“If John Doe’s head splits open and a UFO should fly out, I want you to have expected it.” —Det. William Somerset (Morgan Freeman), Seven
Damon Lindelof has spent more than a year tamping down expectations for the final episodes of The Leftovers. “No tricks, no twists,” he said in 2016, and in recent interviews, he’s made it clear that viewers shouldn’t expect absolute closure on all the tantalizing loose strings that he and his writing team have woven into the show’s fabric during three seasons. Heck, HBO’s official synopsis for the finale, “The Book of Nora,” is “Nothing is answered. Everything is answered. And then it ends.”
Noted. But I still tuned in prepared for UFOs to fly out of split-open heads, even after the return of Iris DeMent’s season 2 opening-credits song, which urges viewers to “just let the mystery be.” I simply have too many questions: What happened to Nora? What happened to Laurie? Is Kevin immortal? Will the world end? Are we done with the penis jokes?
As the title indicates, the final chapter is Nora’s story, and the episode begins with Nora giving her video testimonial, a final requirement before being blasted with neutron radiation so she can reconnect with her dearly Departed children in some other plane of existence. (Or be burnt to a crisp and dumped into the harbor.) Tracking down and confronting Drs. Eden and Bekker a second time was apparently all Nora needed to get the green light she wanted. Nevertheless, Bekker still has doubts that Nora is a suitable candidate, primarily because she doesn’t believe Nora’s testimonial. Eden challenges Nora by making her include Erin and Jeremy’s names in her second take, and just the mere mention of her children’s names rattles her.
Matt and Nora make the most of their last goodbye, playing Mad Libs Obituary Edition while Nora undergoes a saline drip to prep for her procedure. It’s a beautiful brother-sister scene with Nora thinking back to the small kindnesses Matt bestowed on her after their parents died when she still a young child. Back then, he called her “the bravest girl on Earth,” and he insists the title still applies. Matt isn’t feeling so brave himself. He’s afraid of cancer, afraid of dying, afraid of ever being a priest again after coming to the realization that he has no real answers to help others. But at least he’s going back home soon, back to Mary and Noah.
Prepped for her procedure, Nora disrobes and enters the truck alone, following the very specific instructions given by the doctors. As she makes her way to a clear orb, she flashes back to the morning of the Departure, when she snapped at her children at the breakfast table just moments before they vanished. Their voices echo through her mind, and I had to wonder if that prominent nightmare was a good or bad sign. If you’re risking your life to reunite with your long-lost children, is the last-second memory that flashes through your brain at the moment of truth the worst thing that ever happened to you? I worried for Nora just then, and wished that those final moments were reinforced by happy memories of her children, too — like birthday parties and baby steps and days at the beach. Inside the orb, the procedure begins. The metallic liquid begins to fill up, and at the last second, just as the fluid rises above her chin, Nora screams, and we cut to a blue sky. Did Nora yell for help? Did the scientists halt the procedure?
We know she survived. We’ve known that since the season premiere, when we met Sarah, a slightly older Nora doppelgänger who shuttled cooped birds to a rural church. That sequence replays, with the nun commenting about the healthy flock and saying, “Love is in the air.” Like before, Nora denies knowing a Kevin when the nun asks, but this time, the nun goes on to explain that a man by that name approached her yesterday with a photo of Nora/Sarah, and that she suspects Kevin didn’t believe her claims that she didn’t recognize the woman in his picture.
The penultimate episode certainly recalibrated the show’s final arc as a love story. While Kevin was literally fighting himself and contemplating nuking the alt-world, he confided to his twin the great regret he felt for how he’d left Nora, how he’d been a coward in their relationship. And as a shaken Nora (let’s drop Sarah and just call her Nora from now on) biked home after her conversation with the nun, Billie Holiday didn’t discourage the notion that love was truly in the air, singing, “Someday he’ll come along / The man I love / And he’ll be big and strong / The man I love / And when he comes my way / I’ll do my best to make him stay.”
Like Kevin in his novel, Nora is also tempted to escape. Not long after she gets home, she decides it’s time to flee before Kevin can find her. But it’s too late. He’s at the door, smiling at her. The beard is gone, and he’s older. Time has been good to him, though, and he’s thrilled to see her. No apology, no “Thank God you’re alive.” In fact, Kevin seems to be a different Kevin: one who claims not to have seen Nora since their flirty chance meeting in Mapleton at the Christmas dance. He’s in Australia on vacation, and he couldn’t believe it when he recognized her riding her bicycle. Which is crap since Nora knows that Kevin approached the nun about her — but Kevin isn’t caving. He’s committed to this ruse.
If it is a ruse. I mean, he’s so committed to it that it calls into question everything. (UFOs flying out of split-open heads!) Is this a different Kevin because this is a different Nora (Sarah) and this is a parallel reality, due to the radiation procedure? Has Lindelof lost his mind and we’re 40 minutes from finding out three seasons of The Leftovers took place inside the snow globe of an autistic boy?