Over the past few months, it’s been an honor and a privilege to take this group through The Leftovers, one of the greatest television shows ever created. Join us now as we reflect back on its final season with guest panelists Heather and Jen. And, while it may not need to be said, I’ll remind you that there are spoilers for every different reality below. – Sage
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- Favorite Episode?
Kim: I don’t know if this makes me the most basic bitch Leftovers fan, but I can’t get enough of this show’s concept of the afterlife/purgatory, so of course “The Most Powerful Man in the World (and His Identical Twin Brother)” takes my top spot. It’s no secret that I am a sucker for AUs, so I just really connect with this whole concept on a fundamental level, and the way Damon Lindelof executes it is just…*chef’s kiss*. Truly, I sit straight up in delighted expectation at the very first NOTE of Verdi now. Plus, I love how this world just allows everyone to go balls to the wall (or *weighty thunks* in Justin Theroux’s case) acting wise because everything about it is heightened and just…so big! You can’t go too big here, and yet nothing about this episode feels over the top because it’s grounded in reality.
This go-around the reality is Kevin finally coming face to face with all of his demons. Literally! This time, his only way back to the real world is to KILL HIMSELF, and it’s scored to “God Only Knows” by the Beach Boys, for fuck’s sake! That is like…next level shit right there. I love how Kevin figures out how to manipulate the world to serve his purposes. (The! Mirrors!) As a Meg Stan, I was so thrilled to see Liv Tyler one more time, and I was very amused at the work they put into conceal her very obvious pregnancy. I love that in his moment of need, it’s Patti Levin that Kevin summons, giving her the title of Secretary of Defense, no less. (The second most important relationship on the show!!!) I fucking love the cinematography, from the warm lighting of that bathtub scene with Nora to the glorious shot of Kevin and Patti in their white suits, holding hands as the world ends. I love how the episode stops as Kevin reads an excerpt from what could only be called the Book of Nora and everything comes into sharp focus as he finally realizes what he’s doing here in this world and what he WANTS from it. (Everyone was asking him all episode!) And finally, I love how everything stills in that final scene after the storm, where a shell-shocked Kevin Sr. asks his son what’s next, perfecting teeing up the finale. It’s a goddamned masterpiece y’all and I feel sorry for anyone who hasn’t seen it.
Sage: Several weeks ago, I sat down to rewatch “The Book of Kevin” ahead and quickly was beside myself with joy. It only made me happier to anticipate seeing all of you newbies acclimate to the show’s time jump and catch up on everything that’s happened off-screen in the past three years, and that experience did not disappoint. Season premieres were something I looked forward to throughout our Lost watch, since they almost always involved being thrown for some sort of loop and then slowly catching up as answers were revealed. Damon is a master of weaving in exposition, making an episode like “The Book of Kevin” exciting and fun where it could have been a mere info dump.
Oh, but what a trove of information we get! Tommy stayed in Jarden and is working with his dad. Mary is (physically) fine, and so was the rest of her pregnancy. Lily is gone, though we won’t be told why for a while. Nora and Kevin are back to work, doing what they do best and being very hot about it. Erika has bounced. Laurie and John are together (!!) running their grift/social services program out of the Murphys’ house. Matt, John, and Michael have decided that Kevin is the messiah and are writing an addendum to the Bible about his supposed immortality. There are several time jump beards. We even get an update on Dean the dog guy, who has fully slipped into his delusion.
What makes this an iconic Leftovers episode for me and my favorite of the season is our inability to take all of this domestic happiness at face value. There’s a lot of trauma being shoved down, and we are acutely aware that it’s only a matter of time until it makes itself fiercely known again.
Heather: Ah-the big question. The hardest question. “Certified” and “It’s A Matt, Matt, Matt World” were major contenders, but I have to go with “Don’t Be Ridiculous.” This episode serves up a feast, with course after course of beautifully written, compelling, surprising scenes.
In particular, Erika and Nora on the trampoline and Mark Linn-Baker knocking it out of the park with a surprisingly deep performance make this episode sparkle for me. I think this is one of the most beautifully written episodes of the entire series. It is tight, funny, and multi-layered, with the action on the screen, both obscuring and amplifying the underlying emotional journey of our main characters. It deserves a standing ovation.
Jen: The end of “G’Day Melbourne” has some of the most beautiful shots. Like the water dripping down Carrie Coon’s face? Could we just give that an award? Kevin and Nora are so far from each other in this episode because neither of them can share how deep their trauma is. They are both suffering alone, and it’s heartbreaking. Kevin desperately wants a family but he can’t trust that Nora will stay with him if he shows her the worst parts of his illness. The man knows how to self-sabotage with the best of them. And Nora can’t acknowledge just how much she is still looking for closure and a sense of control. The confrontation at the end of the episode is perfect because it mirrors the many times Nora has come home to find Kevin in crisis and seems to put aside her own. And this relationship can never sustain without all-out Truth Day. They both know the other has been holding back and they can never come back to each other until it happens.
Rachel: Laurie Garvey has gone on quite a journey over the course of this series. We meet her as a member of the Guilty Remnant and watch her come to terms with loneliness and regret, seeking a sort of redemption and reunification with her family, and finally becoming her own person. Certified provides a sometimes shocking but ultimately heartfelt (almost final) conclusion to her arc. We witness a Last Supper of sorts with Laurie self-identifying as Judas, setting up the series ending. But the thread that runs through the episode is a stronger Laurie helping people while recognizing when they don’t need her anymore.
Certified can be difficult to watch, with not one but two apparent suicide attempts by Laurie, but Amy Brenneman brings a subtleness to her performance here that is informed by her silent Season One, as Laurie chooses her words and expressions carefully, knowing how valuable they are. That same silence that drove her in Season One is bookended in the credits with no music. Just the sound of the waves. A perfect ending.
Shannon: There was no way I was gonna leave this show without one final, whole-hearted celebration of my forever fave. And damn, does “Certified” give me what I need to make that happen. There’s great non-Laurie content in it too; Matt and Nora leaning into their weirdly touching sibling energy, the madcap stalking party, Kevin Sr. being Kevin Sr. (More on that later.) But let’s get real here. Pull up a chair while I talk about why I love Dr. Laurie Garvey Murphy.
In this one single hour, we track all of Laurie’s life within the show. “Certified” touches on every bit of her arc. It’s here we get her Guilty Remnant origin story, watching her sign up with the group in the depths of emotional desolation. It wasn’t just her own loss and trauma that drove her there, though that would certainly be enough; it was the weight of the losses of everyone around her. The weight of her empathy, of her expectations of herself as a therapist, were too much to bear. Joining the Guilty Remnant freed her from that expectation and delivered her a script. Which she followed, until she couldn’t anymore.
“Certified” doesn’t shy away from her lowest points with the GR; Nora deftly (and fairly) reminds Laurie of those horrific lifesize replicas from season one. And yet, there’s so much joy. “Certified” honors the life she’s built with John and Michael. That has to be recognized. But even moreso, it honors the life Laurie had with Kevin. That sequence with the two of them on the porch is one of my top scenes in the show’s entire run. Kevin and Laurie never got to have this before; they never got to sit in that quiet, comfortable knowing that comes from spending decades with a loved one. They never got to be family. They never got to have a truth day. And to be fair, neither of them were ready or willing before now – but they both deserved to honor that time for each other before they moved on.
Laurie Garvey is an empathic, sensitive, stubborn, dismissive, compassionate soul. She will drug her entire family without blinking, and she’ll do it with an evil twinkle in her eye after insisting that she is the Judas of this ragtag Australian Last Supper. She will also stand with her ex husband’s partner in her moment of most needing, giving Nora everything she has. She feels everything so deeply, so completely, that she can believably spin a 180 from an exhausted laugh to nearly crying at the revelation of the Jamison family tragedy. After leaving the GR, Laurie has kept compassion for every single person in her heart, no matter what. She is along for every ride. She hopes they do the same, and yet she’d never expect it. It’s all laid bare in “Certified.” Laurie. My girl. I love you the most.
- Least Favorite Episode?
Shannon: At the risk of sounding like a broken record season after season, there are no bad episodes in this run. Frankly, I don’t think there are any bad episodes in the whole damn show! But if I have to pick one (and I suppose I do), I’m going with “G’Day, Melbourne.” I had a real hard time with Kevin stalking a random, innocent, and uninvolved Muslim woman in what amounted to the second installment of that time he harassed the clerk at a dry cleaners in season one. No one asked for that vibe to come back, and yet, here we are.
Rachel: It’s a good episode and serves a huge purpose for the character trajectories, don’t get me wrong, but “G’Day Melbourne” is probably my least favorite of the season because it makes me the most uncomfortable overall. Nora and Kevin are at their worst, Kevin especially so as he stalks and harasses that poor woman who he confuses for Evie. Even if it WAS her, Kevin’s behavior is way out of line. Nora does not like having her character being questioned by the physicist couple, and reacts poorly! The only one who comes out in a better place at the end of this chapter is Laurie.
Sage: “Crazy Whitefella Thinking” does what it has to do. I think of it as a bridge from one end of the season to the other, and Scott Glenn and the entire guest cast (not to mention the visuals) are superb. But in an eight-episode season – an eight-episode final season – full of bangers, it is indeed removed and, when I watched it for the first time especially, I was impatient as hell, wondering why we were spending an entire hour watching Kevin Sr. try to appropriate an ancient culture. I have a lot more appreciation for it now, especially as it carries forward this idea that Kevin Sr. is an archangel Gabriel of sorts for his son, but in a tight slate, it still sinks to the bottom.
Heather: The only episode that’s a possibility for Least Fave is “Crazy Whitefella Thinking.” And not because it’s a bad episode. There isn’t a bad episode this season. But I could do without this episode, if we go the backstory some other way. I remember liking it more on my first watch, I think because it is so bewildering and I had no idea what would happen next, which created a good amount of narrative tension. But, once you know what’s coming, it doesn’t hold up as well on a rewatch. I also don’t like Kevin Sr. See below.
Jen: There are some brilliant moments and all the shots of the Australian outback are stunning but I can’t help but think “Crazy Whitefella Thinking” would have been better served by the weaving together of two storylines, like in the following episode. The show knows what it’s doing with the Aboriginal appropriation. Kevin killing Christopher Sunday accidentally because of his own bizarre religious quest is perfect. And yet, a whole episode examining Kevin Sr.’s hubris and white savior-ism was hard for me to watch.
Kim: In an eight-episode season, where every single episode is brilliant in its own right, this is an impossible question, and I refuse to answer. If I were forced to answer, I would say “Crazy Whitefella Thinking” because it’s brilliance is the most challenging, but I also chose that episode for most underrated, so the limit does not exist. Good day, sir!
- Favorite Character?
Sage: It’s me, your resident Kevin Garvey stan, admitting that this season belongs to Nora Jamison Durst.
And what an arc to throw at her. Nora takes any attempt to romanticize or exploit the Departure as personally as a punch to the face, yet she’s the perfect mark for our rogue scientists because of that flicker of hope she’s never been able to fully extinguish. She also loves Kevin completely, yet still allows her guilt over whether she’ll ever be able to be fully present with him tear them (and keep them) apart.
But what I treasure most about Nora is how relatably not great at life she is and how pissed off she is at the world. She makes horrible, reckless choices all the time, usually when she feels cornered or helpless. She doesn’t always give others grace in their own suffering, even though she will physically fight anyone who even dares to comment on hers. The funniest joke in any of these scripts is when Kevin tells Nora that she’s the nicest person he knows. Even when she does a good thing – like not fighting Christine for Lily – she isn’t a big enough person not to act out about it. Nora is messy and stubborn and impossible, and while she does get called out on her shit by other characters, the story never punishes her for being so flawed.
Kim: I’ve waited the whole fucking series to say Nora Fucking Durst in this category because I felt in my GUT that it was all going to come down to her. And guess what? I was RIGHT.
The Leftovers has always been an ensemble show. While Kevin Garvey has always been our protagonist and point of entry into this world, I don’t feel like he’s necessarily been the one driving the narrative this entire time. That has always been something that’s been shared, with Kevin, Matt, Patti and the Guilty Remnant, Tommy, Kevin Sr, John and Erica Murphy, Meg, and Nora all coming to the forefront of the show at different times, all of them pushing this story forward. That changes for me in season three because it feels like, for the first time, that one character is steering this ship, and from episode two forward, that character is Nora Durst.
Think about it. Nora’s the whole reason the show shifts to Australia. Kevin would have never crossed paths with his father again had he not followed Nora there. (He would have been content to live in continued denial with his little commune in Jarden forever, he had convinced himself he was really happy!). Matt, John, and Laurie would not have figured their shit out and found their peace had it not been for following Kevin to Australia. Hell, even Grace was saved because of the actions of Nora Fucking Durst. It all comes down to this one woman.
And what a woman she is. What I love the most about Nora is how prickly she is. I love that she is like…a gaping wound barely keeping herself together half the time but she is also a master at PRETENDING that she is just fine. I love how fierce she is in her beliefs. I love how she is like a dog who refuses to let go of a bone once she gets an idea in her head. I love how DEEPLY she cares. She really is the bravest girl on Earth. It is CRIMINAL that Carrie Coon didn’t run the table with the major awards that year. I don’t know how anyone could watch “The Book of Nora” and NOT want to give her all the things.
Heather: In previous seasons it has been Nora (aka NFD) all the way. In Season Three however, Laurie’s character arc makes her a contender. But, in the end, it has been and always will be Nora Durst. When I first watched The Leftovers at the very beginning of lockdown, I couldn’t get over Carrie Coon’s performance and the ways in which her portrayal of Nora the character goes beyond the writing or any part of production. Carrie’s acting felt (and feels) like crystal clear, running water. It is all there to be seen, nothing is hidden under the rocks, it is completely transparent and authentic.
In addition to Carrie’s acting chops, we have Nora, the mother. The imperfect, complicated, working mother who had the almost unendurable experience of a bad-mommy moment being her last moment with her children. Few shows give us as an authentic exploration of motherhood as The Leftovers. And while we occasionally take a foray into Daddy Issues Island, the dominant emotional center of this show are the mothers. These women aren’t your typical, idealized, vilified, or invisible TV moms. Instead, these characters travel through the highways and byways of what it means to take on the responsibility for another life to such a profound degree that they live within you, and then to lose them. I have rarely felt that my mothering identity has been so accurately reflected in a show. And while Erika, Laurie, Mary, and Grace and bring this experience to life, no one does it better than Nora Durst.
While I admire, and often envy, Nora’s directness and her willingness to speak truth, it is the multiple, complicated layers of grief, rage, guilt, regret, joy, hope, and love that Carrie brings to Nora during every episode that makes me love her above all others. The closer and longer you look at her performance, the more there is to see. None of it is easy, none of it is simple, all of it is very human.
Jen: I never expected to fall in love with Laurie Garvey. While I appreciated Amy Brenneman’s performance in early episodes, her participation in the Guilty Remnant and her abandonment of her family made her a difficult character for me to love. In Season Two, I struggled with her relationship with Tommy in “Off Ramp” as they try to create a life after they’ve both escaped from their respective cults.
Here is this woman who is a professional trained to help people through their most difficult times. And the world fundamentally shifts. How do you help people when everyone in the world is experiencing loss? When you are? Who helps you? How do you do it when your hallucinating ex-husband whose friends are encouraging him to believe he is the second coming is calling you for guidance? If you’re Laurie, you use the professional tactics that you neglected the last time he was breaking from reality to try to steer him to safety instead of harm. And then you fly across the world to figure out what is happening.
Laurie spends all this time with people who are hoping for a spiritual answer or a scientific long shot. Laurie doesn’t have the answer. But she’s there to call bullshit and provide solace to the people around her. It’s not as flashy as biblical resurrections or energy that will transport you to another reality but it’s so damn real. In this hell of a last year where I’ve been trying to support the people around without losing my mind myself, there is something healing about watching Laurie. And yeah, that look she gives to Grace’s dog when she says, “I borrowed your pills.” Come on, you have to love a woman who finds the absurd humor of it all.
Rachel: This was a close one for me and I’m still honestly torn between Laurie Garvey and Kevin Garvey, Sr. But ultimately I landed on Laurie Garvey. The therapist in her informs everything she does over the course of the series. Laurie just wants to help. She very clearly does so in a lot of misguided ways but by this season has settled into a balance where she’s done the best she can to reunite her family, and will accept what Jill especially is willing to give her. And she helps others as best she can without trying too hard.
Moving on with John romantically is probably the best thing she has done to build a solid healthy relationship with Kevin. They actually like each other and are able to face some truths about their life and their experiences that they just couldn’t when they were married. The last scene between them in Certified shows how far she’s come, that she’s in a good place, and will take things as they come. But she ultimately has to live her own life, apart from his or anyone else’s destiny. On her own terms.
Shannon: The minute we started spending any real time with Kevin Garvey Sr., I was a goner. I can’t help being this predictable! I love an old, grumpy, sensitive man who yells a lot! I just do. This is my truth.
My own personal biases aside, in Kevin Garvey Sr., we have a man not totally unlike Laurie. (Lorelai, to him and him alone.) He’s just as likely to turn on a dime – except unlike Laurie, who vacillates quickly between empath and Judas, Kevin Sr. starts from a position of consistent, stubborn profanity before he slams into uncertain fragility. The way Kevin Sr. alternates between vulgarity and spirituality is one of the most beautiful things in the world. (Tattoo “I am discomfuckingbobulated” onto my face.) He’s foolish and selfish and refuses to see the damage he could be causing to those around him – except he’s also seeing that damage every second of the day. He is a man who is painfully aware of his surroundings, and of the emotional truths of those around him. He cares deeply about the stories of everyone he meets. He loves completely. He feels true fear. He keeps pushing forward anyway, because he knows no other path.
After all, where do you think Kevin Jr. gets it?
- Least Favorite Character?
Jen: There was a certain point in Season Three where I realized The Leftovers was never going to give Janel Maloney much to do. It was one of my only disappointments that we never really got to know Mary Jamison.
Shannon: In keeping with my choice last season, this is way less about who I don’t like and way more about who I think was just wasted: Mary Jamison. My girl. We hardly knew ye. I’m so glad she got out of a relationship that wasn’t serving her! I support her choices! But I was sorry to see her drop out of the life of the show so early in the season.
Kim: I’m going with the physicist that isn’t Katja Herbers just for how much shit she gives Nora about qualifying as a candidate for the machine. I mean, she’s most definitely right that Nora probably isn’t in her right mind, but she didn’t have to be such a bitch about it.
Rachel: I know why Dean the Dog Guy (or is he the sandwich guy now?) is there but man he is just annoying in any form!
Heather: I just can’t get close to Kevin Sr. He’s too narcissistic for me, with nothing to balance his self-focus out. Matt, also incredibly narcissistic, has his preacher/save the world/love everyone/always do the right thing part to his personality that I find terribly redeeming. Although the agenda Kevin Sr fanatically pursues is altruistic, he does so regardless of the cost to the people around him. In this way, he is so disconnected. Which, as I write this, I realize is at least true to his character. When we first meet him, the voices in his head were more real to him than the people around him, which is… really disconnected. But, unlike Matt and Grace, our other Leftovers fanatics who get some perspective at the end of the show and experience change, Kevin Sr. runs out of time and so remains static.
Sage: Gentle John is a TRIP, my friends.
Kevin Carroll is still great. He gets great stuff to do. I even like the makeover! And yet, I can’t help missing his old, chaotic self. With many apologies to Laurie’s calming influence, I will always stan Season Two John Murphy and his short fuse.
- Best New Addition?
Rachel: I’m going to go with Andy the Horse because he brought us those fine Kevin Garvey horseback riding moments in the season opener. Thank you for your service, Andy!
Sage: Our withholding lesbian physicists of course.
Shannon: Mark! Linn-Baker! I never watched Perfect Strangers and I did not know this man, but he had such a great, destabilizing introduction to Nora that I immediately sat up straighter. Plus I put the pieces together from the theme song choice and my curiosity was piqued.
The entire sequence with him in the hotel is masterfully done; he’s every inch a sitcom presence for precisely sixty seconds before he tosses Nora’s phone into the toilet and launches into a scientific explanation for whatever it is we see in the finale. Frankly, the whole damn season hinges on Mark Linn-Baker being a believable, empathic, sharp dude who just happened to be famous before the departure. He’s been through some shit, and now he’s meeting strangers in hotel rooms and trying to get them to agree to go through a machine to be with the departed for a cool $20k. His trauma and desperation isn’t any less real than anyone else’s. He could be selling Nora an elaborate ruse and taking a cut. He could think it was real, but be manipulated by the creators of the machine. He could be speaking absolute truth. That single scene in the hotel room is the launching point for the final, striking monologue in the finale after Nora and Kevin reunite. None of it matters if you don’t buy into Mark Linn-Baker.
Jen: Grace is introduced sacrificing one Kevin and follows that up by taking out a different one with a tranquilizer dart. She has three good friends who are prepared to help her drown a man based on a piece of paper she found in the hand of a random stranger in her backyard. A woman with conviction and the ability to follow through. And yet, her conviction is the source of her heartbreak. Her belief that her children went to be with God meant she never searched for them. Her monologue at the end of “Crazy Whitefella Thinking” brought me back to what Nora says in the Season Two episode, “Lens,”: “I felt responsible for losing my children, I thought it was my fault… Terrible things happen in this world, and the only comfort we get is that we didn’t cause them.” How many times must Grace have questioned what would have happened if her faith hadn’t led her to accept her children were gone? And yet, she continues to hope that her faith that will give her closure and in doing so she murder a man. Multitudes are contained in that monologue and Lindsay Duncan’s performance will haunt me for a long time.
Kim: Any time that Lindsay Duncan is on my television screen is a good one. She has such a tremendous presence, she carries herself with so much dignity and grace, and she has incredible chemistry with Scott Glenn. What a fantastic get for a show already filled with top-notch talent.
Heather: I like Grace. I presume that the opening scene in “The Book of Kevin” is a metaphorical re-telling of Grace’s longing for the Rapture – at least that’s how I read it. So, even though she takes a few episodes to appear, I felt like I already know her when we finally meet her. The ways in which the Departure crushed her are so painful and poignant, I have the impulse to look away. She is a part of the show’s exploration of motherhood and grief and, like Nora, she suffered a loss that is so great it’s almost too painful to think about. However, unlike Nora, she bears the burden of responsibility for that loss. Like Kevin Sr, the pursuit of her own desperate agenda blinded her to what was real around her. She is a complex character that has a lot going on for only showing up in five episode. (It doesn’t hurt that she played Adelaide Brooke in Doctor Who.)
- Most Underrated Episode?
Heather: With only eight episodes in Season Three, there really isn’t any room to tuck away an unimportant episode. Each episode this season accomplishes the twin goals of entertaining us and moving story forward. I even checked the Rotten Tomatoes score for each episode this season. None of were underrated. Overall, the season itself rated a 100% – amazing in and of itself. The lowest score of 8.2 went to “Don’t Be Ridiculous,” so I could say that one, given that it was my favorite episode. However, I’ll go with “Certified.” I am sure it is going to be listed as several people’s favorite. However, it’s a subtler, quieter episode which could potentially get overlooked as it’s placed between the two wild and crazy episodes of “It’s A Matt, Matt, Matt, Matt World” and “The Most Powerful Man in the World (and His Identical Twin Brother).” I talk about why I love “Certified” in later responses.
Sage: For this one, I’m going to go with the episode that really deepened on rewatch for me, and that’s “It’s a Matt, Matt, Matt, Matt World.” Sitting with Matt’s story again, this is such a well-crafted turning point for him, and so much more fun to sit through than his first two spotlight episodes. An all-night ferry! A lion-worshipping sex cult! It’s about time Eccles got to play in the sandbox with the rest of the cast, really.
A loss of faith isn’t normally portrayed as being a positive thing or a show of strength, but we’ve seen Matt strung along and beaten down by his commitment to his god and his unshaken belief in divine order over universal randomness. But he gets his Ben Linus moment (shout out to Tom Dickinson for tweeting about their soul connection) when he meets a false god who is everything Matt fears at his very core that his god actually is: Cruel, uninterested, arbitrary.
As for that lion-worshipping sex cult? It’s not a random, kooky backdrop. It’s the hedonistic counterpoint to Matt’s life-long allegiance to sacrifice. Is one believing that they’re making the world a better place by having group sex with strangers any more narcissistic than Matt believing that God has a plan especially for him and that existence as we know it will end if he doesn’t follow it to the letter, no matter who he hurts in the process? When that shoe drops, he’s better for it.
Jen: Look, I don’t know if it’s underrated, but I had a friend tell me that he liked most of the final season except “the weird lion cult on a boat one.” I could not believe this take. First, “It’s A Matt, Matt, Matt, Matt World” is absolutely hilarious. From lines like, “Mary’s word versus mine,” to the final, “That’s the guy I’ve been telling you about.” In terms of tone, this episode could easily have gone off the rails. Matt marching through a sex cruise having a crisis of faith could seem ridiculous or puritanical but instead it’s riveting. In 55 minutes, we watch Matt go from someone who is willing to spend a small fortune to fly halfway around the world for his biblical addition to someone who seems to be facing his own reality. I’m an atheist who has forgotten most of their Catholic upbringing and Matt’s struggle to reconcile his faith with his illness and sacrifices is utterly moving.
Shannon: I’ve played my hand a bit with this already in my favorite character selection, but I’m leaning in and going with “Crazy Whitefella Thinking.” I know this one was not everyone’s favorite, and I get it! I do. It’s dense and weird and plodding and the politics of Kevin Garvey Sr. leave a lot to be desired. But I loved it from the jump and on second viewing, for me, this episode got even better. Scott Glenn carries most of the hour single handedly, jumping seamlessly between Kevin Sr.’s laser focused profanity and his soft heart and making both work perfectly. The direction is stunning. The visual art of the snake, that one shot of Kevin Sr. leaning up against a cross in the desert, the character touch of an unknown man who wasn’t accepted by the Mark Linn-Baker people acting out in desperation after saying he would not, in fact, cure cancer by killing a baby. The musical choices are subtle, sad, complicated, leaning into the string motif and throwing in some Verdi for good measure.
But what really nails it for me is Lindsay Duncan’s spectacular closing monologue. She matches Scott Glenn at his own game, walking him through her own, devastating October 15th. (Time zones are a trip!) She matches his unquestioning belief with her own certainty that there is nothing to believe in – that God must have left her, along with everything else, that she was a fool to then believe so quickly in the scripture Kevin Sr clung to – and is ready to pull it back together if she did, in fact, just have the wrong Kevin. It’s a standing ovation from me.
Kim: Like I said before, I’m going with “Crazy Whitefella Thinking,” because I am nothing but trash for a solo acting showcase. And Christ almighty does Scott Glenn take this script and run with it or what? He’s the reason why this episode works, and I don’t think it would have worked in anyone else’s hands. That’s such a fucking gift.
Rachel: “Crazy Whitefella Thinking” is very near and dear to my heart. It’s definitely deeply uncomfortable but it does two major things that make me love it. First, it establishes just how much Kevin Sr. loves his son and he would literally go to the ends of the earth for him. And secondly, it demonstrates the very real concept of putting ourselves at the center of our own stories.
Kevin Sr. has voices that have guided him in this Aboriginal song quest, and he is absolutely certain that he has to complete it to save the world. And in his world, in the lived reality of the Departure and the oncoming storm, that is the most important thing in the universe. Being left out of The Book of Kevin hurts but doesn’t dissuade him from trying to complete his journey. And just when he thinks all has been for nothing, he sees another sign that he’s right where he needs to be when he tells Grace that she just found the wrong Kevin.
In “Crazy Whitefella Thinking” and “Certified” we see Kevin Sr.’s compassion manifest in definitely misguided ways, but he truly thinks he’s helping. And that even if he is an apostle and not the savior, he has purpose. And while the “Personal Jesus” cover on the main titles is a little too on the nose, I’ll allow it. Moreover, Scott Glenn turns in a performance here that absolutely works on every level.
- Favorite Ship?
Shannon: I am DELIGHTED by Laurie and John finding love. I never would have guessed it in a million years, but it makes such sense, especially when you see them in action. There’s something about their whole “therapy in the guise of clairvoyance” racket that speaks so perfectly to both their characters. These are two idealistic, wounded people who want to help and will not necessarily respect the boundaries of those they want to support. They’re actively lying to the same people they lift up, not in spite of that wish but because of it. Are they doing more harm than good? Maybe. Maybe not. Either way, they’re in it together.
Heather: My favorite ship of the show is Patti and Kevin. Given that Patti only shows up once this season, near the end of the series, I felt a little adrift in the shipping department this season. However, when my fave Ann Dowd does arrive on the scene, it’s worth the wait. As President Kevin’s Secretary of Defense, we get Patti in all of her whip-cracking, take-no-prisoners, “define the moment for everyone in the room” self. And boy, am I down for that. This is the performance for which Ann got her Leftovers Emmy nomination. Patti and Kevin find perfection every time their paths cross and in this, their final performance, the electricity between them just snaps.
Jen: It always has to be Nora and Kevin. But special shout-out to the couple getting married. This is one of the most romantic lines I have ever heard: “I look forward to a lifetime of fucking up with you, but I swear to never sin again.”
Rachel: Kevin and Nora stole my heart in Season One’s recap. Then I thought that Kevin ad GhostPatti’s dynamic superseded it in Season Two. But damn if they didn’t bring it back around in Season Three. It was bumpy for sure, but the key to the two of them working is Truth. They are at their best when they tell each other the absolute truth no matter how painful it might be. And sometimes that truth might mean being apart, or in an alternate dimension. But when they come back to the truth, you just KNOW they are a perfect match.
Sage: I don’t know if you’ve heard, but every year for literal decades, Kevin Garvey spent his two weeks of vacation combing the literal continent of Australia for Nora Durst. People hold candles!!
Kim: FOR TWENTY YEARS KEVIN GARVEY USED HIS TWO WEEKS OF VACATION TO TRAVEL TO AUSTRALIA, WHERE HE WOULD LOSE ALMOST HALF OF THAT TIME *JUST* TO TRAVEL, IN ORDER TO SEARCH FOR NORA DURST BECAUSE HE NEVER GAVE UP ON HER BEING ALIVE. THANK YOU AND GOOD NIGHT.
- Best Warm Fuzzy Moment?
Sage: The first half hour of “The Book of Kevin” is so tooth-achingly wholesome for this show that we know it can’t last, yet everything we see is real. Laurie and John being each other’s unlikely next chance at love is real. Kevin and Tommy picking right back up where they left off and developing an adult friendship is real. Matt and Mary’s miracle is still real. And though there are people missing from sweet Tom’s “surprise” party whose absence isn’t explained until later, we do get the arrival of someone we’ve been conditioned to worry about. “This the house where all the fucked up people live?” is an absolute love letter from emo teen Jill and it speaks volumes that though she’s escaped the day-to-day of this blended craziness, she still makes the effort to come back home again. From that moment, I knew that I didn’t have to fret over Jill’s future anymore. Like a lot of young people do around that time, she seems to have realized that the adults in her life are as confused and broken as she is and that she can forgive them for that, free herself of striving to please them, and hold them close, all at the same time.
Jen: Tommy’s birthday party. Because, sometimes fucked-up people cobble together a family and they get to celebrate. They get to be happy. I thought back to this moment a lot especially in the finale. If everything in this show was screaming hotel fights and quests for answers about their departed loved ones, the ending wouldn’t resonate for me. For the ending to work, our characters need these moments which are just real as the darkness and insanity they experience. Love is truth and pain but it’s also birthday crowns.
Rachel: The surprise party celebrating Tommy’s birthday was just lovely. Everyone is one big happy family (okay Erika isn’t there but we learn why later so I will forgive her absence), and Jill even surprises everyone with an appearance. The stories they tell of being 25 are light and fun and dumb all at once! It also does the work of establishing the new relationship dynamics of the gang and knowing that everyone is relatively okay three years after that drone strike makes me smile.
Heather: Hands down, Erika and Nora on the trampoline in Don’t Be Ridiculous. These. Two. Women. Can I have the Erika and Nora Show, please? One of the few things I didn’t like about Season Two was the adversarial relationship that developed between Nora and Erika. Frenemies is one of the few tropes The Leftovers fell into over its three seasons. So, I felt great relief to discover that Erika and Nora had built a friendship between Season Two and Season Three. And in this scene, with both of them having lost children in ways that are so fucked up there are no words, they are here for each other’s pain. In a show that is all about truth, fiction, and playing around with which is which, this scene is brutally honest. These women know each other so well. Nora can’t hide from Erika, who sees through her broken arm, her cast, and her tattoo. Over the next several episodes, Nora will begin to hide her true self from Kevin, but here, she reveals herself to Erika. And then, and then, the trampoline. For sixty gorgeous seconds, Nora and Erika jump while the Wu-Tang Clan plays, finding their way back to themselves. And you can feel the joy.
Kim: If your heart didn’t triple in size as Nora and Matt played a round of Matt Libs and confessed their deepest darkest fears to each other, then I don’t know what to do with you. Matt Jamison comes through in the end, you guys! He finally understands what’s important, right when it counts. He really is a great gecko.
Shannon: Matt and Nora playing Matt Libs. I don’t even know what to say about it. It’s beautiful and sad and cozy and everything I imagine older sibling relationships to be, and I love it.
- Thirstiest Moment?
Jen: Airport bathroom sex seems more ill-advised than ever but when Nora whispered, “I have twenty thousand dollars in cash strapped to my body,” I was ready to go into the dirtiest public bathroom with her.
Sage: Kevin and Nora being the sexy power couple of Jarden in the first two episodes of the season.
Rachel: The first time we see the two Kevins in “The Most Powerful Man in the World (and His Identical Twin Brother)” together is a MOMENT. Bearded GR Kevin. Non-bearded, International Assassin Kevin. All in one shot! I may have yelped the first time I watched that scene.
Kim: Just when you think Justin Theroux can’t get any hotter, he shows up in the premiere with a BEAUTIFUL salt-and-pepper beard and then he gets happily drunk at his son’s birthday party with a fucking cardboard gold crown perched gloriously askew on his head. I mean, I don’t know what else you expect me to say?!
Shannon: I have not recovered from the sight of Kevin Garvey Jr. sitting outside in a comfy porch chair, bearded, with what appears to be a Burger King crown perched atop his head. And I don’t think I ever will.
Heather: Before I write anything else, let me be clear that watching Lost and The Leftovers with this group of people has been one of my true joys during the darkness of the pandemic. I never would have made the time for it if life had proceeded normally, and I am so grateful I happened to follow-up on Joy’s retweet of Kim’s invitation to join her in re-watching Lost. I hadn’t watched the iconic show while it aired (having a newborn will do that to you) and I enjoyed every moment of watching it and The Leftovers in 2020-21.
So, here’s the thing. There aren’t any queer folk in this show. And, for me, that makes the “Thirstiest Moment” category problematic.
In the early days of lockdown, like many people, I decided to re-visit some of my favorite shows. Among these were Orphan Black, The Magicians, and Sens8. I happened to be watching the tail end of Sens8 as we began our Lost/#GuysWhereAreWe watch-a-long.
I hadn’t ever watched the entire run of a series with a group of people before; our Lost watch-a-long was my first.
I noticed pretty early on that Lost and the shows I had been watching were basically the same story. A group of strangers get thrown together in a world that makes no sense and they have to depend on each other for their survival. The acting, writing, and production values in all of them were equally strong. However, Lost didn’t capture me in the same way as the other shows. Since I was watching Sens8 at the time. That is the show I compared it to the most.
Watching Lost with other people gave me a chance to observe in real time how the #GuysWhereAreWe crew felt about Lost. They responded passionately to its characters in terms of “thirst” and “shipping” in ways that I didn’t. For example, I loved Juliet, but it wasn’t a thirsty love, it was more of “I want to be like you, a strong/confident/smart woman who kicks ass” kind of love. However, I did feel that way for most of the characters in Sens8, and I kept wishing that we were all watching that show together as well.
As we moved onto The Leftovers, I thought a lot about why I didn’t have the same visceral reaction to either Lost or The Leftovers as my fellow watchers. It’s strange, because The Leftovers reflected so many parts of my identity that I rarely get to see on TV or in film. I’m a lesbian, mom, wife, and psychologist. As I write about in other answers, this show did an incredible job exploring the experience of motherhood and of being a therapist. That should have been plenty for my little psyche to grab onto, especially with all the other strengths of this production. So, why didn’t it reduce me to a fangirl puddle like those other shows did?
It took me an embarrassing amount of time to figure out the important role sexuality plays in capturing and keeping a passionate fan base. I have huge feels for Sens8, The Magicians, and Orphan Black, all shows with strong, beautifully written, fully enfleshed, queer characters. Even if, as in the case of The Magicians, the queer character is male, I still respond far more powerfully to it than to shows with only straight, cis characters.
Because there are no queer characters in The Leftovers, there’s no “thirst” for me. And, as I now believe, “thirst” is often an essential component to becoming passionate about a show. As much as I adore The Leftovers, find it compelling, and consider it one of the best TV shows ever made, it won’t ever be my favorite TV show.
Lindelof and Perrotta don’t really have an excuse for their failure to include queer characters in The Leftovers. It was produced and aired around the same time as Sens8, Orphan Black, The Magicians. They all dealt with crazy, magical, sci-if shit happening to regular people. They all targeted a similar demographic. The others offered gorgeous queer characters with rich stories as part of the core cast. But, as he did with Lost, Lindelof created a purely heterosexual, cis-gendered world in The Leftovers. I feel sad about this, because even though everything else about The Leftovers is so glorious, I will always feel a little left out.
- Best Right in the Feels Moment?
Shannon: Thank. God. Erika Murphy is happy. Not just happy – healing, thriving, and jumping on her trampoline in peace. I obviously wish we got more of Erika this season, but this scene alone is doing a hell of a lot of work. Clearly, Nora and Erika are still close (she’s not at all surprised to see her old neighbor showing up on her doorstep), and Erika sees right through every single one of Nora’s lies of omission. Erika has done so much work and come so far, mourned her daughter and built a life she can feel safe in. She wants the same for Nora, but knows she’s not there yet.
Nora is often at her most comfortable, most vulnerable, most genuine with the other women in her life she trusts. Erika, Laurie, Jill. She would only tell another woman the truth about her tattoo right now, with it still feeling so fresh and frightening and shameful. It’s an overwhelming catharsis to watch these two women, with all they’ve been through, move straight from a heart wrenching scene backed by the famous sad string motif to them jumping up and down on a trampoline to the Wu-Tang Clan. My whole heart.
Heather: The character of Laurie changed me. One of the reasons I love The Leftovers, despite my tirade about thirst, is that I found so many other parts of myself reflected here. One of them, being a therapist, is almost never portrayed in media with any accuracy. (The Lost/#GuysWhereAreWe crew can attest to my bitching about Libby and the Santa Rosa Mental Health Institute.) Laurie, however, was written so accurately, it hurt. To be clear, as with all things in The Leftovers, exaggeration is used to make a point. Laurie would do ANYTHING to help people, in a way I wouldn’t, but the impulse is similar. As the show progresses through the seasons, Laurie makes more and more bizarre choices in order to fulfill her need to help people. By the time we get to Certified, Laurie has progressed from a traditional therapist, to a cult member, to an anti-cult activist, to fake spiritual healer, to fake psychic. Those are some bad choices.
And then, in Certified, we find Nora, Matt and Laurie together, standing on a bluff above the magic machine that can supposedly take Nora to wherever her kids are. Nora tells a story about a stadium employee that ruins a game of beach ball toss in the stands during a baseball game when she was a kid. She asks Matt and Laurie, “Why would anyone want that job?” And Laurie, who arguably has chosen to do a form of that job throughout her adult life, says to Nora, “Because if he doesn’t, the ball is going to go onto the field, and there will be fucking chaos.” And then, despite what she just said, she holds Nora while she cries, and stops trying to pop the beach ball, finally declining to take responsibility for making people do what she believes is best for them. She literally and figuratively lets go of Nora, supporting her in what, at the time, seems like an impulsive, delusional, terrible decision. She then proceeds to do the same thing with Kevin Jr., John, and Kevin Sr.
That scene taught me so much about myself and my role as a therapist. We therapists get into the business to solve other people’s problems and teach them how to control chaos. But over time, if we keep working at it, we learn that our job is not to take care of the chaos for people, but instead to help them trust themselves enough to take care of on their own.
The scene taught me this.
Jen: I love a weird, loving, sibling relationship and the one between Nora Fucking Durst and her terminally ill gecko Matthew Jamison will forever be one of my favorite. The Mad Lib obituary goodbye scene left me weeping. The bravest girl on Earth.
Rachel: Matt Libs! That scene between Christopher Eccleston & Carrie Coon in the finale was just perfect. The kindness & support of Matt for Nora and vice versa shown here was probably their best sibling moment of the series. Matt knowing he was dying along with Nora’s pending journey into the unknown was made lighter but somehow more poignant with the silliness of Matt’s version of Mad Libs. The performances were exactly what the moment demanded and I am a puddle of tears every time I watch it.
Kim: A sense of impending doom in regards to Kevin and Nora’s relationship pervades “G’Day Melbourne” to the point where you KNOW they are on the verge of falling apart, even when they are fucking in that airport bathroom. (Especially when they are fucking in that airport bathroom. I love these two, but it’s very clear that they used sex as a means to avoid talking about their feelings, and really, can you blame them?) Even with that sense of dread, nothing could have prepared me for that fight in their hotel room. Jesus Christ. Kevin and Nora are both at the end of their ropes here. All those things that have been simmering under the surface, all those little fissures in their relationship that have been held together by scotch tape and hot sex just crack wide open and nothing but pure vitriol comes pouring out of them. They know EXACTLY how to hurt each other and they go for it in truly spectacular fashion. It’s thrillingly painful, yet absolutely exhilarating to watch at the same time.
Sage: “It wasn’t for another hour when he was a mile from the docks that his thoughts turned back to her. He imagined her alone. By now, she would’ve searched the house and found it empty. She had suspected it all along, and now she knew he was a coward. A coward dressed in the uniform of a brave man. Brave enough to cross two oceans and a continent to find her, to fight countless enemies, and yet in the end, he was terrified. He was terrified of her… To lie beside her, to be comforted by her as he wept, to show her he was small, for her to know that and touch his cheek and whisper words softly into his ear. All of that was a nightmare. All he knew to do was run. He took a deep breath of the air, tasting the salt on his tongue, and closed his eyes, leaning into the spray as The Merciful picked up speed and sailed for the horizon. He was alone, and all was well.”
- Best WHAT THE FUCK Moment?
Rachel: The season starts off with a literal bang, as after the heartbreaking Millerite intro sequence (and supreme kudos on that transition!) we pick up where we left off with Evie and Meg talking GR shop. We as the audience think we know where we are going but NOPE! The government sends a drone strike, Evie & Meg are blown up, and we flash forward to three years later with a giant crater in Jarden where they once were. That was one hell of a reset, and it sets the audience up for the avalanche of bonkers things to come.
Jen: The appearance of faux-Evie. The show plays this reveal perfectly in that I spent so much of the episode totally unsure of what was happening. I wanted to believe that Evie gets a chance to reinvent herself. So many characters are grasping for redemption, for a clean cut from the pain of the past. We never really see enough of Evie to know how she finds herself as a willing participant at the center of a violent cult attack. But in the scene at the library, Jasmin Savoy Brown communicates so much of what this future could have been for Evie.
Kim: Some people may think I’m cheating but I don’t care; I’m picking the entirety of “It’s a Matt, Matt, Matt, Matt World” as my WHAT THE FUCK moment of the season. Why? Because I can’t stop picturing the poor bastards at HBO when Damon Lindelof turned in a script featuring a VERY HORNY lion-worshipping sex cult booze cruise (Quoth our pal KatyBeth: “You need HOW many headdresses?”), PEAK no-bullshit Laurie Garvey, Matt Jamison at his most religiously zealous coming face to face with someone who just might be God, and that someone who just might be God ultimately being eaten by the lion who inspired the sex cult in the first place. I mean…what would YOU have said when he handed you the script basically saying, “This is what I’m going to put on your network because you told me I had eight episodes to do what I want to do and this is what I want to do.”
That’s right. You would have said “WHAT THE FUCK, DAMON LINDELOF?!” You know you would have. I rest my case.
Sage: That would be Laurie Garvey declaring herself the Judas of the group right before her travel companions start dropping into their dinners because of the dog medicine she put in their food.
Shannon: The image of Nora climbing into that vessel at the beginning of the finale will stick with me for a long time for a bunch of reasons. This was not a shocking or loud “what the fuck” – this was a quiet, unsettled, Contact-esque “what the fuck” and sometimes those are the very best kinds.
Heather: Kevin’s penis as the unique bio-marker in “The Most Powerful Man in the World.” The end.
- Best Episode Title?
Heather: I have to say “Certified.” The title implies that people are mentally unsound (“Certifiably Insane”) and what is so interesting is that, on the surface, that is exactly what appears to be happening. Nora decides to take a ride in a magic machine that will supposedly take her to where her kids are. Laurie drugs everyone at Grace’s house and appears to commit suicide. Kevin lets his father, John, and Grace talk him into letting them kill him. Again. Sounds certifiable, doesn’t it? However, when you look deeper into each of these decisions, they are some of the healthiest, soundest decisions these characters make. Nora finally gives in to her longing for her children and, by choosing to try and get to them, she decides to step back into the land of the living. Laurie drugs everyone so she can get a chance to talk to Kevin alone, not to try and convince him to abort the death scheme, but to connect with him. The, she just goes scuba diving. Kevin chooses to return to …wherever he goes when he dies… for the same reasons he has always died-to confront a part of himself; to face his shadow, as Jung would say.
So, what is actually certified in this episode? Laurie, as a psychologist, has the professional of diagnosing mental disorders. However, in this episode her offers her blessing to everyone’s plans. In this way, she certifies their right to follow their own paths, wherever they may lead.
Kim: I’m going with “Certified” because I love the levels that it has as a title. Certified psychologist. Certifiably insane? Scuba certification? It all works. (Plus, I haven’t been able to shout out this episode anywhere else in this post, and goddamn it is a good one.)
Sage: This show’s obsession with Perfect Strangers is a special kind of sitcom history nerdery and I am its target. So it’s “Don’t Be Ridiculous,” obviously.
Rachel: It has to be “Don’t Be Ridiculous.” The whole Perfect Strangers framing of the episode, including a fantastic guest turn from Mark Linn-Baker and the dual use of the sitcom’s theme song, digs into Nora’s skepticism and reality that she never truly dealt with the loss of her kids.
Shannon: “It’s a Matt, Matt, Matt, Matt, World.” Doing the most in every single way. Just like our dear Matt Jamison.
Jen: “Crazy Whitefella Thinking” – it tells you exactly what to expect.
- Favorite Hero Moment?
Shannon: Patti motherfucking Levin showing up as the Secretary of Defense in the Presidential afterlife. It is some next level hero shit, right down to the blaring horns section that accompanies her name, and it is ONLY matched by Meg showing up as the Vice President. These bitches in their white blazers, running the whole operation. We should be so lucky.
Heather: We don’t see this on screen, but Nora tells us she gave up Lily without argument when Christine asks for her. Adoption is a difficult subject, especially trans-racial/culture adoption. As a person who has worked in the field, I repeatedly watched the foster care and judicial system prioritize the rights of the adult over the developmental needs of the child. In terms of Lily’s development, Nora had become her mother. She had bonded with Nora such that separating them rocked Lilly’s world in a way that forever changed her, even if she never remembers it. However, Nora understands what it means to lose a child, and her heroic moment was to protect another mother, Christine, from experiencing that same grief. This is one of Nora’s biggest hero moments and my favorite one.
Sage: I’m probably projecting (What is analyzing TV shows if not projection persevering?), but for the majority of the series, I think of Matt as our most hopelessly lost character. No one tries harder to fulfill a perceived purpose but by the middle of the third season, any nobility that may have been in that pursuit is totally gone. He won’t admit that he (not his divine duty) drove Mary away; he doesn’t even react when Laurie asks whether their mission to extract his messiah involves bringing his sister home too. Matt keeps his focus on the heavens so that he doesn’t have to face actual human problems, like John’s grief, Nora slipping away, or the fact that he was always a suffocating husband, even before the Departure. That’s why it’s so heroic to me when Matt finally recognizes where he’s most needed and decides to stay there.
He doesn’t stay with Nora in that parking lot to preach or to witness. He stays to keep her company and to be the last person in this world to remind her that she’s loved. Frankly, big brother duties should always take precedence over saving the world.
Rachel: I’m not sure this is a “Hero Moment” in the traditional sense of the word, but Erika Murphy is the hero Nora didn’t realize she needed in “Don’t Be Ridiculous.” In one visit, she gives Nora the room to realize she can’t have properly grieved her children because there is no real closure for the Departed. And then, in probably the most unexpected and freeing moment Nora’s had in years, Erika says, “I bought a trampoline.” And they just SMILE as they fly through the air together to the soundtrack of the Wu-Tang Clan.
Jen: Nora going into the machine is one of the most terrifyingly badass things I’ve ever seen. Claustrophobia and potential drowning in hopes that you’ll be transported somewhere? All while you hear that dreadful noise? It might also be a bit suicidal, but then if you’re not disregarding your own well being just a bit, is it even heroic?
Kim: Is there anything more heroic than Kevin Garvey sitting across the kitchen table from Nora Durst with tears in his eyes and simply saying “I believe you” after listening attentively to her fantastical story of crossing to the other side? I don’t think so.
- Favorite Use of Music?
Rachel: It’s probably not the “best” or most on point moment of the many to choose from, but my favorite musical moment in Season 3 was the use of “Avinu Malkeinu” in “It’s a Matt, Matt, Matt, Matt World.” This third part of the Matt Jamison trilogy focuses on the central core of his faith and concept of G-d. As I noted during our live tweet of the episode, this piece is actually a primary prayer said during Yom Kippur worship in the Jewish faith. It’s extremely important to me personally as part of my annual process of repentance and atonement that the holiday demands. This version is especially beautiful and haunting, meeting the moment for Matt. The portion used in the episode translates as:
“Our Creator, our Sovereign, be gracious to us and answer us, for we have no meritorious deeds; deal charitably and kindly with us and deliver us.”
Heather: In “It’s A Matt, Matt, Matt, Matt World,” several choral pieces usually sung during the Jewish high holidays are used to great effect. They’re sung by Cantor Benzion Miller and the New York-based male voice Schola Hebraica under their conductor Neil Levin, the world’s only fully professional male-voice chorus devoted to Jewish and Judaically related music. The songs refer to an order of service consisting primarily of poetic texts whose central theme concerns supplication for forgiveness from sin and transgression. The richness and meaning of this music choice, in the episode where Matt meets and God, confronts his doubt and loses his faith, adds a layer of storytelling to a degree that music in other episodes doesn’t accomplish.
Jen: “Meet Me In St. Louis” is a fantastic choice for Nora’s trip.
Kim: I would have to turn in my ’80s kid card and my OG TGIF membership if I didn’t say “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Me Now” a.k.a. the Perfect Strangers theme song. I don’t know WHY Damon is so obsessed with this sitcom (other than the fact that it’s AWESOME) but I am delighted by it. And to be honest, I would have been perfectly fine with “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Me Now” being the theme song for the whole season. It still slaps 35 years later, and it STRANGELY fell right in line with those opening credits.
Sage: I usually try to spread these answers around as much as I can, but “Don’t Be Ridiculous” is back to claim another title. It’s not even putting that banger of a sitcom theme over the opening credits that gets me the most (though I will take any opportunity to sing along to “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Me Now” and have done since the ‘80s), it’s the instrumental version of that theme that Max Richter weaves into the score. What IS Nora doing on her way back from her meeting with Mark Linn-Baker if not dropping into people’s lives unannounced like Balki did with Cousin Larry? Really makes you think.
Shannon: The theme song strategy for The Leftovers is a work of art. I’m a firm defender of the season one theme song and all its glorious high drama, and the Iris DeMent theme song wormed its way into my heart with its bizarre irony and mournfully chipper visuals. The third season’s ever-changing theme songs were all delightful in their own way, but nothing struck me as hard as seeing that bellowing, portentous season one Max Richter theme alongside the celestial mourning and daily life portraiture of the later season’s visuals. What a combination, y’all.
- Were you satisfied by the series finale? Why or why not?
Kim: When it came to the finale, I feel like that it was the first time that being a Lost mega-fan actually worked against me whilst watching The Leftovers. Before you start yelling at me, allow me to explain. Anyone that’s ever met me or read this blog knows that I’m a staunch defender of the Lost finale, and I always have been. What I love about that finale is that in the end, amongst all the weird supernatural shit and questions with no satisfying answers, Lost brought it back to the characters and the relationships they had forged with each other, giving us the big, emotional catharsis that we deserved after six seasons. Therefore, I came into “The Book of Nora” with a similar expectation, one that fell in line with the episode description on HBO Max. I knew I wasn’t going to get any sort of answers from The Leftovers, not that I was looking for them anyway. I knew that it was going to come back to Nora and Kevin and the love between them and the emotions that relationship evoked. I knew that.
But this is where Damon Lindelof is a maniacal evil genius! He zigged where I expected him to zag.
Because for all the bombast that the Lost finale (and the Watchmen finale TBH) has, The Leftovers is the complete opposite. “The Book of Nora” is quietly brilliant. It’s an episode that’s meant to be marinated in and it’s also one that’s meant to be taken at face value. That is what I mean when I say that being a Lost stan worked against me here, because from the minute we got the jumpcut from young Nora gasping for her potentially final breath in the machine to old Nora in Australia with her doves, I was trying to figure out what the twist was. Was this Nora’s version of the afterlife? Purgatory? Were we on the other side with everyone else who had vanished? Was this some sort of time loop? In the midst of Kevin’s apparent amnesia I even cracked a joke about Nora just needing to touch his hand so he would remember everything. Plus, the whole thing with the goat getting caught in the fence and Nora needing to literally take on its sin so she could free it felt a little TOO on the nose biblical for it to be occurring in the real world to anyone other than Matt Jamison. There HAD to be a twist, right? Right?
But then Kevin showed up at Nora’s house, with his all pissed off Ryan Gosling “I wrote you everyday for a YEAR” realness, and I realized that there WAS no twist. Sometimes the only explanation is the simplest one. The world didn’t end. Humanity had soldiered on for what appears to be at least two decades since the Great Departure. And Nora Durst DID cross dimensions twice and lived to tell the tale. (And BOY, did she tell it or what?) She LIVED. Kevin LIVED. (And Laurie! Laurie lived!) And now, at long last, Kevin and Nora are healed and ready to live TOGETHER, for whatever time they may have left. It’s so deeply, deeply satisfying in a way that only improves on repeat viewings when you’re not anticipating a twist and just letting it BE. In a way, it feels like the finale is actually two parts, that “The Most Powerful Man in the World (and His Identical Twin Brother)” and “The Book of Nora” work hand in hand, two equal parts of one whole. Operatic bombast and quiet character portraits coming together for a truly satisfying end. Really, I couldn’t have asked for more.
Sage: There isn’t a moment of “The Book of Nora” that I don’t find satisfying. And it only gets more special every time I go back to it. The whole series has been about the push and pull between the comforting smallness of our lives and the unknowable, unavoidable brute force of the universe. With unapologetic sentiment, this finale calls the winner. A small-town wedding, a nun with a boyfriend, a bathroom door that sticks – all things that the Sudden Departure couldn’t prevent. Humanity has persisted, with all of its quirks and mistakes.
And then there’s the Kevin and Nora of it all. The Leftovers IS a love story, and if there was ever any doubt of that, here’s an achingly romantic final episode to convince you. Carrie Coon and Justin Theroux bring it home, loading their performances with regret, hope, and empathy. And though I start crying the second Kevin arrives on Nora’s doorstep and pretty much never stop, it isn’t a sad reunion. Nora, by sheer will and grit, finally got the closure she needed and was able to move on from her children. Kevin, even though he never gave up on Nora, stayed with his family – born and chosen – instead of running away completely to chase after her, like he once might have done. It’s a satisfying finale on a story level (we do get some answers!), but it’s even more so on a character level. After following these people through hell (sometimes literally), we get to go out on them having a cup of tea and holding hands across a kitchen table. It’s beautiful.
Heather: I was. It didn’t even occur to me until Sage and I talked about the final episode prior to beginning our watch-a-long that Nora wasn’t telling Kevin the truth at the end. And, even after twice through, I still believe her. In an interview, Carrie Coon discussed her final monologue and said she had made a decision about the truth, but will never tell anyone what that decision was. “Whether Nora was lying or telling the truth, it doesn’t matter because it wouldn’t change the performance. The only thing it would change…it might dissuade someone who thinks the opposite of me into thinking another way about the piece. And I think that robs the piece of its power. Because, what it does is that it reveals to you something about the way you see the world…and I don’t want to rob anyone of that experience. The most powerful aspect of The Leftovers was its ambiguity.”
So, since I believed Nora, they tied off enough threads for me to feel satisfied.
Shannon: Yes. Yes. A thousand times, yes. I don’t know what I expected from it, except that it would be good. The Leftovers has been so full of surprises, loud and soft alike, that I stopped having any expectation around episode styles a while ago. I’ve trusted in Damon Lindelof and whatever story he decided to tell that week, and he never really let me down. “The Book of Nora” is a quiet character study, and really, there’s no better way to close this series. The show has only ever been about people – the ones who have long histories, the ones we’ve just met. What they do in the face of tragedy. Their hopes, dreams, loves, losses. It sounds so trite listed out like that, but that’s what humanity is. It’s something that seems so simple until you lift it from stated emotions and mental states and put it into action. It’s in the action, in the storytelling, that it all becomes so complicated and sad and inspiring and beautiful. The finale does everything I needed it to do, and more than I could have asked. So yeah, you could say I was satisfied.
Rachel: What a beautiful end to the series. While we do know the external limiting factors on the creators & budget for the last season, I think they really do an excellent job of focusing the finale on the two characters that best represent the issues of faith examined over the course of the series: Nora and Kevin. It turns out that having faith in yourself and each other is the best kind of faith, and the closure you think you need may not be what you actually require. But when you find it, you’ll know it. As Eddie the wedding’s groom says, “I look forward to a lifetime of fucking up with you, but I hearby swear I will never sin again.”
Jen: I don’t know if I’ve ever gone into a series finale with so few expectations and desires. I just knew I didn’t want things to be tied up to neatly because isn’t that what this show is about? It’s fundamentally a show about grief, and I don’t think grief is ever neat or over.
I didn’t care where the Departed went. But I did care that these characters found some peace. Watching that final scene between Nora and Kevin was life-affirming. Don’t we all just want to be believed? To be seen and loved for even our scariest parts? These two are still fucked up people but they find their way back to each other. And show each other their full selves. Why did anyone ever tell me this show was so depressing?
- Sum up your feelings on the season as a whole in a paragraph or two.
Heather: This production is beautifully made in all the ways: writing, acting, directing, production, music. It’s difficult to find a weakness. With so much poorly written, trope-laden, repetitive TV out there, The Leftovers is a hidden masterpiece.
I was a little worried about watching it again while the pandemic raged. I was afraid it was too dark, that people would get bummed out, that it might worsen the anxiety and depression that people were already feeling. We ended up watching it twice a week throughout the catastrophic third surge of the pandemic, but instead of despair, we found comfort. Watching it with others, with parts of the show eerily reflecting the bizarre, frightening reality we were living helped us process that reality. We tweeted a lot about what we missed, who we missed, what it was like to feel lost and to grieve. Maybe any show would have done that for a group of people. But, I believe that The Leftovers itself, its themes of love, loss, grief and survival, brought something magical to the table, like a shared meal that fed us all. We found that so much of our experience was shared. The show gave us a point of connection at a time when many of us felt lost and alone.
Crazy shit happens in this show, all of which serves to explore what it means to be human. Can we ever truly love? Can we be loved? Does love remain after time and betrayal, loss and re-birth? Are we ever truly connected? Are we ever truly alone. No matter what happens in Jarden, or Australia or in an alternate universe, these questions remain at the heart of The Leftovers and at the existential heart of the human experience.
When I think of The Leftovers, what comes to mind is the line from WandaVision that none of us can shake. “What is grief, but love persevering?”
Jen: How did they pull off three seasons of this? From acting to directing to music to directing, the show nails it. The characters are so multifaceted. It’s a lot to wrap up in eight episodes all while handling multiple time jumps and another move in location. There are characters I would have loved to see more of – Michael (Jovan Adepo is unrated), Erika, and Jill in particular. But the show managed to wrap up the core characters’ plotlines in a satisfying way for me. Even having a total bonkers penultimate episode about Kevin’s spy persona. Like how is this show this good? The ultimate success of this season is that upon ending it, I knew The Leftovers is a show I will keep coming back to over the years. It has a richness that I know will give me different things each time.
Kim: I feel like I blew my wad a bit talking about the finale, so I’m going to keep it simple here. I’m blown away by what Damon Lindelof and company managed to achieve in eight episodes. Eight episodes that feel miraculous by their mere existence. It’s been amazing for me to watch his growth as a storyteller and showrunner, taking the ideas he had from Lost and improving on them AND learning how to write women better. The Leftovers never shied away from the difficult questions and the heavy philosophical shit, but at the same time, with one notable exception, I never felt weighed down by it. (I’m still not over “No Room at the Inn” and that is probably one that I will always skip when I go back and revisit the series.) I think what will stick with me the longest about this show is the thread of hope that ultimately runs through it. Damon Lindelof believes in the good of humanity and the strength of love and personal connection. What touches me the most about the finale is the fact that twenty-ish years into the future The Great Departure is just another event that humanity endured, one that can be a topic of conversation like where you were when Kennedy was shot or when 9/11 happened, as opposed to being an event that dominates every single aspect of our existence. There’s a whole generation of human beings who weren’t alive when it happened. And, as Nora says, we’re still here.
Life, ah, finds a way.
And that’s beautiful.
Rachel: The Leftovers is one left turn after another from start to finish, but it is also so unbelievably smart. Season Three starts with a literal boom followed by a time jump, and turns a grand quest with massive religious implications into an intimate character study of an extended family where each of them just wants to find a peace that works for them. What is the truth? What is my purpose? Do I matter? Despite some dangling plot threads and beloved characters left to tell their own stories somewhere else, all of these massive questions remarkably do get answered for our heroes through personal sacrifice, but also through love and trust. Winnowed down to the simple “I’m here” between Kevin and Nora, we are reminded that sometimes, that’s all one needs. And that’s all I needed from this show in the end.
Sage: As we were gearing up for this group watch, I got the same question over and over again: “But isn’t The Leftovers depressing?” and I bristled at it every time. I’m a firm believer in setting and abiding by your own boundaries and I’ve nope-ed out of plenty of shows that just weren’t serving my spirit. But there’s a big difference between depressing and challenging. For the vast majority of the series (and I’d say all of Season Three), The Leftovers is the latter. It’s always striving towards hopeful conclusions, to understanding, to some kind of relief. If you find contemplating the meaning of human existence, what constitutes connection, and how we can pick our broken selves up after tragedy strikes depressing, then sure, skip it.
ANYWAY, Season Two will always be my favorite of the three, though I get something distinct from each. I’d love to see a ten-episode version of this final season – the one we could have gotten if anyone but TV Twitter had actually been watching it live. But as it is and with the inevitable dropping of certain threads, these eight episodes are miraculously whole and satisfying. We also get the sense that we’ve been held by this story the entire time – though it’s incredibly dynamic in its storytelling, The Leftovers never wavers in its point of view.
Shannon: Whew, lord. What an undeniably artful, impactful experience. Each season of The Leftovers is so distinct, so precise, that it’s almost hard to remember that Seasons One and Two were the same show as Season Three. There isn’t a slow build to where we find ourselves at the end credits of “The Book of Nora;” instead, every season break catapulted our loved ones into a completely different storytelling zone. To hell with gradually increasing the level of weird until all of a sudden you look around wondering how it is that there’s an entire half season wrapped up in a mysterious temple with ancient, mythological beings. Nope, now we’re ending Season Two in a full scale uprising and starting Season Three with one of our leads as a new, unwilling messiah. It’s to The Leftovers’ credit that those seismic shifts work. And in light of the last year, they’re undeniably realistic. We are all living in a world that we know, in our bones, could become unrecognizable in an instant. That’s what grief and trauma does, on both small and large scales. It shifts everything we know, our perceptions, our realities, our daily lives. It’s a natural truth to the story the show sets out to tell. They tell it magnificently.
Thank you for coming with us on this wild, existential ride! Our next group watch, Friday Night Lights, is kicking off on April 2. Follow the hashtag #ClearEyesFullHearts to play along!
Featured Image Source: HBO