The Leftovers: See You on the Other Side
Nora and Kevin take a long-haul flight.
Each week following episodes of the third and final season of The Leftovers, Sophie Gilbert and Spencer Kornhaber will discuss HBO’s drama about the aftermath of 2 percent of the world’s population suddenly vanishing.
Sophie Gilbert: Do the two men in this show named Kevin Garvey know that there are, in this world, such things called telephones? And that one can use them to communicate in sounds, over phone calls, or in words, over email? And that they don’t, in fact, have to always send messages to each other, whether consciously or unconsciously, through televisions?
That said, the randomness of the ways in which Kevin Jr. and Kevin Sr. keep encountering each other—one tripping on God’s Tongue and one in the purgatorial realm, one in a Melbourne hotel room and one in a missing person’s photo, one in the background of a pancake demonstration and one watching at the home of a woman named Grace—has me tempted to conclude that this is all part of some grand design, and not just a string of random events that bring characters together unexpectedly. And I know reading meaning into coincidences always brings downfall as far as The Leftovers is concerned, but can this all just be happenstance? Or are the Kevins destined to be together at the end of the world?
Speaking of the end of the world, during the (chilling, terrifying) moment when Kevin first saw Evie on the television, she was holding up a sign that said “Surah 81,” which happens to be a section in the Qur’an that lists signs of the Day of Judgment. So was Evie holding it, or the librarian? Is Kevin really delusional, or is he seeing things for a reason? Is Kevin really trying to escape—not just escape Mapleton, but escape existence itself?
This was such a loaded, fascinating episode, especially on the back of last week’s “Crazy Whitefella Thinking,” which spent possibly more time with Kevin Sr. than necessary, as unlikable as he was. Every single event that happened in “G’Day Melbourne” seemed fraught with significance, which even Nora noted, when she asked the Finnish scientists if the woman who asked her to hold the baby was part of a bigger trick. Everyone seems to be suspicious of everything, and at this point, who can blame them? As viewers, we’re all sitting here too with our magnifying glasses and our pause buttons, trying to find clues in minor details.
Spencer, I’m curious of what you made of Nora’s trip to the warehouse, particularly the question about whether she’d kill a baby if it would cure cancer. This was precisely the ethical quandary the self-immolating Russian was ranting about in the Outback last episode, only the way he put it, it seemed like he’d given the opposite answer to Nora, and had been rejected all the same. So what is this ploy? Is it an easy excuse for the scientists to reject people whom they think are too fragile? Are they playing a longer con? Or are they conducting some kind of psychological experiment that has nothing to do with radiation and everything to do with lying in packing containers for several minutes?
Nora, as we saw in the scene at the airport, is definitely not doing so well. She’s thrill-seeking by smuggling international currency (note her unpersuasive “Huh” when Kevin asked why she didn’t simply give him half the money to carry), she’s conducting rogue operations without jurisdiction, and she really seemed desperate when the scientists drove away without giving her the opportunity to follow Mark Linn-Baker and go “through.” Whatever uneasy peace she’d formed with Kevin over the last few years in Jarden was shattered when the two had their epic showdown in the hotel room. And both knew exactly why: Their relationship is built on secrets, not trust, and the ugliness of their honest confessions seemed to explain it. Nora suspects that Kevin is enthralled by Matt’s wild idea that he might be the second coming of Christ. Kevin thinks Nora is addicted to being a victim, and that she simply wouldn’t be able to function if she let go of her pain.
Both are right, and wrong, I’d argue. Nora’s instability now seems to come from the fact that she has tried to let go of her grief over the last few years, settling down with Kevin and climbing the ranks at the DSD. But it hasn’t worked, and she’s unhappier and more erratic than ever. And Kevin is both enticed by and terrified of what’s been happening to him, because he can’t shake the suspicion that he really is crazy, just like his father. But is he? (Either way, “I fucking love it, it’s riveting, I read it fucking cover to cover,” is a hell of a book review.)
Spencer, what did you make of Nora’s meeting with the scientists, and her breakdown at the end of the episode? What’s this explosion people are talking about? Did you enjoy seeing Evie again, even through the filter of Kevin’s troubled psyche? Did you enjoy hearing Ray LaMontagne’s “This Love Is Over” in the opening credits? Are we in agreement that “Take on Me” is truly a masterpiece of popular music?
Spencer Kornhaber: I don’t think I’ll be able to hear “Take on Me” as just another synthpop bop (recently mocked by La La Land!) ever again. A-ha’s “I’ll be gone in a day or twoooo” sounds dead serious when, for Nora, being gone in a day may entail burning alive—like her parents, but in a hotel fire or in a radioactive coffin. How gorgeous, how awful, was that final shot of sprinkler water streaming off Nora’s eyelashes as if she were Our Lady of Sorrows? It was both a fitting image for a tragic mother abandoned by her Joseph who thinks he’s Jesus, and also a fitting finish for an episode of madcap stress culminating in ugly heartbreak.
The emotional coup de grace Kevin delivered to Nora in their fight—“you should go be with them,” them being her departed children—came after what must have been a planeload of resentment accumulating within him as she repeatedly hinted she wanted him gone. The opening sequence at the airport was a symphony of passive aggression: Nora’s silence to the TSA agent asking if they’re together; Nora’s eagerness to go through security alone; Nora hurrying down the escalator as Kevin stood just a few steps behind her (am I crazy or was there also a Kevin lookalike between them?). It was a relief, in a way, when the two got screwing on a bathroom baby-changing station—finally, some affection —but the way the sex scene was cut with sad music gave it a terrible air of finality. “This love is over” Ray LaMontagne had sung over the credits. Say it ain’t so.
You’ve accurately diagnosed the reasons for these lovers falling out, Sophie: secrets. Throughout the episode, Damon Lindelof’s team smartly threaded in reminders of just how hidden Kevin and Nora keep themselves from each other. Really, the first time she revealed the whole Mark Linn-Baker thing was on the plane to Australia? Really, he brought “his” book along without telling her? On the plane, Kevin suggested the physicists couldn’t think Nora would go forward with their scheme if they knew about his existence. But when she met with that delightfully yin-yang duo of Finns, they made clear they knew all about Kevin—and they had judged him to be no check on Nora’s desire to leave this world. Signs say they’re right about that. After all, she was so chill with the thought of artificial Departure that she fell asleep in a box that usually simulates terror.
Nice catch, Sophie, that the man who lit himself on fire in the previous episode seemed to face the same ethical question as Nora regarding babies and cancer. Each person gave opposing responses yet were (apparently) rejected, so it seems there is no right answer. Perhaps the Finns’ real project is confronting mourning people with the theoretical possibility of obliteration so as to cause an emotional epiphany. But if so, it’s a destructive epiphany, judging by the Volkswagen man’s suicide and Nora’s volcanic distress at being rejected. Maybe there’s some other, secret step that would-be participants in the project have to take—and maybe that’s what Nora tries to figure out now that she’s single and stranded in Australia.
Kevin’s saga this episode had the rare effect of providing more clarity about the state of real and not-real in The Leftovers, though it took a lot of mind-bending hijinks to arrive there. That he saw Evie in the face of a random woman, and that the disconnect between his perception and reality was caught on iPhone camera, would seem to finally—finally!—confirm that Kevin is indeed schizophrenic. But Sophie, you mentioned he may be “seeing things for a reason,” and Kevin himself must be nursing the same suspicion. How might the show resolve the question of meaningless delusions vs. supernatural visions without violating the sense of possibility and ambiguity that makes The Leftovers special? I can’t think of a way.
In any case, Kevin’s travails tonight were peak Leftovers: horror married to humor in the eerie-cheery G’Day Melbourne hosts, the koala mascot that bloody-faced Kevin asked for directions, and the library attendant who called security on him for “being weird.” I was especially moved by Jasmin Savoy Brown playing Daniah Moabizzi playing Evie Murphy convincingly flinching in terror when Kevin grabbed her in the backroom. Another actorly note: In one long-distance phone call, Amy Brenneman as Laurie again proved her talents. “This isn’t real,” she said with such calm compassion that we viewers might wish, despite what we know of her troubled track record, for Laurie as our own therapist.
As we reach the halfway point of the final season, it’s as good a time as any to salute how this show has prepared itself for rewatchability by packing each scene with fascinating, analyzable details. One example: When Nora seemed to set off a TSA agent’s wand, were we meant to suspect her “lensing” aura might be futzing with the equipment like it might have been futzing with touch screens a couple episodes ago? Another example: If you freeze-frame on Kevin and Nora’s passports, you see that they renewed their documents on the same day but years apart. It’s surely a coincidence without meaning, which is to say we’re going to be coming up with our own meanings about it for some time now.