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The Leftovers season 3, episode 4: “G’day Melbourne” sends Kevin and Nora to Australia

It turns out to be a terrible idea.

The Leftovers
Nora sits in a room on fire, which is probably a metaphor for something.
Emily St. James was a senior correspondent for Vox, covering American identities. Before she joined Vox in 2014, she was the first TV editor of the A.V. Club.

The first time I watched “G’day, Melbourne,” the fourth episode of The Leftovers’ final season, I was blown away by its individual parts but didn’t quite buy the overall sweep of the story. It felt, to me, like the show knew it needed to separate Nora and Kevin for its last batch of episodes — can we really be halfway through the final season already? — and did whatever it could to make that happen.

Intellectually, I understood that Nora and Kevin were having trouble and had been for a while. But emotionally, I didn’t feel prepared, because much of that trouble had happened offscreen, in the gap between season two and season three (which opened with a three-year time jump).

Sure, the couple had lost baby Lily (in a custody battle with the child’s biological mother that Nora essentially didn’t contest, this episode reveals), and Kevin’s visions/hallucinations seemed to consume more and more of his mental state. But so much of the first half of this season has been spent on the two seeming “normal,” more or less, going on wild adventures and hanging out.

Only after I watched “G’day, Melbourne” again did I realize just how beautifully it sets up that final confrontation between the two after all.

Nora and Kevin are, in some sense, already broken up. Nora is making decisions about major life events — like going to Australia to possibly cross over to another reality! — and not bothering to include Kevin in the decision-making process. They’re splintering apart, but they haven’t yet realized it. This is a dead relationship that both partners continue because they don’t know how else to exist.

On The Leftovers, your mental instability is my religious conviction

The Leftovers
Kevin seeks answers on a morning show.

In my rewatch, I noticed how much the things I had taken as comedic beats on a first watch — like Nora telling Kevin that she’ll explain his presence to the scientists/scammers she’s in Australia to meet with/bring down by saying they’re in a cripplingly co-dependent relationship — are actually the two characters speaking the truth to each other under the veil of a joke.

Nora and Kevin are in love. They’re still drawn to each other. But their relationship has gotten more and more toxic as they’ve refused to speak about the weird passions animating them. Indeed, it increasingly seems like Nora is keeping her true motivations from herself. She goes to Australia to ostensibly bring down the people saying they can help the non-Departed go wherever the Departed went, but when she’s rejected by the head scientists behind the project, she reacts like she really, really wanted to go.

This emotional guardedness from the self is a hallmark of Leftovers co-creator Damon Lindelof’s work. Frequently on his shows, a character will be doing something that totally makes sense to them and that the series sells you on making sense. It’s only when you step back from it, from somebody else’s perspective, that you realize how little sense it actually makes.

Nora going to Australia makes sense to her. Kevin going to Australia makes sense to him. But as Laurie points out to Kevin when he talks to her on the phone, what the two have done isn’t the action of rational people. They’re running away from something, and maybe they always have been. They just couch it in rationalizations in order to fool themselves into believing that they’re behaving in their own best interests.

And the thing about any Lindelof show but The Leftovers in particular is that they really might be behaving in their own best interests. In a world where 2 percent of the planet’s population has disappeared, is there a rational way to do anything? After all, what might seem like mental instability to me may be a powerful religious moment for you.

This, fundamentally, is what divides Nora and Kevin and always has. She’s uncomfortable with the fact that he sees people who aren’t there and seems to receive important instructions from them. He’s uncomfortable with the all-consuming nature of her uncertain grief as it relates to her Departed family, that she might give up everything and risk incineration to join them on whatever other side exists.

They’re unable to accept the other’s mental gymnastics as fundamentally sound, unable to accept that the other might be doing “the right thing” from their point of view. They’re both broken people, and that initially brought them together. But until they’re healed — or at least on a path toward healing — there’s nothing they can do to heal their relationship.

With all of that depressing stuff out of the way, this is a really engaging episode!

The Leftovers
The Evie Kevin thought he saw is someone else entirely.

All of that probably makes this sound like a bummer of an episode, but what The Leftovers has learned since its first season (which was too heavy for many) is that if it leavens its darkness with humor and weirdness, it can get away with so much more.

“G’day, Melbourne” features a terrific moment when Kevin approaches a gigantic koala, the music building as if he’s about to meet the next mentor on his spiritual quest, only for said music to cut out when he asks the koala (who’s just a man in a suit) how to get to the public library. Similarly, Nora’s meeting with the scientists (and several subsequent scenes) are scored to A-ha’s “Take on Me,” first on solo piano, then by a brass instrument group, and finally (over the closing credits) by A-ha itself.

Similarly, Kevin’s pursuit of Evie Murphy — whom he sees standing in the window of the local morning show that gives the episode its title, holding a sign pointing him toward the apocalyptic Surat 81 from the Quran — gives the episode a pulse-pounding spine that means you don’t stop to think about how he’s probably seeing things again. (When he sends Laurie the picture of Evie, and the audience doesn’t get to see said picture, it’s a pretty big tipoff — especially when you remember her discussion from the premiere about how people in the midst of major delusions often can’t be told they’re in the middle of major delusions.)

When it turns out Evie is some other woman entirely, who sort of looks like Evie, in that she wears the same glasses, but manifestly isn’t Evie, that shakes him. Maybe it causes him to doubt himself a little bit, which leads into the fight with Nora, who’s found herself on the flipside of Kevin, having gone from doubting to desperately wanting to believe she might see her family again.

Whether they know it or not, Nora and Kevin have come to Australia for a kind of crucible, to see if their relationship can survive what’s to come, whether that’s the end of the world or just the end of their world.

It’s telling that the episode’s final two shots feature the two apart, in close-up. Kevin, dragged by his father out into the Australian wilderness, gazes up at the hotel where he’s left Nora and the burning Book of Kevin.

She sits alone on the bed in their room, the book burning in the sink, and the sprinklers turn on, drenching her. Director Daniel Sackheim cuts in for a close-up in profile, and the water running down her face from the sprinklers mixes with her tears for the end of her relationship. The world might not end in a flood, as Kevin’s father believes, but this relationship definitely has.

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