There are so many streaming options available these days, and so many conflicting recommendations, that it’s hard to see through all the crap you could be watching. Each Friday, The Verge’s Cut the Crap column simplifies the choice by sorting through the overwhelming multitude of movies and TV shows on subscription services and recommending a single perfect thing to watch this weekend.
What to watch
“The Book of Nora,” the series finale of The Leftovers, HBO’s adaptation of Tom Perrotta’s existential mystery novel, which ran for three seasons between 2014 and 2017. Perrotta and former Lost writer-producer Damon Lindelof covered most of the book’s plot in the first 10 episodes, then spent the next 18 working increasingly strange and soulful variations on their themes. Both on the page and on the screen, The Leftovers was set in a world where 2 percent of the population simultaneously and inexplicably disappears, years before the story begins. In the finale, one of the show’s main characters, Nora Durst (played by Carrie Coon), accepts an invitation from a shadowy organization to finally have her questions about “the Departed” answered. Lindelof and Perrotta claimed throughout the run of this series that they cared less about the “why” and “how” of the missing population than the “what happens next.” But the finale does offer an answer — sort of — to the question of what happened on the day of the Sudden Departure.
Why watch now?
Because Avengers: Endgame opens this weekend.
What does the Marvel Cinematic Universe have to do with a Tom Perrotta novel? For anyone familiar with both, the answer’s obvious. Most of the 20-plus Marvel movies over the past 11 years have, in some way, touched on a scheme by an alien villain named Thanos to collect ultra powerful artifacts called Infinity stones, as a way to complete an ultimate cosmic weapon. At the end of last year’s Avengers: Infinity War, Thanos finished his collection and wiped out half the population of the universe, instantly disintegrating some of the MCU’s best-known heroes.
It’s too soon to talk specifically about what happens in Avengers: Endgame, but it’s no spoiler to say that the movie doesn’t rush through the aftermath of the Thanos massacre. With a franchise as character- and actor-driven as Marvel, fans are willing to wait for the action to crank back up. So the new film spends a good amount of time checking in with the survivors — including some who didn’t appear in Infinity War — to see how they’re navigating a ravaged Earth riddled with people-shaped holes.
The execution, which is sensitive, emotional, and thoughtful, is similar to what The Leftovers did across 28 hours of TV. Endgame considers how the world might change after such a baffling and tragic global event, but at least its characters know what happened to their world. In The Leftovers, the cause of the event is completely unknown, and it’s changed everything from relationships to religion. The series follows troubled souls like Nora, who lost her entire family in the Departure, and Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux), whose loved ones stayed put, but still scattered after the calamity. Bit by bit, these people had to build new lives and forge new connections, in a sometimes melancholy, sometimes inspiring study of human resilience.
The final Leftovers season begins with Nora and Kevin living happily together — or so it seems. Tempted by the possibility of finding out where her Departed husband and children went proves too tempting for Nora. In the opening sequence of the series finale, she steps naked into a strange machine that’s supposed to send her somewhere unknown. When she reappears, she is indeed somewhere — and someone — else.
Who it’s for
Leftovers fans, preferably (and Lost fans, too).
An underrated virtue of both Lost and The Leftovers is that while both tell long, sprawling stories, they do so via episodes that are largely complete loops. It’d be difficult to pick up the full emotional resonances of “The Book of Nora” without watching the 27 episodes that preceded it, but it’s still conceivable that someone who’d never seen The Leftovers could become involved with the plot, which has an older Kevin finding an older Nora (renamed “Sarah”) living a hermetic life in rural Australia. Lindelof and Perrotta structured the finale such that even regular viewers were uncertain for much of the hour whether they were watching the same characters in the same reality, or whether they’d followed Nora to some other dimension. Everything becomes clear at the end when Nora delivers a riveting, emotional monologue that explains what she saw and learned after she entered the transporter.
Ideally, though, it’s best for people who are already familiar with The Leftovers — and Lost, for that matter — to compare and contrast Avengers: Endgame and “The Book of Nora.” All three of these properties spent years combining spine-tingling supernatural action / adventure with philosophical quandaries, all filtered through the perspectives of flawed heroes. Each has taken the time to consider what really matters about the stories they’re telling. Their creators understand that the great mysteries of life have less to do with the divine and the otherworldly, and more to do with ordinary, everyday perseverance.
Where to see it
HBO Go and HBO Now. For more Lindelof, Lost is available in its entirety on Hulu. And Lindelof’s new HBO adaptation/reimagining of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ influential superhero graphic novel Watchmen is coming soon. The premiere date for that has yet to be announced, but the channel is already running teaser clips.