To start, Nora held a newspaper and looked into a video camera, stating her desire to leave this world. The Finnish physicists gave her one last test: skepticism about her sincerity. “I don’t lie,” Nora said through gritted teeth, a statement worth revisiting later in the episode. Her steeliness dissolved, though, when asked to say her children’s names. The camera closed in. “I’m ready to go now.” Were you crying already?
The mad-libs conversation between Nora and Matt touchingly honored the fact that this was their last moment together. It also, with the “bravest girl on Earth” anecdote, explained why Nora was going through with this. And this was a creepy-beautiful work of set design and direction: the “fossil” that was wheeled by, the doll in the fishbowl, the door of the truck pulled shut, Nora naked and alone walking down a sci-fi hallway, the egg-like pod, the fetal position, the whirring noises, the gunk filling up, and Nora’s final, truncated scream. Call it the best short film Ridley Scott never made.
Suddenly we were staring at doves in the sky, and déjà vu set in from the season premiere when we saw Nora-as-Sarah, pigeon-deliverer, aged somewhat, hanging out with a nun. From this point forward the episode became an exercise in profound disorientation: I screamed at my TV repeatedly. It wasn’t that we were shown anything impossible. It’s that what we were shown contradicted the world as we understood it—as it must have been for the people of Earth after October 14, 2011.
The most obvious interpretation, initially, was that Nora was in an another dimension thanks to the machine. But that became complicated when Kevin Garvey knocked on her door and Nora seemed flabbergasted. It wasn’t Kevin’s mere arrival that was so freaky. It was that he seemed to have forgotten their life together. If this was an alternate world, he might have been able to travel there to find Nora—but why would his memory be gone? If this was our realm, the same question remained—had he gone insane again? Kevin, aged, played his stranger routine completely straight, inviting her to a dance that night amid Nora angrily interrogating him about how he found her.
Nora then went—in another small but shocking turn—to call Laurie. The therapy (and confidentiality) agreement they made on the bluff in Australia remained intact, and unless this was the afterlife, Laurie didn’t end up killing herself while scuba diving. Rather, she appeared to be caring for a child at a playground, her curly mane less tamed than ever. Over satellite phone she, as always before, met her patient’s agitation with calmness. “You called me because you wanted me to say it’s okay to go to the dance,” she counseled. Nora shrieked her reply: “I do not want to go to the fucking dance!”
But Nora did go, in the end. First, though, we got some tour-de-force physical acting from Carrie Coon as Nora prepared to flee, then reconsidered, then got trapped in her cute little bathroom. What was Nora thinking as she was locked in? Was she realizing how upset she’d be if she let Kevin slip away again? The larger meta question of The Leftovers loomed: Is the universe playing tricks on people? Or, rather, are people continually suspecting the universe is playing tricks on them, spinning signs out of meaningless things?