Warning: Spoilers ahead for The Leftovers series finale.
At the end of The Leftovers’ penultimate episode, "The Most Powerful Man in the World (And His Identical Twin Brother)," Kevin Garvey Jr. (Justin Theroux) comes to terms with his romantic cowardice. Earlier in the season, the messianic figure abandoned his longtime partner Nora Durst (Carrie Coon) in an Australian hotel room after a literally fiery argument, and now, a very complex scheme involving alternate dimensions and forced asphyxiation has forced him to see the error of his craven ways. In the series finale "The Book Of Nora," the police chief finally finds his long lost love and she tells him something so totally unexpected, it makes Kevin’s near-death trips to the limbo hotel sound downright mundane.
Nora found out where 2% of the world's population went during the Sudden Departure. In fact, she went there and came back. It’s a story so crazy only Kevin and viewers of The Leftovers would believe it, so let’s dive in.
Nora did in fact enter the machine that could allegedly send people in the Leftovers world "through" to wherever the 2% disappeared to in the Sudden Departure of 2011. The grieving mum found herself naked and "curled up like a baby" in the same car park she had been in before the experiment, except there were "no trucks, no people, no nothing." Everything had disappeared. Since it was cold, Nora started walking, finding no one and nothing but abandoned buildings. By nighttime she finally came upon a man in a woman in a house.
"The man told me that seven years earlier, he was in a supermarket and every single person disappeared except for him," Nora explains to Kevin. "And the woman told me that she lost her husband, her three daughters, and all eight of her grandchildren." In an alternate universe, the Sudden Departure ripped 98% of the world’s population away — not a measly 2%. "Over here, we lost some of them," Nora continues. "But over there, they lost all of us."
After coming to that horrific realisation, the investigator set out to fulfill her purpose of going into the machine: finding her vanished children. The trip took "a long time" since there are no pilots to conduct flights or boats that head directly from Australia to New York any more. However, the street lights still turned on at night when Nora finally arrived back home in Mapleton. There, she found her son Jeremy, now "a tall teenage boy with curly hair," and her daughter Erin, now about 11, still living in their home. The kids were with Nora’s husband Doug, who has a pretty partner, and they were all smiling and happy. "In a world full of orphans, they still had each other," she reasons. "And I was a ghost who had no place there."
So, Nora found the scientist who originally invented the interdimensional machine, Dr. Van Eeghen, and had him rebuild it to send her back home. Then, she returned to the Leftovers reality after what sounds like years. Nora’s story brings up a litany of questions, like how didn’t the alternate dimension world descend into chaos after the 98% Sudden Departure? "Our" world fell apart with the loss of just 2%, with doomsday cults popping up and everyone constantly on the brink of violence. Would people really be "kind" and "smiling" in the other world? And don’t even start thinking about the logistics of Dr. Eeghen building another machine.
Creators Tom Perrotta and Damon Lindelof are fine with viewers questioning Nora’s tale, especially after the "Book Of Nora" nun reminds our heroine sometimes things are "a nicer story" than reality. "If you believe her story, then she could've been saying goodbye," Perrotta tells Bustle of the last moments we see a younger Nora in the interdimensional device. "But if you don't believe her story, then I think she was saying 'No' or 'Stop.'"
We’ll never know what really happened in that ball — and that’s the magic of The Leftovers.