Awards Daily TV says goodbye to HBO’s The Leftovers with writer/producer Tom Perrotta. Here, he talks about his Season 3 journey and that uplifting series finale.
This article contains spoilers for those who have not seen The Leftovers series finale “The Book of Nora.”
HBO’s The Leftovers departed our television landscape Sunday night. Yet, unlike the 2 percent who disappeared in the Sudden Departure, we had the opportunity to gracefully say goodbye to these remarkable characters. The series finale, “The Book of Nora,” delivered a sweet, romantic, and dare I say, uplifting close to a series that often ventured into the incredibly sad. That’s exactly how writer / producers Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta fully intended it.
“If you look back at the first two seasons, we have established a tradition of putting our characters through hell and bringing them a moment of grace at the end,” Perrotta explained. “The show can be so punishing for characters and viewers at times. We’re really soft-hearted at the end of it all.”
“Soft-hearted,” yes, but Perrotta, Lindelof, and team designed the show to relieve the pressure of an explicit wrap-up. Given the overall focus on characters over the series mythology, no one felt the pressure to fully explain the Sudden Departure or Kevin’s journeys to that other place. Instead, early decisions ensured that the characters would live their lives inside the series mystery. Much like we as human beings live our lives in the great mysteries of life. Where do we go when we die? What is the overall meaning of life? Who or what is God? These questions exist in the real world without explicit answers. That beauty in uncertainty reflects throughout the series, particularly in its series finale, as it focuses on character relationships.
Looking Back on a Rich Bounty of Characters in Season 3
The revelation of an older, isolated Nora Durst (Carrie Coon), became one of the biggest surprises of the third season opener, “The Book of Kevin.” Given her trajectory through the season and into the finale, viewers returned to the scene to figure out exactly where Nora was. That early revelation emerged as a bold creative choice made by Damon Lindelof.
“Damon is extremely strategic as a writer. I think he understood that there’s something comforting about seeing old Nora, especially as we understand through the season that it looks like she’s putting herself into a machine that will incinerate her,” Perrotta related. “The interesting thing is that it doesn’t completely dispel suspense. If she did go through that machine, then maybe she’s living in some other world. Kevin’s scam in showing up and saying he and Nora never really knew each other aside from a few encounters does create this strange, shifty ground for the viewer. It was a very savvy move.”
Aside from Nora, Season 3 introduced and deepened several characters. We became more familiar with Kevin Garvey Sr.’s (Scott Glenn) Australian quest. We bonded with another mother left behind in Grace (Lindsay Duncan). We journeyed with Kevin (Justin Theroux) as he continued his quest for answers and, ultimately, a family.
Still, as the series wraps, several questions and stories remain unexplored. This begs the question of whether or not Tom Perrotta would ever revisit these characters.
“I began to write The Leftovers in 2009, so it’s been almost 8 years of my life. It’s been a wonderful experience, but I’m ready to close the book,” Perrotta laughs. “At the same time, I understand the impulse that lead to Better Call Saul. This idea that some characters are so alive you just want to see more of them.”
Of this season’s characters, Perrotta would personally love to see what happened to Jill at college. He’d also like to spend more time with the Murphy family, particularly Erika (Regina King) whose story line drifted away from the main thread in Season 3.
“I do understand that impulse, but the show did what dramas can do which is to create a big ensemble cast of great characters, but we certainly didn’t exhaust a number of them.”
Exploring Character and Audience Faith at the End
One of the more surprising revelations in “The Book of Nora” centered around Kevin’s pacemaker. Here’s a man once thought immortal, yet he nearly died from heart failure. Now, an aging and entirely mortal Kevin relies on mechanical intervention to live. The flash-forward revealed a sudden departure of its own in Kevin’s trajectory. Did Kevin lose the ability to jump back and forth between the living and the dead?
“The way I think about it is in Episode 7 and the apocalypse that occurs within that episode reads as a kind of psychological act on Kevin’s part. He’s closing off the possibility that he can go to that place,” Perrotta explains. “He understands that it’s damaging to his ability to live in the primary world.”
While Kevin’s story largely revolves around his search for familial connections, Nora’s quest to reconnect with her children and her season finale revelation has significant faith implications. Depending on your viewpoint, Nora either went to “the other side,” or she’s lying to make Kevin feel better.
It’s an intriguing choice that reflects more on the viewer than on the series itself.
“I think you can look at Nora’s story in different ways. Nora’s been very honest. She has been established as the truth teller of the show – the person who investigates frauds. Her very last act is to tell a wild story that brings important new information in the Sudden Departure. I think the cynical realist would say she chickened out… and she’s embarrassed. She’s telling this elaborate story so that she doesn’t have to come out as a coward to Kevin. Also, it helps explain to Kevin why she didn’t get in touch with him. That’s the realist interpretation. I think, for a person who wants a narrative that explains what happened in the Sudden Departure, Nora’s acting as a prophet.”
Nora’s critical story, as most brilliant art does, puts the audience in the place of choosing whether or not to explore their own faith. Will you have faith in Nora? Will you have faith in something you cannot verify? The choice speaks to explorations of faith and religion on a much grander scale.
At its end, The Leftovers displays astonishing power through the subjects it explores.
“To me, that’s what faith is. We get a story that explains our world to us and provides us with consoling news, but we can’t prove it,” Perrotta said. “What do we do with it? I think Kevin’s in that position, and the viewers are in that position.”
Learning from The Leftovers
After 8 years with The Leftovers, Perrotta looks back fondly on what he learned from the experience. Authors tend to work independently, but a television series wildly stretches collaborative skills. Working with Damon Lindelof, director Mimi Leder, and the extraordinarily talented cast and crew grew Perrotta’s ability to trust others with his own story.
“I had a really beautiful experience of watching that story become something I never could have imagined on my own,” Perrotta muses. “It really was the experience of being lifted up and having my mind expanded by the people I worked with.”
It was also an experience he gladly shared with audiences across the world who grew to love The Leftovers as if it were their own.