Jasmin Savoy Brown and Justin Theroux (Photo: Ben King/HBO)

In an interview with Vulture, Damon Lindelof described The Leftovers as a love story, with the relationship between Kevin Garvey and Nora Durst as its core. The phrase “love story” is almost always misleading, as it suggests something akin to a fairy tale when no one’s actual love story plays out that way. It’s especially misleading within the context of The Leftovers, which started out relentlessly bleak—try to imagine a Wu-Tang trampoline party in season one—but has since found moments of joy, hope, and levity. If the show is ultimately a love story about Kevin and Nora, it’s easy to assume their bond will consistently provide a ray of sunshine to cut through the darkness, not just for the characters’ sake but the audience’s as well.

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Love stories, even the most life-affirming ones, are full of doubt, crossed signals, longing, and resentment. And so too is Kevin and Nora’s love story, which hits its roughest patch yet in “G’Day Melbourne.” Considering everything they’ve been through, individually and as a couple, Kevin and Nora should be invincible by now. Kevin’s habit of duct-taping a plastic bag over his head would have been a dealbreaker for most relationships, but this isn’t most relationships. It’s one between two people constantly looking for ways to cope with unprecedented, ungraspable change. They’re uncommonly honest and supportive of each other’s oddest, most self-destructive impulses. They don’t want to judge each other’s search for meaning and purpose in a post-Departure world. They just don’t want to be on the journey alone.

But after an event like the Sudden Departure, it’s naive to expect anything approaching permanence in any kind of relationship. The world has been powerfully reminded that we’re all alone in this life, and everyone acts accordingly. People climb up onto pillars and refuse to come down to visit with their dutiful wives. People join cults and refuse to speak to their own families. People relocate to small towns in Texas, sight unseen, in hopes of a more peaceful, meaningful life. This is not a moment for making other people’s choices about you, it’s a moment for encouraging people to make whatever choices allow them to keep pressing forward, whether the plan includes you or not.

Kevin is being a bit old fashioned when he insists on accompanying Nora to Melbourne, as if they’re an average couple in a normal world and he’s tagging along on his girlfriend’s work trip. Though the modes of transit are vastly different, this journey is to Nora as the otherworldly adventure in “International Assassin” was to Kevin, a search for answers and closure that just might be worth the unusual cost of admission. Kevin and Nora pretend to lack faith, scoffing at Matt and John’s book whenever possible and shattering Jarden’s illusions about the disappearance of Pillar Man. Despite their stated preference for the rational and the logical, Nora and Kevin are both desperate enough to step out on the faith they dare not acknowledge. And as much as they value the companionship the other provides, they are like the Pillar Man, on deeply personal journeys that will eventually exclude the people they love most.

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After the opening credits, portentously set to Ray LaMontagne’s “This Love Is Over,” Nora and Kevin’s paths diverge almost immediately. “See you on the other side,” she says to Kevin as she goes through her membership-only expedited security queue while he lines up with the common people. Kevin can tell something isn’t quite right, and he quickly gets Nora to confess she wanted to skip the body scanner so no one would discover the $20,000 in cash she has strapped to her body. He asks why she didn’t just give him half the money to carry, and she doesn’t have an answer. It makes sense once she thinks about it, but she hadn’t really thought about Kevin’s presence on this trip, let alone his role in it.

They’re on the plane to Melbourne by the time Nora starts letting Kevin in on the pertinent details, and he’s as confused as anyone would be, given the circumstances. Why’s Nora flying halfway around the world, at her own expense, on an unsanctioned DSD sting operation? As Kevin points out, it’s not as if she has any kind of jurisdiction in Melbourne even if she can prove her suspicions. He’s concerned for good reason. The best thing about the Nora plot is how coy the show is being about Nora’s true motives. Her trip to Melbourne is obviously about more than professional curiosity, but how much more? If given the opportunity to be literally nuked to kingdom come, would she actually do it? Nora seems like she’d love nothing more than for the mysterious team of doctors to assuage her fears and overcome her objections.

Kevin doesn’t have much time to fret over Nora’s operation, setting off on a solo mission of his own after he has his usual luck with a hotel television. This time, while watching G’Day Melbourne, he spots a familiar face in the audience outside the studio. It’s Evie Murphy. She’s in Melbourne, for some reason, and he has to find out how she was able to escape the visitor’s center unscathed. He scurries down to the studio and finds Evie, who pretends not to know him and identifies herself as Daniah Moabizzi, a library worker with a passion for daytime talk shows. A helpful passerby roughs Kevin up when he sees Kevin accosting a young woman, but that’s not enough to dissuade him. He reaches out to Laurie for help, but all she can do is try as best she can to get him to see his delusion without causing him to snap. It’s not Evie. Evie’s gone.

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By the time they reconvene at the hotel, Kevin and Nora don’t have the emotional bandwidth to help each other deal with the day they’ve had. They’ve both had their hopes dashed. Despite subjecting herself to a battery of tests in a creepy, abandoned warehouse, Nora is rejected by the doctors and never makes it into the same building as the radiation machine. Kevin, who hoped his hallucinatory visions had subsided, finds out that his ghosts have followed him to Melbourne. And as transparent as their relationship usually is, here, they’re keeping secrets. Kevin doesn’t want to admit he saw Evie, because the Ghost Patti confession didn’t go so well. And Nora doesn’t want to admit to him, or to herself, that if given the opportunity, she may well have jumped into whatever giant microwave was put in front of her.

The stress boils over into a vicious argument, with Kevin and Nora both resurrecting past events. This is a relationship that doesn’t benefit from introspection, it relies on forward momentum, so once they’ve laid out their grievances, the earth is scorched. All Kevin knows to do is pack up and leave. No sooner than he gets outside does he run into the elder Kevin Garvey, who shares his son’s knack for divining with television sets. Grace is with him, and they’re ready to write the next chapter of the Book of Kevin. This is the rare occasion when you can, in fact, unburn what is burned.

Stray observations

  • a-ha’s “Take On Me” gets played no less than three times, first on a piano, then by a brass ensemble, and finally the original. I wonder if the inclusion of the song is really more about the video, which features a man and woman trying to unite in spite of occupying different realities.
  • Nora: “I borrowed some of your duct tape.”
  • The sign Evie/Daniah is holding says “Surah 81,” which refers to a passage in the Quran about judgment day. Among the verses: “And when the girl buried alive is asked/For what sin she was killed.” Pretty interesting timing considering Nora reads aloud the Book of Kevin verses that correspond to the events of “International Assassin.”
  • I wonder if the question Drs. Eden and Bekker asked before disqualifying Nora from the procedure was meant to test her level of emotional connection to those who have departed. Maybe that determines the odds of success. Or, y’know, maybe it’s a big scam with a celebrity endorser.
  • Mark-Linn Baker allegedly went through the portal, so if you’re inclined to believe in the process, the cast of Perfect Strangers has been reunited in the great beyond.
  • I wonder if Kevin knows the truth of how Nora broke her arm, given their tendency to forgive each other’s quirks.
  • Since Kevin is seeing visions again, I’m going to assume G’Day Melbourne doesn’t actually have a segment featuring news about local Kevins.

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