UK TV review: The Leftovers Season 3, Episode 8 (The Book of Nora)
Ivan Radford | On 28, Aug 2017
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.
“I like to get a little lost, you know.” That’s Kevin (Justin Theroux) talking to Nora (Carrie Coon) in the very final episode of The Leftovers’ very final season. It’s a hugely emotional hour of television, as you’d expect from a drama that has built up to this conclusion with three seasons of grief, confusion, existential doubt and alternate universes where assassins cut out the heart of their identical twin brother to annihilate the planet. And the finale doesn’t disappoint, precisely because it’s not afraid to do so.
After the penultimate chapter reverted to the Season 1 theme tune, this closing chapter resurrects the Season 2 folk ditty, Let the Mystery Be, a sly warning to fans not to expect closure or answers. But those who have got this far have long since learned not to expect such things and revel in the ambiguity of Damon Lindelof and Tom Perotta’s universe, one where clarity is only ever glimpsed and resolutions are less about lessons and more about compromise.
We pick up, as the title suggests, with Nora – because who wouldn’t want another hour devoted to Carrie Coon’s heartbreaking performance? She and Matt (Christopher Eccleston) have already found their elusive scientists and convinced them to let Nora use their radiation machine to forcibly Depart herself and reconnect with her lost family. The build-up to the event is genuinely unnerving, as she has to curl up in a transparent bubble, which gradually fills with fluid – a mechanical, soulless perversion of a womb, which leaves her vulnerable and afraid.
“Is that a person?” asks a concerned Matt, as they approach the device and spot half a sphere of concrete with a person-shaped hole in the middle. “That’s a fossil. The person is gone,” comes the dispassionate reply. “Maybe they’ll let you keep mine,” quips Nora.
We never see what happens to her. But we do hear about it. And the result is a surprising burst of exposition and information, just when you’re prepared for zero explanations whatsoever.
Where she goes is not an afterlife, but an alternate reality – a mirrored universe that also suffered its own Sudden Departure. There, however, it wasn’t 2 per cent of the population that disappeared, but the other 98 per cent we’ve been spending time with. It’s a beautifully poetic answer to a mystery that has haunted us for three seasons – a mystery that only has its solution in the same mystery of suffering and loss. Being a leftover isn’t a freak one-off occurrence; it’s an unavoidable byproduct of human existence.
In this other place, the result is perhaps even worse, as without enough staff to fly planes, the world has devolved into pockets of small communities and epic stretches of empty land. Nora, meanwhile, was the one who disappeared in her family. In time, the others moved on and formed their own family; Nora’s as alone there as she was in Jarden.
Loneliness, even more than loss, has become the core theme of The Leftovers, to the point where Kevin Garvey’s main plot line has culminated in a bloody battle between two versions of himself: the ruler of the country who has no need for family bonds and marriage and the guy trying to kill him and stop his agenda. While the ruler won and the world was annihilated on the Other Side, back in reality, Kevin has been searching high and low in Australia to find Nora – flying back every year to continue his search. Nora, on the other hand, hid from him, after she came back, only telling Laurie she had returned and hoping the Mapleton sheriff wouldn’t track her down. Would he believe her? Would he even want to be with her?
And so we finally get to understand that scene from the opening episode, as an aged, scarred Nora Durst professes that she has never even heard of Kevin. And we get the sweet joy of seeing them finally reunite and accept each other once more – or, perhaps more accurately, accepting each other’s love. It’s a touching conversation that occurs at a wedding, of all places, one where doves containing messages of love are set free – much to the cynical amusement of Nora.
But while that conclusion would be enough for anyone, The Leftovers elevates this hour to something timeless, by offering us a reunion that doesn’t involve any of that baggage at all: Kevin, now sporting a wisp of grey hair, randomly appears at Nora’s doorstep, saying he just spotted her riding by on her bike. Who is she? Just a familiar face from Mapleton. That hotel? The argument? The Book of Kevin? He’s never heard of it.
It’s a masterful piece of wrong-footing, precisely because we all know it feels wrong. Justin Theroux and Carrie Coon are at their utmost best here, both circling and shying away from each other, all twinkling gazes with no eye contact. Theroux, who is so good at displaying repressed emotion, is eerily calm and detached, all blank face and simple smile. Coon’s Nora is the first one to crack.
“I can’t do this,” she snaps. “Why not?” asks Kevin, innocently. “Because it’s not true.”
And in that moment, as they both admit what happened to them both, what begins as a meet-cute worthy of any romantic comedy rushes forward through all the pain, misery, suffering and grief that has driven their lives for so long – and we end up in a conversation where suddenly, all that baggage is back again. And then, and only then (thanks to their heartbreakingly nuanced performances), does their chemistry truly click again. It’s like watching Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy play out over 30 hours, building up complications and disappointments until what these people have left isn’t the loss of those who departed, but the efforts, affections and memories of those who help to plug the gap.
The Leftovers can be a lonely title, one of individuals scattered and disoriented. But it can also be a collective noun for those who bind together – and, in its final hour, Damon Lindelof’s series makes a gorgeous, swooning dive for the latter option, as two broken souls realise that it’s better to be together than alone. Did Nora really go to another universe? Did Kevin really kill his twin self? It doesn’t matter. Sometimes, the sweetest thing in life is simply to let the mystery be, and get a little lost in another person’s mess. It’s a lesson worth learning for art, too; get a little lost in The Leftovers and you’ll be rewarded with one of the greatest TV shows of the last decade. Let the mystery be for 20 years and everyone will realise it.
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, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription – with a 7-day free trial.