Does ‘The Leftovers’ Finale Let The Mystery Be?

A review of The Leftovers series finale coming up just as soon as we get to the ooey gooey…

“I’m here.” -Nora

The whole point of Mad Libs — or, if they’re custom-written by the Reverend Jamison himself, Matt Libs — is that you don’t know in what context any of the nouns, adjectives, or proper names you volunteer will be used, which can result in Nora unwittingly describing her place of employment as “the Department of Sudden Diarrhea,” or her age as 417.

The Leftovers this season has often been so strange and seemingly random that, if it weren’t for the sheer artistry from all involved, it might be easy to assume that Damon Lindelof and company were generating story ideas via Mad Libs:
It’s easy to fill in blanks when you don’t even know what the question is, much harder when you do, especially when you’re dealing with a show as intentionally ambiguous as this one. I can tell you where “The Book of Nora” takes place (rural Australia), roughly when (a decade or two after Kevin and Nora split), and most of what happens in it (Kevin and Nora reconcile after all their time apart). But what am I to do with these two that bookend the series finale?

The answers would seem to be linked. If Nora did go through the machine, she’s telling Kevin, and us, the truth about what she saw, and what happened to the Departed. If she panicked at the last second and said no, then she invented the parallel world where the Departed went and she followed, as a lie to conceal her cowardice about pursuing her kids wherever they might be, and then about not reconnecting with Kevin and her other loved ones back on Earth.

At the episode’s beginning, Nora tells Dr. Bekker, with all the righteous indignation Carrie Coon can muster — which, like every other emotion Coon is asked to play in the finale, is a lot — that she doesn’t lie. But later we see the Australian nun lie with equal conviction about the man who just climbed down a ladder from her bedroom window, and Kevin initially seems quite committed to the lie he has chosen to tell in which he and Nora were just nodding acquaintances from Mapleton who never fell in love, never adopted a baby, never had to literally chain themselves together at night, never endured fire and brimstone and Purgatory and madness. It’s easier than it seems to tell a lie convincingly, and we know that Nora’s statement about lying is itself a lie. Nora Jamison Durst lies. All. The. Time. To herself. To others. About how she broke her arm. About how composed or destroyed she may be at any given moment. About her true feelings for her Departed, adulterous husband. About how much it hurt to give up custody of Lily. About her desire to go through the LADR machine. About how much she loves Kevin Garvey.

Would one more lie — one grand lie that will only be shared between two people: herself and her lying lover Kevin — really be beyond her?

You can look at Nora’s concluding monologue in one of two ways. In the first, she is telling the truth, and the sound she made right before the LADR machine prepared to fire upon her was just an involuntary gasp as the chamber filled with liquid. She went through, and discovered that, from the point of view of the Departed — who were living in an identical but much less populated world — it was everyone else who vanished, and not them. She spent years getting from Melbourne to Mapleton, got so close to Doug and the kids that she could practically touch them, before realizing that they had moved on emotionally in a way she never could, and were better off never again seeing Nora Cursed. She then traveled for many more years until she could track down Dr. Van Eeghen and convince him to rebuild his machine on that side to send her home, and at that point began a self-imposed exile Down Under because she felt people in her original universe wouldn’t believe her, and/or also would do well to think she was dead.