In ‘The Leftovers’ series finale recap, Nora finds closure and Kevin finds Nora….
By Damon Martin — Editor/Lead Writer
Before ‘The Leftovers’ ever began, creators Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta warned potential viewers that the show built on the premise of two-percent of the world’s population just blinking out of existence would never explain what really happened.
Of course the series started with the immediate aftermath when people just disappeared without reason or explanation but the crux of ‘The Leftovers’ was really built on what happened next.
For three seasons we watched as a character like Laurie Garvey was so lost in the wake of the Sudden Departure that she felt the need to abandon her family to join a cult. Her son Tom started following a fake messiah who promised to hug away all the woes from anybody who suffered a loss during that fateful day. Matt Jamison saw the Sudden Departure as a call from God that he had to get back to work and Kevin Garvey Sr. started hearing voices that told him he needed to save the world.
For three seasons we followed the clues from the songs that played on each episode to the National Geographic that Kevin Garvey Sr. obsessively tracked down for clues about the oncoming apocalypse.
In the end it turns out none of that was true.
Oh two-percent of the world disappeared but there was no grander meaning behind it and we certainly didn’t learn what really happened on that day when 120 million people just disappeared (well it’s possible we now know where they went depending on what you do or don’t believe but stay tuned for more on that later). What was truly revealed in ‘The Leftovers’ series finale is that this series was a show based on what happens next, how people deal with tragedy and what it takes to find your way back from the brink.
From the start, Kevin Garvey and Nora Durst were two people who were completely lost after the Sudden Departure happened. Kevin’s wife left him and he began suffering any number of psychotic episodes while believing everything from dogs were somehow involved in the Sudden Departure to his own importance as a messiah who could save the world from the Armageddon.
Then there’s Nora Durst — the woman who screamed at her children one morning over breakfast before turning around to see that her entire family had been blinked out of existence. Every day since then, Nora was trying to not only figure out why they disappeared and not her, but rather than get past that awful tragedy, she held onto it like an eternal anchor that always weighed her down. She didn’t want to let go of the loss of her children because Nora couldn’t accept that they were dead.
They were just gone.
But ultimately, Kevin and Nora served as the central story to ‘The Leftovers’ because the damage they did to each other was just a result of their own need for answers — the search for seven years to explain why two-percent of the world’s population just suddenly disappeared and what it took to move forward in the aftermath of that tragic event.
And what they found when it was all was each other.
With that said, let’s recap the series finale from ‘The Leftovers’ titled ‘The Book of Nora’…
Nora Durst was determined to use the machine designed by physicists that would bombard her with radiation and send her to the same place where her children had gone on the day of the Sudden Departure seven years ago. When the scientists turned her down, Nora only became more determined before eventually tracking them back to their house before following them to the site where this machine was housed that could reunite her with the people she lost on the other side.
It seems Nora’s stalking paid off because the scientists finally allowed her entry into the machine but not before she did her final goodbye while explaining that she was doing all of this with a sound mind and body. Of course one of the physicists still refused to believe Nora really wanted to go so she had to recite her speech yet again while mentioning the names of her children during that fond farewell.
Finally, Nora was granted entry but she was allowed to say goodbye to her brother Matt while they prepared the machine.
The way the siblings connected one last time involved a humored filed game of “Matt Libs” regarding Nora’s obituary after she disappeared to another plane of existence. During their jovial look back on Nora’s life, she remembered going to the church camp that their parents forced her to attend and how Matt used to comfort her before leaving by telling her that she was the bravest girl on Earth.
Now as Nora is about to enter this machine, Matt reminds her once again that she is the bravest girl on Earth.
The process to crossover to this other world involves Nora stripping down naked and sitting in a pod that will cover her in some sort of primordial goo before she’s bombarded with radiation that ends with her being transported to the same place where her children sent seven years ago.
As the machine starts to rev up and the liquid begins to fill the chamber, Nora closes her eyes and with one last gasp of air — her whole world fades to black.
Dreams to Remember
At the end of the first episode this season titled ‘The Book of Kevin’, we caught a glimpse of an older Nora Durst delivering birds to an Australian convent while denying that she ever knew anybody by the name of Kevin No one knew at that moment why this was happening but it all came full circle in the finale.
That same scene plays out with Nora delivering doves to the convent before she’s confronted about a man named Kevin who has come looking for her. Nora denies knowing him before riding her bike back to an isolated house in the middle of nowhere. The nun who denied ever seeing the woman in the picture presented to her by this mysterious Kevin was convinced that the man didn’t believe her.
So Nora rushes back to her house, packs up a bag and prepares to flee when she hears a knock at the door. When she opens it, Nora comes face to face with Kevin — with a few wrinkles, grey hairs and a few more years worn on his face — but still the man she once loved.
But something strange happens.
Kevin claims to be on vacation when he spotted Nora riding her bike through town and when he saw her he just had to track her down. See Kevin explains that he met Nora after a dance held in Mapleton, New York back when he was the chief of police and they shared a nice conversation together but he was too scared to pursue it any further. Kevin says that he always lived with that regret and he decided in this moment that it was fate to finally connect with Nora.
Of course, Nora doesn’t believe a word of this and feels like Kevin is trying to pull some sort of trick on her. Why is he saying that he doesn’t remember anything about their past together?
Still Kevin sticks with a lack of memory while inviting Nora to go to a dance with him later that night in town. He has one more day left on his vacation and he’d like to take her to this dance, but she rebuffs his invitation immediately. Persistent as ever, Kevin tells her that if she changes her mind, he’ll be there and she’s welcome to join him.
Disturbed by this interaction, Nora rushes to a payphone where she makes a call to none other than Laurie Garvey, who is currently sitting on a bench with a baby. Irate about Kevin’s visit, Nora asks Laurie repeatedly if she told him where he could find her. Laurie denies telling Kevin anything before telling Nora that she looks forward to their chat at this same time next week.
Now for a moment it appeared that ‘The Leftovers’ finale may have mirrored the ending of Lindelof’s biggest show ‘Lost’ where all of the characters reunited in some sort of afterlife together. It was teased weeks ago that Laurie had committed suicide and the call from Nora appeared to be a sign that they were both dead — because that machine really did just incinerate her into ash — and now Kevin has finally joined them on the other side.
As it turns out, that’s not the case.
Despite her objections at the start, Nora ends up returning home where she takes a long bath before beginning to get ready to meet Kevin at the dance. Unfortunately, a damaged door nearly prevents her from leaving and Nora has to break it down to finally escape so she can reunite with him that night. It was the clearest indication yet that Nora wasn’t ready to give up on Kevin no matter how much she protested about him being there.
When Nora arrives, she realizes that it’s not a dance but instead a wedding.
It seems Kevin met the couple getting married at his hotel and they insisted that he attend the ceremony with them. From every indication and the look on his face, Kevin is happy, which is something we so rarely saw from him over these past three seasons. Nora joins him at the table where she continues to press him on why he’s playing that he doesn’t remember anything about their life together past that initial moment where they met six years ago.
Nora quizzes Kevin on the day they ran into each other at the courthouse while they were both filing for divorce and how she invited him to go to Miami with her. Kevin once again feigns that he doesn’t remember any of this, especially if she asked him to go to Miami because he definitely would have gone.
Kevin then explains that ever since their first chance encounter, he’s remained a cop in Mapleton and so she asks him for updates on everybody else. Kevin explains that her brother Matt passed away and a huge funeral was held in his honor. He actually hoped she’d show up there but never did. Kevin then explains that his daughter Jill got married and has a one year old daughter named Penelope, which makes him “a fucking grandfather”. Tom also got married but that didn’t work out. And Kevin Sr. is still kicking around as vibrant as ever at 91 years of age.
Now that little tidbit finally gave us some clarity on the timeline for this final episode because when Kevin Sr. was sought by authorities in Australia for invading aboriginal lands, he was listed as 75 years old, which means this story — if true — is taking place 16 years later.
Kevin and Nora continue to chat until the happy couple shares some words with the audience while releasing dozens of doves into the air with messages of love attached to them. These are the same birds that Nora delivers to the convent and then the nuns use at weddings for the guests to write messages before sending them flying off to all corners of the world (in reality they only go about 50 miles maximum).
The groom then explains in his speech the difference between mistakes and sins. Mistakes are just fucking up but a sin is when you know something is wrong and you do it anyway. Kevin and Nora exchange looks because they know over the tenure of their relationship they’ve done plenty of sinning but made far more mistakes.
The biggest one was losing each other 16 years ago.
They share a dance set to Otis Redding’s classic tune “I’ve Got Dreams to Remember” but it all gets too real for Nora and she scurries away to go back home, far away from Kevin and the memories of their life together.
During the wedding in one of the final rituals, all of the guests atoned of their sins by placing a set of beads around the neck of a goat that would be set free in the woods, which would then absolve all those people of past wrongdoing. Kevin even notes that it’s nice that they are freeing the goat rather than sacrificing it — a nod to the goat sacrifice that took place during season 2 when they first arrived in Miracle, Texas.
After leaving the wedding, Nora rides home on her bike but she’s shocked when she finds that none of the birds that were released at the wedding had returned. They were trained to fly up in the air in a grand gesture but then return home each and every time. Irate that her birds were gone, Nora rides over to the convent where she runs into a man escaping from a top floor window onto a waiting motorcycle below before riding off into the night.
Nora knocks on the door and the nun answers before she quizzes her on what happened to the birds. Of course the nun knows nothing and did nothing different than any other time that she released the birds at a wedding and then says that perhaps they finally flew off to deliver those messages of love.
Ever the skeptic, Nora answers back that the birds can only fly 50 miles so sell that bullshit to someone else. The nun responds “I’m not trying to sell you anything — it’s just a nicer story”. Nora then accuses the nun of having sex with the man who escaped through the window as if she needs to prove that this woman of God will sin just like everybody else. Remember at her heart, Nora lived her life by a set of facts and her job after the Sudden Departure was to prove wrong anybody who claimed anything other than the truth.
Nora finally leaves to ride home but on her way she tumbles over the front of her bike and crashes to the ground. When she looks at her wheels, Nora sees beads tangled all through the spokes and off in the distances she hears the goat from the wedding crying out in terror. It seems after the animal was set free, it got those damn beads tangled up in a barbed wire fence and was now stuck.
Nora climbs the muddy hill — falling down along the way — before reaching the goat to set it free. She takes hold of the beads and places them around her own neck as if to take on the sins that were purged by all those wedding goers. For three seasons, Kevin was painted as the messiah meant to save the world but perhaps it was Nora who was actually playing the role of savior. She suffered the greatest loss yet pushed forward. She took care of others at the sacrifice of her own happiness. And now she was taking on the sins of all those people who wanted to be absolved.
Nora frees the goat before the two of them return home together.
After making it back to her house, Nora ties up the goat and feeds him while cleaning up the knocked over bucket of messages that had been delivered by the birds over the last few years. She begins reading them one by one before coming across a messge that says “I know you’re out there” and at that moment Kevin arrives at her house.
He finally comes clean to her about everything.
After Matt returned home from Australia he explained that Nora was gone but Kevin could never accept it and deep down he knew that she was still alive. So for two weeks every year for the past 16 years, Kevin has taken a trip to Australia while showing Nora’s picture to everyone he encountered in hopes of one day tracking her down. When Matt died, Kevin assumed Nora would reappear but when she didn’t he almost gave up but still couldn’t believe that she was really gone.
When he arrived in Australia this time and finally found her, Kevin almost couldn’t fathom that what he had been dreaming about for all these years finally came true. So he decided to erase the past to try and give them a fresh start because all he’s wanted was the chance to reconnect with the person he loves most in this world but now even that didn’t work.
After his long explanation, Nora invites Kevin inside to share some tea.
As they sit together at the table, Kevin explains that nearly everything he told Nora was true except he’s still living in Jarden, Texas. Michael Murphy now runs the church that Kevin left behind. John and Laurie are still married and living next door to him and Kevin has been working as the chief of police for many, many years. Nora then tells him that she’s stayed in contact with Laurie all these years but asks him not to blame her for not telling him because they’ve been working as patient and therapist, which means his ex-wife was not allowed to say anything regarding her whereabouts.
Nora tells Kevin that everything he told her in that hotel room back in Melbourne was the truth. She needed to be with her kids. After the Sudden Departure, Nora did everything in her power to get past that terrible loss from having prostitutes shoot her while wearing a bulletproof vest to the hug from Holy Wayne and even the tattoo she got and then covered up as a tribute to her children.
It was all meant as a way for Nora to get past it but she never did.
So the machine that would allow her to travel to the other side to see where they went after the Sudden Departure was the only way she could get closure. She knew it was possible that she would die as a result but she accepted that long before sitting in that pod with goo dripping all over her body before being blasted with radiation.
Kevin wonders if she had second thoughts and then pulled herself out of that machine but Nora explains that she stuck with it until she disappeared to the other side.
When Nora woke up she was in that same parking lot where the trucks once housed the machine that would send her to the other side, but the scientists were gone and she was just there naked and alone. She walked to a nearby town that appeared to be abandoned before finding some clothes and then reconnecting with some friendly people who took her in and that’s when she realized where she was.
Nora had been transported to the upside down version of our world except in this place 98-percent of the world’s population had been blinked out of existence without explanation. It was like the universe splintered at that moment during the Sudden Departure and Earth became it’s own multi-verse with two separate worlds living and breathing within inches of each other. When Nora discovered that she had actually crossed over, she made her way to New York so she could finally reconnect with her children.
Nora arrived and found her house but stood across the street just trying to find the courage to knock on the door. Instead, the door opened and she saw her children walk out and they were grown older and happy. Her husband then appeared alongside his new wife, clearly remarried after he believed Nora had disappeared seven years earlier. Nora says that in this world where 98-percent of the population just blinked out of existence, everybody that remained clung to each other because they were all just orphans left behind.
It was almost the exact opposite for the world where Nora came from because there the people left behind couldn’t find a way past what happened and all seemed to search for some kind of answer as to how to move on. In the alternate universe, Nora saw that everybody leftover was happy and content because they had to depend on each other to make it by after so many people were gone.
Seeing her children so happy gave Nora the closure she needed. Rather than invading their lives, she decided that this was more than enough and it was time to go back to the other side. So she tracked down the scientist who created this machine — because he was the first person to crossover — and asked him to build another one to send her back. He complied and sent Nora back to our world where she’s remained ever since.
Now it might seem strange that after all this time Nora only needed to see her children for the briefest of moments to gain some sort of closure but that’s all she says it took for her to put the past behind her to move forward. Nora never had answers about what happened to her children and now she knew for certain that they were alive and happy.
That was enough.
At the end of her story, Nora looks at Kevin with tears in her eyes and tells him that she never reached out to him after returning from this parallel universe because he couldn’t possibly believe this wild story. Without blinking, Kevin looks back and says why wouldn’t he believe her — after all she’s here.
Nora smiles and reaches across the table where she clutches Kevin’s hand for the first time in more than a decade. The sun sets on Australia as Kevin Garvey and Nora Durst get a fresh start because this is always where they were meant to be.
At the heart of ‘The Leftovers’ this was a love story about two people who started out completely broken and damaged in the aftermath of the Sudden Departure. They found their way together but still so desperately wanted answers. Kevin felt hollowed out and always felt like his life had some greater meaning like perhaps he would be the messiah that would stop the end of the world except there was no apocalypse coming.
Meanwhile, Nora just couldn’t get past the loss of her children no matter how many bullets she took, hugs she received or towns that promised nothing but miracles. She never got the chance to mourn for her kids because they weren’t dead — they were just gone and that never gave her any sense of closure.
What it took them 22 years to realize — six years as a couple and another 16 years apart — is that they were always stronger together than apart. Kevin and Nora just needed each other to get through anything and now they’ve finally found their way back again.
In the end we learned that there was no reason for why the Sudden Departure happened but it also didn’t mean it was going to happen again. Kevin’s father was just a man who heard voices in his head and there wasn’t a song to sing that would save the world. Matt Jamison didn’t write the newest chapter in the Bible about a savior named Kevin Garvey because Kevin was never a messiah in the first place.
Did Nora really travel to some parallel universe where 98-percent of the world disappeared or was this just a story she told herself to finally move past the loss of her children? We may never know.
The tagline for the final episode read “nothing is answered, everything is answered and then it ends”. There may be no better explanation for the last episode of ‘The Leftovers’ than this one.
This series was painted as a science fiction mystery where people searched for answers to an unexplainable event while then trying to do everything possible to stop it from ever happening again. Really, people were locked in a perpetual loop of grief that this event could have possibly happened in the first place. They were shocked. They were angry. They were in denial. There were no answers and that scared people more than anything else and ultimately they never found acceptance because moving forward meant the people who were gone were really gone forever.
When Kevin Garvey and Nora Durst finally accepted all that had happened to them, they not only made their way back to each other but they found hope. And with hope they found love. And with love they found the one piece that had been missing since that fateful day of the Sudden Departure.