The series finale of The Leftovers is shocking. Not because Nora and Kevin are old and it isn’t revealed to be a dream, hallucination, or afterlife. But because the show answers a question it had long professed to have no interest in: It reveals what happened to the Departed people. That’s right, Damon Lindelof pulled the opposite of his previous show Lost: The Leftovers spend three seasons promising the audience no answers, only to turn around and offer an immensely satisfying answer. Damon Lindelof, you sly devil.
Spoilers for The Leftovers series finale are below.
The series finale opens with Nora as she’s about to undergo a suicide mission — entering the machine that will supposedly take her to where the Departed people went. After a tender moment with her brother Matt, she slowly enters the chamber in the back of a truck. She’s alone, the equipment is sterile and inhuman, and she’s clearly having second thoughts about her decision. Nonetheless, she gets in. The scene then returns to Nora as an old woman living in Australia, which briefly appeared at the end of Season 3’s first episode.
For the majority of “The Book of Nora,” the viewer is unsure whether this reality with Old Nora is real, or whether it’s an afterlife or a weird alternate dimension. After all, this is a show that loves alternate afterlife dimensions. When an old version of Kevin shows up, apparently not remembering their history, it seems to confirm that this is just some new strange, alternate reality and by the end, we’ll return to normally aged Nora and Kevin in the “real” world.
Even so, The Leftovers is careful not to include anything too fantastical that would confirm or deny the nature of this reality. Weird moments happen like Nora’s door locking and a goat escaping, but it’s the kind of weird that’s par for the course on this show.
Eventually, Kevin reveals that he does indeed remember Nora. In doing so, he confirms to the viewer that, wait, this is reality and not an alternate dimension. Nora then proceeds to explain to Kevin how she actually went where the Departed people disappeared off to.
They exist in an alternate reality that looks exactly like the real world with one notable exception: In their world, it seems like everyone left behind were the ones who Departed. It’s a direct inversion of the real world, the yin to its yang. Only, to them, it’s even lonelier, because they lost far more of the population. It’s a barren, deserted world. Nora’s family is lucky, because they only lost one person.
Not wanting to intrude on her family’s happiness; sensing she didn’t belong, Nora found the man who invented the machine and traveled back to the real world, where she proceeded to live alone in Australia for years. Delivering this information through a monologue instead of showing it would not work if it wasn’t for Carrie Coon’s delivery.
As Nora and Kevin reconnect after being apart for several decades, the show closes with a quietly hopeful ending. The Leftovers leaves a legacy as a show that speaks to the human soul and the nature of grief and loss like no other. Through its willingness to get experimental with alternate-universe episodes, it certainly shares DNA with Damon Lindelof’s predecessor Lost. But, in its confident ending and its ability to render raw human emotion into narrative, The Leftovers stands entirely on its own as a work of gorgeous televised philosophy unlike anything else.
All art attempts to capture the human soul in some form — but rarely does anything nail it as The Leftovers has.