With the final season of The Leftovers available all at once on-demand, we’ll be bringing you our thoughts on each episode one at a time. Warning: This contains spoilers.
“Are you scared?” “Scared of what?” “Scared of them strapping you into a seesaw and holding you under the water until you drown?”
That’s Laurie and Kevin Garvey in Episode 6 of The Leftovers, a heartbreaking hour of television in a show that consists almost entirely of heartbreaking hours of television. After a season of slowly drifting back towards each other, they finally reunite on a porch at night in the final moments of Certified – and it’s there that they give us the most sane conversation that’s ever taken place in Damon Lindelof’s lofty drama. Because while it might sound ridiculous, that is exactly the plot of Season 3: Kevin Garvey Sr. wants to drown his son to death, so that he might resurrect himself in the afterlife, find a dead aboriginal elder (Christopher Sunday), learn a rain dance from him, and then come back to the real world and perform the ritual to avert the coming flood-pocalypse – which, by the way, will take place seven years to the day that 2 per cent of the world’s population mysteriously vanished.
With that nugget of exposition out of the way, the rest of the episode does what The Leftovers Season 3 does best: sit back and spend time with each of its meticulously crafted characters. That’s the beauty of a drama that’s explicitly about the lack of answers to life’s big questions: it can set its own pace. And so this third, final season has almost been a victory lap, taking care more than ever to spend time with each member in turn. While Matt, Nora and Kevin have often had episodes devoted to them, though, one person has never had their own chapter, until now: Laurie.
Amy Brenneman’s wife and mother has quietly grown to become a fundamental part of this impeccably balanced ensemble. Kevin has provided the narrative way into the story, as the ostensible protagonist and familiar small-town cop. Matt has provided the spiritual hook for the series’ theological and philosophical nuances. Nora, especially this season, has been the emotional core of the tale. Laurie? She’s grounded the whole thing – Messiahs, rain dances, particle machines that can send people to the afterlife – with logic, common sense and compassion.
In fact, she’s been doing that since the very first episode. “Tell me what to do,” we see the lady whose baby disappeared from her car in Episode 1 of Season 1 ask Mrs. Garvey, the local therapist, in an introductory flashback. In the beginning, there was Laurie.
Laurie, though, was just as shaken by the Sudden Departure as everyone else: she also lost a child, but hers was a child in her own womb, one that disappeared from the baby monitor in front of her eyes. “Tell me what to do,” her client demanded. “I don’t know,” came Laurie’s honest answer, before she tried to kill herself.
Fortunately, she changed her mind, a decision that lead to her joining the Guilty Remnant instead. “Tell me what to do,” she repeated, in turn, to the movement’s leaders, only to be greeted with a silent sense of nihilistic purpose.
Two seasons later and Laurie has learned to become a therapist again, offering support and counsel to the residents of Jarden, John, Kevin, Matt – and, in this episode, Nora. She joins the Durst siblings to track down the scientists from the other episode, so that Nora can find their machine and use it.
Carrie Coon and Christopher Eccleston continue their astonishing work, as the latter comes to terms with how out of control his fanaticism was and the former punches Laurie in the face in a fight over the lighter given to her by Jill Garvey. It’s in that tussle that so many truths come tumbling out, including the apparent reveal that the man on the submarine last episode launched a nuclear warhead because he was trying to kill a Godzilla-like monster who was preparing to wake up in term for the SD’s anniversary. As you do.
“Hey, Doc, I have access to nuclear weapons and I need to destroy Godzilla. What do you even say to that?” jokes Nora. “Don’t miss,” comes Laurie’s serious reply.
She’s spoken before about how important it is to allow those with a delusion to follow them through, so that they do less harm to themselves or to others. And yet she seems content with allowing Kevin to go through with this bizarre plan to send him to the other side on a superstitious hunch. She also seems happy to let Nora go through with using the scientists’ machine.
Perhaps that because Nora says she want to use it to reach her kids – “If I was going to kill myself, I’d just go scuba diving,” muses Nora. Perhaps it’s because Laurie thinks Nora is lying and that it’s safer to let her try and fail. Either way, she’s acting as Nora’s therapist more than ever – and not just because Nora gives her cigarettes as a payment in exchange for client confidentiality. As the final two episodes of the series approach, only Nora and Matt know where they’re headed.
“Tell Senior I’m sorry I didn’t put him in my book. And tell Kevin I’m sorry I did,” quips Matt, as they bid farewell – under Laurie’s eye, the terminally ill priest has also found some sort of closure. But before they go their separate ways, the brother and sister still find the time to reminisce over a beach ball in a stadium that was deflated by a cruel security guard, in one of the series’ most esoteric, and moving, exchanges.
Why did the guard do it? “Because if he doesn’t, the ball will go onto the field and it will be fucking chaos,” replies Laurie, ever the font of profound wisdom.
Amy Brenneman is on career-best form here, saying so much with so few words: her face visibly carries the weight of years of grief and confusion, not just in terms of lines or frowns, but in the way she looks at people, or the way her smile doesn’t always reach her eyes. After being somewhat shunted to the sidelines by Coon and Liv Tyler in Season 2, Brenneman is relishing the chance to steal back the spotlight. In the conversation between her and Kevin and the porch, she cycles through countless emotions, each one more devastating than the last. She’s almost proud or impressed by his bravery and cause, yet also struggling not to intervene and prevent him, while striving to support him in his beliefs.
Their chat takes place after Kevin’s own Last Supper, a meal that sees the group (Grace, Kevin Sr., John and Michael) explicitly discuss the Bible and Jesus’ disciples. Doubting like Thomas, Laurie reckons, was the easy route. The hard job? Being Judas and paving the way for the crucifixion – before going on to kill himself. It’s a tragically ominous bit of foreshadowing, as Laurie poisons the whole gang, just so she can have a quiet talk with her former husband.
It’s a genuinely shocking twist, as one by one they all keel over – and, for a gob-smacking moment, you think she’s actually killed them all, rather than merely sedated them with tranquilisers. There’s a gentle, ironic poetry, though, in the way Laurie has gone from using pills on herself in the Season 1 flashback to using pills on others – previously, to end a cycle of not knowing what to do, and here, to end a cycle by helping someone who does.
It’s when that happens that you begin to realise what she’s about to do next.
“Maybe I was dead, but I had never felt so alive,” Kevin tells her of his hotel experience, and the conviction behind Justin Theroux’s and Brenneman’s performances is hugely powerful stuff. Is she hoping to find him in the afterlife? Is she firmly committed to his new New Testament mission? Or, as Matt, Nora and Kevin all find their own state of sanity, peace or purpose, is she simply a therapist who’s run out of patients who need her?
The Leftovers, as always, doesn’t give us the easy answer, as she charts a boat and heads out into the ocean to put on her scuba kit. The idea of her drowning at sea at the same time as her ex-husband is dunked in a lake only adds more emotional weight to the whole situation.
The mother at the start of the episode (before the opening credits, which are tellingly accompanied by 1-800-Suicide) talks about the fear that her baby might randomly appear at the same point the Departure one day, without her being there. It’s easy – and heart-wrenching – to imagine Laurie looking at her own womb and wondering the same thing for seven years. But in a world where everyone is plagued by uncertainty, Laurie is confident that when she goes this time, it’s for good.
“Now or never,” her boat driver tells her, as a storm brews on the horizon. She doesn’t need anyone to tell her what to do, though, even as she fields one last, cheerful phone call from Jill and Tommy. Whether she’s committed or giving up, you can say this for her: she’s definitely not scared. The result is a brave, provocative and moving episode of television, which looks to find some sense of catharsis in each of its character’s decisions about how to end their life, without condoning them.
If you have been affected by this episode of The Leftovers, you can talk to The Samaritans free on 116 123 or visit www.samaritans.org
The Leftovers Season 1 to 3 are available on-demand through Sky Box Sets. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW TV, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription – with a 7-day free trial.