A review of tonight’s The Leftovers coming up just as soon as I tell you that Finland won the World Cup…
“Kevin, are you and Nora okay?” -Laurie
There are songs from my childhood that echo through my adult mind simply because they’re great songs and my brain has no reason to dislodge them. And there are songs that stick around because of something else: a memory of hearing it during a special moment, or a joke my best friend and I used to make about it, or, in some cases, because of the video, which was a big deal if you were watching a lot of TV in the 1980s.
Case in point: “Take On Me” by a-ha.
It’s a catchy song, to be sure, but why does it endure for me and so many other Gen X’ers more than, say, “Too Shy” by Kajagoogoo? It’s because of that video, which looks primitive and cheap by modern standards, but was mind-blowing for 1984, both for the rotoscoping effects used to turn people into comic book characters, and for the core idea of the girl in the cafe being sucked into the story she was reading, and its hero then following her back out into the real world through sheer force of will.
“Take On Me” plays three times throughout “G’Day Melbourne”: first by Dr. Eden on the piano as Nora arrives for her intake interview with the LADR scientists, then by the French horn group Genghis Barbie as Nora climbs into the box while Kevin explores the library, and then the a-ha version over the concluding images (more on that in a bit) of Nora alone in the hotel room after her epic fight with Kevin (more on that, too).
Nothing The Leftovers does even once is an accident, let alone three times in the same episode, and it’s hard to hear the song and not think of how its famous video is reflected by both of this hour’s POV characters: Nora, who finally realizes how desperate she is to cross over into whatever place Doug and the kids went to, and Kevin, who has twice woken up in a different reality and done bizarre, intense things to make his way back to Nora, safe and seemingly sound.
The two have allegedly been a couple for about four years at the time of this episode, but they’ve really just been one another’s port in a never-ending storm of despair, tragedy, and madness. They’re traveling together to Australia, but not really together. She’s on a mission; he’s tagging along because he is terribly lonely and afraid of what he might do without her. She has $20,000 in cash taped to her midsection, and didn’t even think to tell her boyfriend the cop about it. But then, that’s the way it’s always been for these two: their relationship is built on silence, repression, and cheerful smiles. They might be candid every now and then, but for the most part they function as a unit by not telling each other about the many troubling thoughts rattling around their heads, and they make big executive decisions (buying the house next to the Murphys, swallowing Virgil’s poison) entirely solo. They reveal so little to each other that, when Nora reads The Book of Kevin passage about the events of “International Assassin,” she assumes Matt must have made the whole thing up out of whole cloth. If they were to actually attempt to communicate, it would turn out like… well, exactly like that savage argument they have in the hotel room, where Kevin hurls one unspeakably cruel thought at her after another: that she gave Lily back to Christine because having another child meant no one would feel sorry for her anymore, and that he and she would be better off if she somehow went to wherever Doug, Jeremy, and Erin wound up.