HBO's 'The Leftovers' ends with one last test of faith

Brian Truitt

Spoiler alert: The following story contains significant details from Sunday's series finale of HBO's The Leftovers

Nora (Carrie Coon) and Kevin (Justin Theroux) finally get their happy ending in the series finale of HBO's 'The Leftovers.'

“I’m ready to go now.”

Maybe fans weren’t, but Nora Durst (Carrie Coon) sure was, making life-altering decisions in two different time periods in the series finale of HBO’s The Leftovers Sunday. More importantly, she finally found her happy ending with embattled cop (and possible messiah) Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux)

Of all the characters in the show, which began its three-season run with the "Sudden Departure" of 140 million people around the globe, Nora lost the most: her husband and two children. She took a potentially deadly step to see her kids again in the final episode, a quietly meditative hour that was chock full of the usual Leftovers religious symbolism (including a goat carrying beads of sin) but also focused on faith and belief.

“What would it take for Nora Durst to be OK? That seemed to be the question that was the most emotionally satisfying for us to take on,” says executive producer Damon Lindelof, who co-wrote the episode with Tom Perrotta, who wrote the novel on which it's based.

Nora (Carrie Coon) prepares to enter a device that could allow her to see her long-lost children again.

After saying a final goodbye to her terminally ill brother Matt (Christopher Eccleston) in Australia, Nora stepped into the device that was to take her to “the other side” — though whether she ultimately went through with it or not was a mystery for most of the episode. Just as it appeared she was about to say, “Stop!” the scene shifted to an older Nora (glimpsed earlier in the season) and her new life working with lovebirds Down Under.

Nora learns from a local nun that a man named Kevin is searching for her, and then an older version of her former love shows up at the door, asking her to a dance in town but not revealing any knowledge of the last time they saw each other — a huge argument that ended with their split — or the fact they ever had a relationship. This Kevin recalls having met her just once, though he's held a candle for her ever since.

Later, after she spurns his advances, Kevin comes clean: After moving back to America following the apocalypse that never happened (see: the penultimate episode), he’s been taking two-week vacations to Australia each year to find her.

“He just tried to create a story where they could just start from scratch: go back to that first moment when they met (and) essentially just call a do-over on all the most painful parts of their relationship,” Lindelof explains. “And because The Leftovers has always been about telling ridiculous stories that one can either choose to believe or disbelieve, that’s the approach that he takes.”

Kevin (right, Justin Theroux) shares a dance with Nora (Carrie Coon) after years of looking for her.

But the finale was called “The Book of Nora” for a reason. After he confesses, she invites him for tea and a tale: Nora admits that she did use  the device, ending up in the alternate reality where all those from the Sudden Departure went. She watched her family from afar, saw that her husband and kids had moved on, and decided she should as well: "In a world full of orphans, they still had each other, and I was a ghost who had no place there."

However, Lindelof reveals the episode was designed in such a way that left the truth open to interpretation — one last mystery for fans to chew over. “We all came to the conclusion that Nora telling the story of where everybody went was going to be the best ending, as long as we didn’t show it. And then the audience would get to decide whether they believed her story. We have a clear intention as storytellers as to whether or not the story is true, and if you watch the episode or the season again, perhaps that intention becomes more clear.”

What matters at the end of the day? That Kevin is just glad to be in the same room again with a tearful Nora telling him, “I’m here.”

“Whether he actually believes her or he wants to believe her because this will allow them to be together, that’s the $64,000 question,” Lindelof says. “But what is very clear at the end of the series is that these two people are going to be together and they’ve suffered enough. I hope.”