Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Leftovers' Finale

Finally, the  3rd season of The Leftovers has come to an end - and with it the entire series. Seven years after the October 14 "Departure" of 2% of the world's population, Nora (having dramatically separated from Kevin after a fight in a Melbourne hotel) goes ahead with the procedure that will supposedly take her to where her disappeared children have gone. Before doing so, she and her brother Reverend Matt (who is himself terminally ill) have a lengthy conversation about mortality. Then she enters the machine. 

Fast forward several years, and an obviously older Nora (now going by the name Sara) is living on her own in rural Australia, operating a kind of carrier pigeon service. Out of the blue, Kevin (also older) shows up and pretends he's on vacation and just happened to recognize her on the road. As if they had had no history together, he tells her he remembers her from Mapleton and invites her to a local dance. Nora stops at a pay phone to call her therapist - Laurie Garvey, who obviously did not kill herself, and in fact is still living in Texas. Eventually, Nora goes to the dance, which turns out to be a wedding, where she dances with Kevin and catches up on the other characters, but challenges his refusal to acknowledge their past life together. The next day, Kevin comes calling and tells the truth, how he has been searching for her for years. She in turn tells him what happened to her when she travelled through the machine to a parallel earth in which the "Departed" have continued their lives. Having seen how her family have moved on, Nora realizes she doesn't belong there with them and gets the inventor of the machine to build another one to send her back, which is what brings her back to Australia. Kevin believes Nora's story, and the two are reunited in the closest thing this grief-filled series could come to a happy ending.

After all the gratuitous weirdness of the last two seasons, I was almost ready not to like the finale, but I'm such a sucker for romantic schmalz that I couldn't resist the reunion of the the older Kevin and older Nora. I could have done without some of the snarky religious symbolism, but I admit that I really liked the way Nora and Kevin got back together, and I think that having Kevin try the approach of pretending that their history together hadn't really happened was crazy clever. 

Nora's revelation of what happened to those who disappeared that infamous October 14 may be no more plausible than any of the show's other forays into the world beyond, but it is a surprisingly satisfying explanation - including the poignant detail that the disappeared have actually lost even more than those left behind, having in fact lost the entire other 98% of the world that they left behind when they departed. It is almost as if the series is suggesting that, now that we know what has happened to the departed, life on this side of the divide can resume, and the survivors' grief can be put behind them just like human sins on a scapegoat (a ritual actually employed by the participants in the wedding scene). 

Above all, Kevin comes across as somewhat sane again. In the first season, Kevin seemed to me to be someone who was desperately trying to hold his family together, against all odds and in particular against the dysfunctional and secretive behavior of his wife and children. Through the second and third seasons, even against the backdrop of his love for Nora, Kevin seemed to be on a constant collision course with any semblance of sanity. Suddenly, Kevin comes across again as weirdly normal, happy even. He is still living in Miracle (and who knows how crazy that place may still be!). But he is apparently living happily with his entire remaining family (children and ex-wife) and neighbors all nearby - except for Nora, whom he travels to Australia for two weeks each year in the vain hope of finding her. The older Kevin who confronts an older Nora in this final episode seems genuinely at peace with himself and his world - lacking only one thing, his relationship with Nora. But, because he now has his act more or less together, he seems better equipped to listen to Nora's story and accompany her back into what is left of their world, sharing her recognition that the world that is left to them, while it will always be incomplete thanks to the absence of those who departed, is a a full-enough world for them at least to make it work for them. Which is what will have to pass for healing in this planet of the forever sad.

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