A Great Love Goes Up In Smoke On The Leftovers
But is this really the end?
My feelings about this episode began early, before the episode even started, with Ray LaMontagne's "This Love Is Over" playing over the opening credits. Because I am full of grace and eloquence, and because I take scrupulous and thoughtful notes, I wrote down "UH OH NOOOOO." Such a professional!
In prestige TV logic, a split between Kevin and Nora is a long time coming: that kind of forever relationship is for network, right? These are traumatized people with pretty active issues; a healthy relationship might be a stretch, or worse, suspiciously mundane. Who makes a show about two thoroughly twisted-up people in a smooth, drama-free relationship, anyway?
So they have a fight. They bring up some pretty ugly things from the deep catalogue of ugly things they've dealt with (or not dealt with), separately and together. She blames him for "letting her" give Lily back to Christine and says he likes the idea of being Jesus; he says she should get over her kids' departure and maybe go to wherever they are if she likes it so much. (He, of course, doesn't know how close she's been to doing just that.) The Book of Kevin ends up on fire in the sink. It's high theater from both of them; opera soars in the background as their relationship appears to go up in flames, too.
But...is this really the end? Maybe we're intended to take that theme song literally, but I hope not -- because if there were ever a time when Kevin and Nora needed each other, this is probably it. Kevin just spent a day chasing the ghost of his ex-wife's husband's dead daughter, totally freaking out a nice librarian and getting beaten up for his trouble; Nora just tried to give two scientists $20,000 to nuke her into wherever her kids are, and was rejected, ostensibly for being too morally bendy. (Further proof that Nora and Kevin are meant to be: not long before we learn that Nora would definitely authorize killing someone else's newborn in exchange for a cure for cancer someday, we're also reminded that Kevin recently pushed the shade of a little girl down a well to earn some psychic peace. If that won't earn you a 90%-plus compatibility score on OKCupid, I don't know what will.) Maybe a beer and comforting, nonjudgmental end-of-day debrief is what these two need; I'm pretty sure extra time alone with their thoughts isn't.
In the middle of their fight, Kevin claims he and Nora never talk about anything. "Never" seems like a strong word, but sure: as he begins to suspect that maybe the Book of Kevin isn't just freaky family fanfic and she can't resist the insane opportunity to see her kids again, they definitely talk less. But it seems like Kevin is forgetting their history. First of all, he started this trend, I think, when he didn't come totally clean about Patti and the Afterlife Hotel. But also, one of the things I appreciate about their relationship is how much they circumvent typical manufactured network-romance drama by talking about important things. Remember when they first got together and literally said, "Here are the weird things you need to know about me; how about you?" All that openness came with a refreshing air of acceptance, a sense that the world has gotten so strange that, sure, maybe you're seeing dead people and maybe you're taping a plastic bag over your head every morning. We'll get through it.
Maybe on another show -- a show less tolerant of complexity -- all these things would be too much to overcome -- but when have Kevin and Nora not had a heavy load of emotional baggage? Was it the time Laurie helped plant dead bodies all over town and then narrowly escaped the burning of her cult's compound, and also Nora found a baby and decided to just...keep it? Or was it when Kevin confessed that he'd been seeing Patti around, so Nora decided to take off on her own with an infant and her quadriplegic sister-in-law, and yet somehow found her way back? This relationship has already shown its resiliency. I'm still rooting for a comeback.
Kevin and Nora don't just need each other; as viewers, we need them, too. Even if they're not romantic partners, we need them to be on good terms. This show deals in messy human relationships, but it also deals in keeping those relationships intact despite the mess: without that throughline, we wouldn't have had Kevin, Nora, Jill, and Lily functioning as a relatively happy family unit, and we wouldn't have Kevin and Nora and Laurie and John and Erika all living together in relative peace -- and without that, the show is just sad and rootless. I don't believe the end game is to tear all that down; this show is about the meaning in people. Despite the flames, I have to believe everything is going to be all right, or close to it.