‘The Leftovers’ Series Finale Was Achingly Beautiful

In the end, The Leftovers was one of the best love stories on television. The HBO drama, which wrapped up its third and final season on Sunday night, came down to Kevin (Justin Theroux) and Nora (Carrie Coon), unable to stay apart, destined to be together. Turns out, even a Sudden Departure doesn’t really separate you if you’re Meant To Be Together. WARNING: SPOILERS FOLLOW FOR THE SERIES FINALE OF THE LEFTOVERS.

Picking up where last week left off, Nora entered the Wayback Machine in an attempt to reunite with her disappeared children and went… ah, but then we viewers were transported once again to an Australia years later, where Nora, her hair streaked with gray, leaves a hardscrabble life in the rocky countryside, tending to carrier pigeons and pedaling around on a bicycle. (We have glimpsed this Nora before, earlier in the series.) She is sought out by Kevin — a more lined, clean-shaven Kevin but still handsome Justin Theroux through-and-through — who, we eventually learn, has been searching for her for years. He never believed she died or was whisked away by that machine. He has felt her presence in his heart (which, by the way, we learn is now powered by a pace-maker), so he followed that feeling and now he’s found her.

The episode, written by show creators Tom Perrotta and Damon Lindelof, was often achingly beautiful yet never mawkish or sentimental. This finale was, after all, titled “The Book of Nora” and therefore centered primarily on Nora, the character who had the least patience with soft-headedness or the sort of mysticism that shrouded the Sudden Departure, including her maybe-Jesus mate Kevin and her preacher-brother Matt. She was a Not-Guilty Remnant. For those of us who’ve been most transfixed by The Leftovers when Nora or Amy Brenneman’s Laurie — the show’s most intriguing and complex characters — were on screen, the final hour-plus was a gift. (Laurie made a cameo appearance here — turns out she was acting as Nora’s therapist, in regular phone calls Nora was making back to the States.)

For a show that was often illustrated with colorful scenes of family drama and spiritual strife, the concluding Leftovers was simple and as direct as a show about the inexplicable could be. The scene in which Nora explains to Kevin what she did since he last saw her was one long, engrossing monologue delivered by Nora, the camera tight on her face most of the time. (The director here was Mimi Leder, who has overseen many key episodes of the series.) It was calm and vivid, and so well-written, Nora descriptions did the transporting: no special-effects necessary.

For this final episode, the producers used Otis Redding’s devastating “I’ve Got Dreams To Remember” to suggest the lovers’ yearning, and re-used the theme music they’d employed for season-two, the gorgeous Iris DeMent song “Let The Mystery Be.” Probably because Perrotta and Lindelof wanted to do just that — let the mystery be, let the heart of this show stay a mystery to us: to think about, to visit in our thoughts, whenever we want to.

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