phone because she knows deep down that she wants to go with him. It only makes Nora angry. All the while, Kevin is living in some fantasy land where they didn’t have that blowout in the hotel room. They’re lying to each other and themselves, as they have been since we met them. “The Book of Nora” is all about getting them to a place where they can finally stop.

For Kevin, it takes Nora’s rejection. For Nora, it takes Kevin’s truth. As its star couple, The Leftovers put its two leads through the ringer, but in the end, after years of time to heal, they need each other again, but not as selfishly as they did when the show started. Their living half-lives. Kevin’s still holding a candle. Nora’s a ghost. Together, they can be complete.

And as they find completeness, the show delivers the most complete explanation of the Sudden Departure, if you choose to believe it. Whether it’s true or not doesn’t matter though. Nora believes it, and Kevin believes it. The writers wisely chose not to show Nora’s quest on “the other side.” Seeing Carrie Coon deliver it all, in the series’ final scene, was all we really needed. In this other world, they believe 98% of the world disappeared on October 14th. Fascinatingly, it’s a more complete apocalypse than the one everyone in Nora’s world so desperately seems to want to happen. So to her family, Nora has been gone for seven years. She’s a ghost. No one was spared anywhere really, everyone just kept living. But as Nora points out, over there, her family is lucky to still have each other. By just losing Nora, they were lucky. And they moved on.

So Nora came back, but she remained a ghost. But now Kevin has found her. And he’s ready to finally settle into happiness. With their lies behind them, Nora takes Kevin’s hand. “I’m here,” she says, with a tear hanging from her eye over a genuine, fulfilling smile. They can’t forget their past, and they shouldn’t. Life is messy. But they have to keep living. For themselves. For each other. Because without love, who would want to live in either world anyway? Finale Grade: A+ / Season Grade: A+

Some Other Notes:

  • I was crying pretty hard when Nora smiled and said “I’m here,” but when the doves started returning, I was done. I’m still done.
  • And so ends an all-timer. I fully believe The Leftovers will grow to become a classic as the word spreads, much like how The Wire circled back in popularity despite being in the shadow of The Sopranos when it was airing. The Leftovers is in the shadow of Game of Thrones. But it’ll circle back. All great art does, and in the ever-expanding television-sphere, there’s no art that has been as profound as The Leftovers.
  • “I love Miami.”
  • To end on a personal note, the pilot of The Leftovers aired on a night where I lost someone by way of a break-up. It’s a night that crosses my mind in some form probably every day. I really didn’t like the first two episodes then. They made me feel like my pain would be permanent. For many of the characters, pain seemed permanent, but this beautiful finale showed them otherwise. All of them, in some small way. Life is crazy. Love is crazier, so I have two thank yous to throw out. 1) To Damon Lindelof, Tom Perrotta, and the whole cast and crew, thank you for making myself and all the others who’ve experienced loss of any kind feel a little less alone, and for justifying our temporary/recurring pits of despair. 2) To everyone in my life, from birth to this moment and beyond, who’s ever shown me love in even the tiniest form, you are appreciated and I hope I did the same for you. And thanks for reading.

By Matt Dougherty

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