The Leftovers is ending. The HBO show has evolved and changed over its three season run, and as we head into this week’s series finale, it has made its claim as one of the best — and definitely one of the most interesting — television series in recent memory. To commemorate this run, we have selected some of the best, weirdest, funniest, and most moving moments from a great, weird, funny, moving show. It’s a tribute, not a eulogy. Feel free to add yours below.
The dog comes back to Kevin
When people years from now speak fondly of the genius of The Leftovers, I imagine they’ll mostly bring up moments from the second and third seasons, which were more audacious, dazzling, and just plain fun than that divisive and depressing first. I would never argue against the later years being better, and in a vacuum, if asked to pick a single moment to exemplify my love of the show, I’d probably pick one from there, like Kevin singing karaoke to escape the afterlife and get back to the woman he loves.
But as someone who fell hard for the series in its grim, “please curl into a fetal position for the next hour” incarnation, I wanted to shine a spotlight on a moment that particularly floored me at the end of that unloved puppy of a season. Kevin has spent the time since the Departure trying desperately to bring life back to normal, even as his wife leaves him and the world seems to be falling apart. One of his apparently foolish quests to restore the status quo is taking in one of the town’s many dogs that have gone feral post-Departure, and trying to tame it back into being a pet, in the hopes of convincing his friend Dean to stop killing dogs. Everyone thinks he’s being naive and pig-headed, until Jill finally lets the angry pooch loose while Kevin’s out. But after father saves daughter’s life in the fire at the Guilty Remnant compound, the two of them walk home, dazed and covered in soot, and what awaits them as they approach their house? The very same dog, no longer wild and angry, but calm and eager to please and ready to join the makeshift family that Kevin and Jill will wind up forming with Nora and baby Lily.
Of the many, many scenes from the show that have reduced me to a puddle of tears, none may have hit me as hard as that one, and I’m not even a dog person!
— Alan Sepinwall
Wu-Tang is for (covering up) the children
The thing I like most about The Leftovers is that it’s this serious and heavy show about grief and loss but it’s also run by rascals. Examples are littered throughout, from the big (setting an entire episode on a Tasmanian boat filled members of a lion-obsessed sex cult) to the small (“the code is 6969”), but my favorite is definitely Nora’s Wu-Tang tattoo, because it served both purposes. You had the deadly serious stuff the show is built on, in this case Nora trying to remember her departed children by getting a tattoo of their names, only for that to become a constant devastating reminder that drives her a little mad. So, she decides to cover up those tattoos with the first thing she sees in the tattoo parlor, which is, of course, the logo for the legendary Wu-Tang Clan, who Nora refers to as “the Wu-Tang Band.” This is hilarious, and is made more hilarious by the fact that Nora and Erika then go outside and jump on a trampoline while “Protect Ya Neck (The Jump Off)” plays in the background.
(Quick note: A few critics, who shall remain nameless, confused this version of “Protect Ya Neck” with the earlier classic version off the 1993 album, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). This song was not that. This song was a different “Protect Ya Neck,” off the 2000 album The W, which is notable for also containing the song “Gravel Pit.” The music video for “Gravel Pit” features the members of Wu-Tang rapping insides a Flinstones-style quarry, surrounding by dinosaurs, until they are interrupted by evil ninjas. It is a good music video.)
This is my favorite moment from the show for two reasons. One, because it sums up the entire show, touching on both aspects that I mentioned above. It’s heartbreak and unspeakable sadness and a shattered woman trying in vain to figure out how to remember the children she lost without that memory crushing down on her every second of every day, and just as all that starts to sink in and become almost too much for you at home to contemplate, boom, Wu-Tang tattoo. Like someone stepping on your neck until you’re about to pass out and then releasing the pressure and handing you a cupcake all at once. The full emotional spectrum in one moment.
The other reason is because, guys, Nora Durst has a Wu-Tang tattoo. Every time we see her from that moment on. It’s there. It’s all I can think about. I keep looking for it to pop out from under a loose fitting blouse. I love it so much. I’m going to miss this show tremendously.
— Brian Grubb
The Cave Baby
I couldn’t finish season one of The Leftovers.
That’s how much I hated the first 10 episodes (or in my case, eight episodes — I gave up after Christine has Holy Wayne’s baby in episode seven, and curiously tuned back in for the finale). It was overblown, it was painful, it was melodramatic, and with the exception of Nora and Matt, I didn’t care about any of the characters. In other words, it was the punishing theme song.
The show completely slipped off my radar when season two premiered, but as the weeks went by, I saw former haters praising the new episodes on Twitter. I waited until the season ended before diving back in… and watched the entire glorious thing in one weekend. The Leftovers was still depressing, but there was a welcome levity that was missing in season one. It was also the beginning of creator Damon Lindelof throwing looping curveballs at viewers when they expected fat meatballs down the middle. I don’t know why he decided to start season two with a prologue about a cave woman giving birth then dying from a snake bite, but I’m glad he did. The Leftovers went back in time to get me back into my now-favorite show on television.
— Josh Kurp
Erika vs. Nora
There’s a ten-minute sequence in the sixth episode of the second season of The Leftovers, “Lens,” that’s as close to the Robert De Niro/Al Pacino exchange in Heat as we may ever get on television. In the scene, Carrie Coon’s Nora asks Regina King’s Erika a series of questions from the Department of Sudden Departure in order to tease out whether Evie ran away or if Evie Departed. But that’s only what’s on the surface of that scene. What’s really going on is that Erika is trying to search for an explanation for why Evie left, and Erika’s explanation is at odds with the only comfort that Nora can take away from the Departure of her husband and two children: That she had nothing to do with it. And so, in a 10-minute scene that I could watch for hours, Erika and Nora — in a quiet, deliberate manner — use their words like bullets in an effort to profoundly wound one another. Nora attempts to discredit Erika’s theory about the disappearance of Evie. In turn, Erika endeavors to make Nora believe that the Departure of her family was her fault. It is one of the most brutally painful moments in three seasons of The Leftovers, a scene between two of the best actresses on TV at the very top of their game, that left me gasping for air.
— Dustin Rowles
Kevin and his big ol’ Garvey
First things first: there was never any conceivable universe where this answer wasn’t going to be about Justin Theroux’s dick.
Now that the important disclaimers are out of the way, there are more than just the basics of the “Justin’s apparently generously sized member” running joke that I love about The Leftovers. While the ongoing instances of the show’s writers drawing attention to Theroux’s well-endowed status was certainly hilarious and always appreciated from episode to episode (even if not by the actor himself), it’s not a through line that viewers would have expected at the beginning of the show. Which is why I’ve come to appreciate each reference so much, outside of the obvious reasons.
Sure, these references can be puerile and almost entirely unnecessary to the plot machinations at hand – Season 3’s penis shelf aside, obviously. But the presence of such amusement on a show that is much of the time so purposefully dour, depressing, and contemplative of the great tragedies of life offers a certain richness to the world that might otherwise not be as easily integrated into ongoing plotlines. That an in-joke that got its start from a tabloid item could mean so much to the fabric of a show so focused on grief, love, and the possibility of a larger meaning for it all is truly insane when you think about it. But that’s why it’s a crucial piece of the show.
While I’m certainly not saying it’s easy to make a show as affecting and crushing as The Leftovers can be at times, it could have been easy to fall into the trap of making it a one-note meditation on how much working through grief truly sucks. Just as it is when grieving loved ones who don’t inexplicably disappear in a planet-wide departure, the process isn’t always wall-to-wall tears and depression. Sometimes you get awkwardly complimented during a security pat down, sometimes you encounter a former cult leader in an alternate universe and they casually drop a 69 joke in the middle of a dreamland nuclear crisis, and sometimes there’s a penis shelf. There are breaks from unrelenting sorrow.
Regardless of the situation, each nod to Theroux’s rod provided some levity during what were otherwise tense, overwhelming moments in a tense, sometimes overwhelming show. It may have originated as a way for Damon Lindelof to mess with his show’s leading man, but Kevin Garvey jogging in baggy sweatpants and no underwear opened up a world of opportunities to insert various hilarious references exactly when the show needed them most. Whether they were actually about Kevin’s schlong or – like Laurie tossing off perfect one-liners to a dog – a slightly dark joke about various character’s current situations, the penis humor that spawned in Season 1 opened things up for that expanded amusement and mirthful sarcasm that made the final two seasons of the show so satisfying.
Nora and the bulletproof vest
A scene that stands out for me from The Leftovers is Nora hiring a prostitute to shoot her back in season one. I have to choose it for a variety of reasons, with the most basic being the use of “Angel Of Death” by Slayer. But past that, it represents a moment I relate to in thanks my own struggles with grief and the need to hold onto the pain. That’s a real thing. It’s not “pay a hooker to shoot you” real, but it is something that appears during the process.
Grieving is this amorphous puzzle without a set solution. I don’t know if you ever truly get over loss, but you can mold it and manage it. When The Leftovers began, I still felt like I was in a Nora Durst type of spot. I was in a place where the pillars I relied on had crumbled and there was nothing but the pain. Whatever plans I had were gone and the identity you accept is the pain and the loss. At least on the inside.
Outside I didn’t show it. Seem happy. Seem unaffected. Seem invincible.
Inside you hurt. And that hurt is the bridge to the people you don’t want to forget about. It’s also one that’s easiest to conjure when you’re already miserable.
That’s why I remember the scene. That’s why it stands out. The darkness of it all while Slayer blasts from the stereo is the extreme of something I felt and still feel from time to time. There’s anger and suffering and emotion and, weirdly enough, life presented there.
It isn’t healthy. It isn’t positive. But it happened. Sometimes moving on is the last thing you want to do when things fall apart. Luckily you’re not always stuck that way.
— Andrew Roberts
The Leftovers–Perfect Strangers crossover
One of the great things about The Leftovers is how deftly a show with such heavy and often times depressing subject matter manages to weave in lighthearted pop culture references. A running gag since the first season had been how all four primary members of the cast of Perfect Strangers had all departed, which seemed like little more than an added splash of dark humor until season three’s “Don’t Be Ridiculous” when the joke came full circle — complete with the opening theme song replaced with the peppy, upbeat “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” from the ABC sitcom.
Previously in season two, it had been revealed that Mark-Linn Baker (who played Cousin Larry) had actually faked his departure and was hiding out in Mexico. But when we learn the reason why, as he and Nora meet in a hotel room in St. Louis (in an incredible bit of acting from real-life guest star and Yale-trained actor Mark-Linn Baker) it mirrors Nora’s situation almost exactly, who had been struggling to take back control ever since she lost her own family. So in the end, the character’s greatest epiphany of the entire series brilliantly evolved from a throwaway joke based on a cheesy ’80s sitcom. Later, by the time a much more somber, instrumental version of the theme song plays as Nora gets behind the wheel to drive to Kentucky to check in on the other child she willingly gave up, there’s nothing funny left about it.
— Stacey Ritzen
God got mauled by a sex lion
You would think a lion-themed sex boat would be the thing to draw Matt’s ire. But it was some bronze medalist posing as God, and throwing people overboard that cracked the Reverend. Matt suddenly wanted nothing more than to prove that he wasn’t He, but instead got a devestaing life lesson that made you think for a second that maybe that weirdo was God after all.
And then he got mauled by the sex lion. Of course.
— Dejen Isaac
Nora’s worst moment, all over again
Near the end of the first season finale, after the Guilty Remnant had enacted their plan and placed mannequins throughout the town of Mapleton of those that had been lost in the departure, you knew it was going to hit Nora (Carrie Coon) the hardest. As she calmly got ready for her day upstairs, she finds three dead-eyed mannequins representing her husband, son, and daughter sitting at the dining room table, it culminated in that season’s most gut-wrenching moment.
We’d all watched these characters mourn their losses in their own distinct way, but Nora’s overwhelmed reaction, drowned out by the show’s musical score, reminded us that no one had lost more than her that day.
— Christian Long
The Hand of (Maybe) God
I have 722 moments that I’d like to write 14,000 combined words about. The “nobody’s ready to feel better, they’re ready to f*cking explode” line in the premiere, the trampoline Wu-Tang scene, the toddler-lightly-bopping-its-head-on-a-coffee-table sound effect generated by the dick tray in last week’s episode, and… and… I could go on. But forced to pick just one, I’ll go with a really low key moment involving Matt and God.
In “It’s A Matt Matt Matt Matt World,” Matt is literally brought to his knees in the presence of a man claiming to be God. We know, from Kevin’s visits to the hotel, that this fellow has some heavier purpose than “ferry drifter,” but we can’t be sure that he’s the creator of all things (stopping a lion attack feels like it would be in God’s wheelhouse, no?). Matt, on the other hand, eventually succumbs to that belief because desperation is a great fooler.
There, on his knees, begging to be healed, a simple collection of hand gestures after Matt frees “God” from his restraints, says, to me, a lot of what The Leftovers has tried to say about the experience that is religion. It’s the fear of the clenched fist of wrath, it’s aching for the open hand of understanding, it’s a snap of the fingers razzle dazzle that pierces building hope and sparks disenfranchisement. I’m 73% sure that I’m reading too much into this moment (which is aided greatly by its tight focus on God’s hand and a swelling score) because of my own personal experiences with religion and faith, but 100% sure that it moved me in ways a dick slap sound effect could not.