[Warning: This story contains spoilers for the series finale of HBO’s The Leftovers, “The Book of Nora.”]
With those two final words, spoken by Nora Durst (Carrie Coon), The Leftovers closes the book on “The Book of Nora,” and the series at large. The final episode of the Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta drama wrapped up with all of its hallmarks on full display: Coon front and center with a moving lead performance, resolution for all of the main characters (even if most of them were absent from the screen), more than a few Easter eggs for Lindelof’s Lost loyalists, and an emotional conclusion that serves as a happy counterpoint to the dark notes on which this series began.
What’s more, the series finale offered something entirely unexpected: closure on the Sudden Departure — assuming you, like Kevin (Justin Theroux), believe in Nora’s story. Here’s how it all played out.
1. Through the Looking Glass
The episode begins with Nora on the edge of another world. As promised all season long, Nora prepares to step inside of a machine that’s designed to transport her to whatever world the suddenly departed now inhabit, fully aware that it could very easily result in her death. Before she goes, Nora helps her brother Reverend Matt (Christopher Eccleston) mad-lib their way through her obituary, as she prepares to ship off to “the Great Antonio in the Sky.” During their conversation, the terminally ill Matt confesses that he’s afraid to confront his own mortality, and the idea that he might be forgotten in the sands of time. Nora invites Matt to travel with her through the machine, but he declines, opting instead to confront his fears.
Nora proceeds to confront her own fears, shedding her robe (which bears an eerie resemblance to the Guilty Remnant’s get-ups) and baring it all as she steps into the machine. As metallic fluids encase her within the “Event Chamber,” Nora offers up one final scream, leaving the outcome entirely ambiguous, if only for now.
2. The Constant
We catch up with Nora several years in the future, the same world teased at the end of the season three premiere. She now goes by the name Sarah, living off the grid and making her livelihood selling doves to the same nun who asked: “Does the name Kevin mean anything to you?”
Several fans wondered if the future would be marked by the spread of “Kevinism,” based on the gospel Matt was writing all season long. That theory was debunked, as the nun clarifies that a man named Kevin showed up with a picture of Nora. The so-called Sarah is visibly shaken by the reveal, so much so that she returns home and packs key belongings into a backpack, ready to hit the road and avoid this confrontation at all costs.
But it’s too late: Kevin shows up at her door, aged in his own ways, including some apparent memory loss. He tells Nora that they once met at a Christmas dance in Mapleton, referring to events from the earliest days of the series — but that’s it. No mention of their move to Miracle. No mention of their epic breakup in Melbourne. He tells Nora that there’s a dance in town later that evening, and he’d like the chance at one last dance. When she turns him down, the smiling Kevin tells her she knows where to find him if she changes her mind.
3. The Other Woman
In the aftermath of Kevin’s visit, a very thrown Nora rides off on her bicycle and stops at a payphone in the middle of nowhere. There, she calls up her therapist: Laurie Garvey (Amy Brenneman), alive and well in Jardin, Texas.
Two episodes earlier, Laurie threw herself into the middle of the ocean in what appeared to be an act of suicide. Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter, Brenneman described the scene as a “goodbye” for Laurie Garvey. For his own part, Justin Theroux told THR about Laurie’s goodbye: “The beauty is, we won’t ever find out, I don’t think. I don’t think we’re ever going to find out. I think she killed herself. But for people who want to believe that she came up for air? They’re welcome to believe that.” At the end of the interview, he added: “I’ve misdirected you a couple of times in this conversation.” Looks like we know where the lie lies.
In any case, Laurie’s alive, and she’s the only person who knows about Nora’s whereabouts. Nora asks if Kevin has been crazy lately; not so much, according to the man’s ex-wife. “Same time next week,” she offers when Nora hangs up the phone.
4. Greatest Hits
Later, Nora decides to attend the dance, except it’s not just a dance; it’s a wedding. She finds Kevin, who still feigns ignorance about their shared history together, and instead fills her in on the greatest hits of everyone in their lives: Laurie is alive, as we’ve already seen, still living with John Murphy (Kevin Carroll) in Mapleton; John’s son Michael (Jovan Adepo) runs the church in Jardin, which his mother Erika (Regina King) often frequents; Kevin’s daughter Jill (Margaret Qualley) is happily married with a daughter named Penelope (no relation to Widmore); his son Tommy (Chris Zylka) was unhappily married but has since landed on his feet; Kevin Senior (Scott Glenn) is still alive and kicking at the ripe old age of 91; Reverend Matt has since passed away, but 400 people attended his funeral, and he was lovingly eulogized by his wife Mary (Janel Moloney).
The newly minted husband and wife at the heart of the ceremony deliver speeches on the distinctions between sinning and making mistakes, hanging beaded necklaces representing sin around the neck of a literal scapegoat. They release doves into the skies, carrying off messages of love to deliver all across the world. Kevin and Nora finally dance together, tears streaming down both of their faces. When Kevin still refuses to acknowledge their past, Nora breaks away, calls him on his lies, and storms home.
When she returns home, Nora finds that the doves she leant to the nun have yet to return from the wedding. She heads to the church and yells at the nun for not following explicit directions, furious that the doves have yet to come home. On her way back from the church, Nora crashes her bike in the middle of the road, running over a set of beaded necklaces. She looks uphill and sees the scapegoat is caught on a fence. Nora braves the hill, falling hard at points, before finally freeing the animal from the fence and placing the veritable sin around her own neck.
6. Tabula Rasa
The sun is rising when Nora comes back home, goat in tow. The doves remain missing in action. Soon, another visitor arrives: Kevin. This time, he’s owning their history. He tells Nora that he never believed Matt’s story that Nora was gone, not even when Nora was absent from Matt’s funeral. He has two weeks of vacation every year, and he’s used those weeks to travel to Australia, showing pictures of Nora to everyone he can. This time, he finally found someone who knew who Nora was. He decided to take a clean slate approach when confronting Nora, hoping that they would be able to start fresh. Clearly, it wasn’t a great idea. With the whole truth now on the table, Nora invites Kevin inside, as she prepares to pour some literal and proverbial tea.
7. The End
Nora tells her side of the story, and reveals that the machine worked, sending her to a parallel earth in which the suddenly departed live. After an arduous trek, Nora journeyed from Australia to an overgrown Mapleton in order to find her family. Mission accomplished, except when she saw her children, they were happy and had moved on with their lives. Realizing there was no place for her in this world, Nora visited the creator of the machine — the first person to cross over into the other universe — and had him build a device that would send her back home. Once she returned, she went into hiding, figuring too much time had passed to reconnect with Kevin, fearing he wouldn’t believe her story.
“I believe you,” Kevin says, grabbing her hand, tears streaming down his face. “You’re here.”
A tearful Nora Durst responds: “I’m here.” Outside of her home, the departed doves come back.
What did you think of The Leftovers finale? Were you surprised at the apparent explanation for what happened to the suddenly departed? Sound off with your theories on the ending in the comments.