Boob Tube Breakdown – Three possible explanations for The Leftovers finale

Joel Murphy

Joel Murphy

The Leftovers has been such an unexpected joy. It’s a show I’ve quietly watched by myself and enjoyed as it explored the surreal and metaphysical while presenting a fundamentally human story. It’s musings on the nature of religion and belief and our ability to survive as a species were some of the most thought-provoking explorations on television. I will truly miss this show and its characters.

Damon Lindelof caught a lot of flack for the way he chose to end his previous series, Lost. Fans felts cheated that the show didn’t offer satisfactory answers (or, in some cases, answers they liked) on the show’s biggest mysteries. I love that he didn’t shy away from following it up with another show full of mysteries and big questions. However, this time he learned his lesson and made the answers to those mysteries secondary to the exploration of these rich characters and their lives.

The finale found a perfect resolution to the show – it offered closure without giving definitive answers, which felt like the right move. And while I love that it left it up to you to decide what to make of Nora’s monologue to Kevin, that’s not going to stop me from taking a deeper dive into three possible explanations for what it means here. (Just remember – there are no wrong answers here.)

1. Nora’s story is true

The simplest explanation. Everything she tells Kevin happened exactly how she said it did. She went through to the Earth-Two where her family, Mark Linn-Baker and the others all disappeared to. She spent years traveling to America to find her family, only to see that they had moved on without her in the seven years since she had last seen them, so she tracked down the inventor of the device and convinced him to build a machine to send her back.

Then, back on Earth-One, she built a new life for herself under a pseudonym and planned to live out her remaining days tending to birds and pretending not to notice that her nun friend was sneaking guys up to her room at night. However, Kevin just couldn’t forget about her and eventually he tracks her down to give their love one last shot.

This is the most romantic version of the finale. It offers an explanation of what happened to those who disappeared and provides Nora with closure on the family she lost. It feels a little too convenient though. And, if they are capable of building a machine that can send people back, it seems odd that Nora is seemingly the only person to use it. You would think people would just be traveling back and forth all the time, unless the LADR device was kept a secret for some unknown reason. (Perhaps having only two percent of the world’s population in that alternate universe makes it difficult to get the word out?)

2. Nora’s story is a lie

Occam’s razor. Instead of being sent through the LADR device, at the last minute she panicked and called it off. (We saw the liquid rising, but never saw her completely submerged in it.) Perhaps she imagined exactly the scenario she told Kevin – seeing her family and realizing that they had moved on without her – and realized nothing would be gained by tracking them down after so much time had passed. Maybe she panicked and realized this device could be killing her instantly or teleporting her into space to die of oxygen deprivation. Whatever the case – she didn’t go through with it.

Then, out of shame or embarrassment or a desire for solitude, she decided to let the rest of the world believe she had vanished. This went on years and got to a point where she didn’t even go back to America for her brother’s funeral. She assumed a new identity and tried to go unnoticed.

In this version – like the nun explaining to Nora why they told the bride and groom the doves would deliver their messages across the globe – her monologue to Kevin is simply a lie that makes for a better story. She couldn’t admit she was had let him believe for all of those years that she was gone, so she made up a more pleasant fiction. (If this is true, I love that Kevin accepted her lie without question.)

To me, this version makes the most sense. It’s hard to know whether or not she had reached a point of no return with the LADR machine (and what effect exposure to the chemicals she was submerged in would have on her long term), but there’s no reason to believe she couldn’t have called it off since she was in constant contact with the scientists. (Matt would also know she didn’t go through with it since he was in the booth with them.) It’s not a particularly hopeful or romantic explanation, but it’s the most grounded and human one.

3. Everyone is dead

Stay with me here. We’ve seen Kevin’s version of purgatory, which involves international assassins, twin brothers and a Presidential penis scanner. But that version of purgatory was nuked into oblivion in the penultimate episode. Perhaps what the finale delivered was Nora’s version of the afterlife.

It makes a certain amount of sense. We saw Laurie in the finale, but we don’t know whether she lived or died after her scuba trip. Perhaps she really did kill herself on the seventh anniversary of everyone departing. And perhaps Nora died the moment she was submerged in the LADR machine; never really being sent off anywhere. Eventually, Kevin dies too – through a heart attack or intentional drowning or whatever.

Much like in Kevin’s purgatory, they are stuck there until they find emotional closure for their lives. Kevin and Nora must resolve their conflict with each other before they can let go of their lives on Earth. So, like Kevin being a cold-blooded killer or the President, Nora tends to birds under a different name.

This explanation makes certain things work better – like the way Kevin finds her and the reason for the doves. And it even allows for Nora to have experienced everything she says she did in terms of going to Earth-Two. Maybe that happened, in her mind, in purgatory. All of this is so she can achieve closure and move on.

Final thoughts: I like all three explanations for different reasons. This doesn’t feel like The Sopranos coping out on a definitive ending. Instead, I feel like the show gave three satisfying endings and allowed you to decide which you accept as true. I tend to believe option two, but perhaps that says more about me than it does about the show.

Ultimately, I’m glad the show ended on such a strong note. I love these characters and this world. The work that Justin Theroux, Carrie Coon and the rest of the cast has put in has been nothing short of phenomenal. I will truly miss this show.


Joel Murphy is the creator of HoboTrashcan, which is probably why he has his own column. He loves pugs, hates Jimmy Fallon and has an irrational fear of robots. Follow Joel on Twitter @FreeMisterClark or email him at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *