The Leftovers Finale: “The Book of Nora” Recap

The Leftovers finale was a miracle: The incredibly moving goodbye between Matt and Nora, and Nora’s LADR trip; Nora’s life in Australia; and of course, the end in which Kevin and Nora tell their stories.

HBO

The early scene between Christopher Eccleston and Carrie Coon was spectacular. They felt like real siblings. The Matt Libs were terrific, and in the end Matt, you really were a great gekko.

And then. Every single part of that almost silent, strange scene in which Nora entered the machine was a masterclass in how to establish mood and tone with barely a word being spoken.

The woman who’d lost her children returned to a man-made womb of sorts, to be submerged in fluid, and possibly be reborn into a new world where her pain would melt away.

Beneath it all was tension. We knew an older Nora lived in Australia years after this event. Did she back out at the last second? It sure looked as though she may have, right at the end, when her mouth may have been forming the word “Stop”? But did she go over to the other side? I think she did. (And it really doesn’t matter.)

If Nora did go through the machine, she’s telling Kevin the truth about what she saw, and what happened to the Departed. If she panicked at the last second and said no, then she invented the parallel world where the Departed went as an understanding of how to deal with the grief. Also it would serve as a lie to conceal her cowardice about not reconnecting with Kevin and her other loved ones back in the U.S.

You can look at Nora’s concluding monologue in one of two ways. In the first, she is telling the truth, and the sound she made right before the LADR machine prepared to fire upon her was just an involuntary gasp as the chamber filled with liquid. She went through, and discovered that, from the point of view of the Departed, who were living in an identical but much less populated world, it was everyone else who vanished, and not them. She spent years getting from Melbourne to Mapleton, got so close to the kids that she could practically touch them, before realizing that they had moved on emotionally in a way she never could, and were better off never again seeing Nora. She then traveled for many more years until she could track down Dr. Van Eeghen and convince him to rebuild his machine on that side to send her home, and at that point began a self-imposed exile Down Under because she felt people in her original universe wouldn’t believe her, and/or also would do well to think she was dead.

Or Nora is lying. Her gasp was the start of a last-ditch protest. Dr. Eden turned off the machine. Nora apologized profusely and begged her brother to tell everyone that she went through and was never coming back. And, drowning in shame over the cowardice that prevented her from risking death for the chance of finding her family alive and well, she still chose exile in Australia.

You can chose to believe either version. There are notable differences between the two, but the one that truly separates Nora’s version from the skeptic’s take is what the nun tells Nora when suggesting the missing birds really are going past their 50-mile ranges to deliver messages of love around the world: “It’s just a nicer story.”

We can, just like the Iris DeMent song that returned to serve as the theme music one final time, let the mystery be. Wherever you go, there you are. Wherever Nora went in the Melbourne parking lot, here she is now. And Kevin is lucky to have found her.

When Kevin sits at Nora’s table and hears her talk about how afraid she was that he wouldn’t believe her, he replies, “Of course I believe you. You’re here.” Kevin has never really been a man of faith but he has faith in Nora Durst, who is sitting across the table from him, giving him a look suggesting that, after all these years, she might be willing to take him back despite the horrible things they said to each other in that hotel in Melbourne. He needs her back, and she in turn needs him to believe her story, so he does. Kevin is happy to accept this.

The most powerful scene of “The Book of Nora” is of two lonely people huddled together on a dance floor at a stranger’s wedding, embracing to the music of Otis Redding, choking back tears at the thought of all the years they lost because they were each too afraid to admit they really loved each other.

 

It’s a stunning scene, shot in intimate close-ups by Mimi Leder as Coon and Justin Theroux hold nothing back. Then it ends sadly, with Nora not being able to accept Kevin just yet, because “it’s not true”.

HBO

Before the reconciliation can go from lie to truth, Nora has to endure the rescuing of the goat that has taken on the sins of everyone at the wedding. As Eddie the groom describes as different from mistakes, because they’re bad things you do even though you know they’re wrong (like, say, telling your girlfriend that she’s better off with her missing children). She takes on the beads, and the sins, herself, before finally seeming to let go of both by placing them on her paper towel dispenser (a nearly identical one to the one she had in the her Mapleton home that she was frantically using to dry off her cell phone at the moment her family Departed). Nora has to forgive herself before she can tell Kevin the story of what happened to her.

In a show about the ways we grieve, Kevin has defied all the rules of loss, in the same way he continually evaded death itself, “That’s how I found you, Nora: I refused to believe you were gone.”

Damon Lindelof and co. have wrapped up the show with a resounding success. The final season and finale itself, deliver an incredibly emotional and meaningful conclusion to the best show on TV. The world didn’t end on October 14, 2011. The world’s still around, all these years later. One of the finale’s more poignant lines is almost a throwaway, about how nobody calls Jarden “Miracle” anymore, because people eventually move on from even the most terrifying and perplexing tragedies and Nora gets to do it one more time with a phrase that is so fittingly the end of the story, or more importantly, the new beginning to their relationship.

“I’m here.”

 

Extra Notes:

  • Meanwhile, we get closure on most of the other characters: Matt died after apparently reconciling with Mary, Michael is now running the church in Jarden, Erika is doing well, John and Laurie are still happily married, Jill has a husband and a daughter, Tommy got divorced but landed on his feet, and Kevin Sr. is still alive and kicking at 91.

 

  • Sometime on Departure Day, whether during the phone call with Jill and Tommy, or while she was sinking to the bottom of the bay, Laurie decided she’d rather take the certainty of this life than the uncertainty of what comes after. The show deliberately skips past that, too, choosing to instead show Laurie as a happy grandma.

 

  • It’s easy to forget in the wake of all that comes after, but Nora and Matt’s farewell conversation in the lawn chairs destroyed me before the episode had barely even begun. Matt’s conversation with David Burton has taken away his faith, but it’s given him back his sister, and will, for the rest of his too-short life, give him back his wife and son.

 

  • Most obvious note: I will miss The Leftovers.

 

-Peck

 

You can follow Peck on Twitter @BigTimerPeck

 

 

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