Love In The Time Of Netflix: Kevin and Nora (The Leftovers)

A romance writer’s guide to the best ships on television.

The Leftovers
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On this month’s edition of LITTN, we’re going existential—as in double rainbow, what does it all mean? (congrats to anyone who got that reference). Now if you’ve seen the series The Leftovers, you’ve probably spent a significant amount of time wondering what the heck it was about. Some top theories might include: grief, the end of the world, human perseverance, religion, politics, all of the above. But if you’re like me, as soon as you saw the series finale you realized that this whole time The Leftovers was just a love story.

That’s right. Kevin and Nora. It was one big romance novel weaved into a fantastical story about, well, all of the above. How did the writers cram all of this into three seasons? I have no idea but it’s definitely #writinggoals. I contemplated just filling a thousand word article with ugly cry emojis to sum up the kick in the gut that this love story was, but I’ll try to compose myself enough to get through this.

Something we talk about a lot in romantic fiction is chemistry. That little je ne sais quoi that makes you start shipping the characters in the first place. But I’m gonna go on record here and say Kevin and Nora were not a cute, flirty, charismatic couple. Frankly, they’re dealing with a lot of stuff right now, so romance isn’t exactly what they’re here for.

Kevin and Nora meet in the empty hallway of the local high school. Nora is slouched on the floor, leaned against some lockers, coming to terms with the newly discovered fact that her departed (The mysterious departure of 2% of the world’s population is the basis for this show) husband was cheating on her. And Kevin, the police chief, is wandering around town making it his mission to find out who stole the baby Jesus from the nativity scene in town— read: avoiding a whole bunch of his own heavy stuff altogether. It’s bleak and ordinary and sad. Their story doesn’t start with a match finding flint, but more like a gaping wound finding a bandage. So, who was the wound and who was the bandage? The fact that I can’t answer that question is the point. Both characters appear to be equally emotionally unstable. Let’s just say, a meet-cute it was not.

Their first conversation, however ordinary it might be, sets something important up though. These two regular people, both with huge, gaping emotional wounds, are about to navigate one of the most confusing universes in fiction together. That in and of itself pulled me right onto this ship. Sometimes it’s the chemistry that screams destined to be together, and sometimes it’s just something about the way each one of them is broken that fits with the other. The latter is my favorite.

It was because of those fully fleshed-out wounds that Kevin and Nora both got equally important arcs that had nothing to do with their central romance. In fact, that’s why the love story was so easily confused as the B plot. Kevin Garvey might have been the second coming, so yeah, his arc was pretty full. This man’s life was a nuclear wasteland and when he finally rose from the ashes, the people around him wanted to tear him limb from limb for their own salvation. In fact, sometimes it felt as if the whole series was a contest between every major character to see who had it worse, and this dude was right at the top.

And Nora? Well, there’s a lot to study about empowered heroines and writing female characters with agency, and if you want to learn how to do that, take a look at this character. Nora lost her entire family in the event that took something from most people. To her, her grief felt both overwhelming and yet lost in the mix, but she had this mission and nothing—not even the greatest love of her life potentially being God—was going to stop her. She was as much a survivor, a mother, a leader as she was Kevin’s great love. At no point was her story dependant on being one half of a couple. Nora’s quest to make sense of what happened to her could exist with or without Kevin, but the two of them together were a force larger than the sum of its parts. Isn’t that the backbone of an epic love story? You plus me equals something bigger and better than before.

So what were some of Kevin and Nora’s most memorable romance beats in the series? My personal favorite, and it’s a dark one, is in episode 7 of season 3. Kevin and… other Kevin…  (you’ll have to trust me if you haven’t seen it) are having a conversation. In this particular realm (there are a few) the survival of the world basically relies on which version of Kevin wins this battle of wills. The idea is that it’s two extreme versions of Kevin coming to a head, and for either one to find peace, the other can’t exist. And in case you were STILL wondering at this point what the entire journey was all about, during the negotiations, the most powerful part is when Kevin reads a scene from a book that the other Kevin wrote all about his love story with Nora. The fate of the world is at hand and it’s still always about her. (P.S. The prose from the book Kevin wrote is absolutely beautiful and the soundtrack is gorgeous! Please watch this series.)

But what makes this such a key moment in his love story is the way it ends. As his heart is literally being ripped from his chest, Kevin 1 looks at Kevin 2 and says: “We F***ed up with Nora.” Kevin 2 just nods his understanding and then it’s done. Cue ugly cry emojis. As dark moments go, it was rough. The moment when you really didn’t know if this love was going to survive, because one version of this man now ceases to exist. And in the version that we think is real, things aren’t looking too good either. Not to mention the world is still careening out of control, but who cares about the rest of it—how are Kevin and Nora going to find each other again now!?

On a happier note, (man, this show is a roller coaster) if there was ever an award for best grand gesture in a romance, navigating alternate universes for your love would have to take the cake. Spoilers here. If you haven’t finished this series, do not proceed. So there was a time jump, and it’s apparent that a whole lot of stuff has happened in between that we didn’t see (which is amazing because a LOT of stuff happened that we did) but what’s important is that this is the moment when in this realm, at this time, Kevin and Nora reunite, and judging by the character’s appearance, a long time has passed.

And Kevin has been looking for her The. Entire. Time.

He finally finds her in the Outback of Australia and it’s this beautiful, confusing as heck moment where we don’t know if it’s a reunion or yet another realm in which these two souls connect. I’m also a huge sucker for a slow dance which this scene utilizes, and as confusing as it was, it was straight up perfect imagery in my opinion. It’s like the entire series was this dance between Kevin and Nora. They took turns leading, sometimes the dance floor spanned the time-space continuum, and yet it was only ever about those whispered words to each other as they danced.

Later on in this reunion, Kevin tells Nora how he found her. Now wait for it, because here is where the mother of all grand gestures comes in. Every year Kevin gets two weeks vacation and what does he do? He uses it to search the entire world for Nora with only a gut feeling that she’s still alive. Oh my God, what? How long has he been doing this? He’s grey-haired now! Where has she been all this time? There’s so many questions but only one answer: it doesn’t matter, because no matter what happened across all the worlds in which he lived, he was always going to find her again. It’s heart-wrenching and beautiful, and by the way, again with the facial acting. Justin Theroux brings it. The choked out sobs. The painful, longing stares. I rewatched it for this article and it was a soul crushing as I remembered.

So they’re finally back in each other’s world, and Kevin may have floundered through his journey to get there, but Nora was always the master of her own destiny. Even at the end, when fate or dogged determination (or whatever it was— seriously, this show is confusing) intervened and brought her love back to her doorstep, it wasn’t enough for her to just accept it. She had to take a hard look at her life, every dark nook and cranny, her tragic past and her lonely and desolate present and decide where that love fit—IF that love fit—before she let it in. It wasn’t a given that Nora would be saved by Kevin’s arrival, even if he was the other half of her soul. And when you hear her story of where she’d been, that becomes even more apparent. She had already learned to live with half a soul and, damn it, she was going to be just fine. I don’t need you, but I choose you. And she did. This was a hard-earned HEA, and yes, I choose to interpret the end of this series as a HEA not just a HFN despite all the logistics, because Kevin and Nora had enough ‘for nows’ throughout the series.

So there you have it. Kevin and Nora are absolutely one of the best romances on television. You should definitely check out this memorable ship, especially if fantasy romance is your thing. This one was a little more angsty and sad than Jim and Pam, but like a good library full of romance, variety is key. Look for another ship next month!

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