‘The Leftovers’: Amy Brenneman Dissects That Heartbreaking Twist


“It is such a beautiful, full transformation,” the actress tells THR about filming the HBO drama’s latest emotional episode.

[Warning: This story contains major spoilers through Sunday’s episode of HBO’s The Leftovers, “Certified.”]

When Reverend Matt Jamison (Christopher Eccleston) embarked on a quest across the world to Australia in order to bring Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux) home, he made the trek knowing that his days were numbered. Little did he know the same could be said for one of his traveling companions.

The sixth episode of Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta’s final season of The Leftovers began in the past, with psychiatrist Laurie Garvey (Amy Brenneman) in the post-Departure Mapleton days, sitting across from a patient — the same young mother who lost her son in the series’ very first scene, played by Natalie Gold. Laurie, who was 16 weeks pregnant when she lost her own baby in the Departure, can’t find the words to help her client. Instead, she ingests handfuls of pills, writes a suicide note, and waits for the moment to come. When she realizes she can’t pull the proverbial trigger, Laurie pulls another trigger of sorts, vomits up all of the pills, and makes yet another drastic decision instead: she joins the Guilty Remnant.

It’s a scene that was several years in the making, as Amy Brenneman tells The Hollywood Reporter, and it’s a scene that’s mirrored in the final moments of this episode, called “Certified.” After spending time with all of her loved ones — whether it’s final conversations with her new husband John (Kevin Carroll) or her old husband Kevin (Justin Theroux), or a phone call with her children from halfway across the world — Laurie decides to steal an idea from Nora Durst (Carrie Coon) and send herself off in spectacular scuba-diving style.

Whether Laurie was successful in her suicide attempt remains to be seen, and even if she was, there’s every possibility the character could return before The Leftovers ends — though time is running out, with only two episodes left. But from Brenneman’s perspective, there are no two ways about it. “It’s a goodbye,” she says about Laurie’s actions at the end of the episode.

Read on for her thoughts on Laurie’s farewell episode, how the opening sequence was first formulated, her reflections on the series’ earliest moments and more.

This was a heartbreaking episode to watch. What was it like for you to experience?

It was the second time I had a Laurie-centric episode, and you can’t believe it. Honestly. The gratitude… it’s incredible to see those kinds of brains and Damon focused on you and your character. It’s really an incredible feeling. That’s number one. One thing that was super gratifying is that Damon and I… I swear, we dreamed it up. How did she join the cult? What was the moment she joined them? We dreamed that scene up three years ago, or a long time ago. That was the backstory I always knew and worked off of. You never know if you’re going to see these scenes rendered, or if it’s just good back story to have. That was beautiful. I was like, “Oh my God! The Leftovers is so cool!” You get to go back in time and tell stories that maybe have been hanging. And then you know, it was honestly a bit of a trickier trajectory than my episode last year, and a lot of the character-centric episodes. They tend to be about a person wanting someone and they are incredibly tenacious and they have all of these things against them, and yet they persevere, and part of what we’re watching is them battling all of these things. This episode, when I look at it, it was honestly a lot about Laurie listening. On the surface, it was a little bit more passive. And yet, she throws herself into the Melbourne Bay at the end. (Laughs.) So I had to back it up. There wasn’t an obvious trigger, but obviously all of these conversations work on her in a way that she does what she does.

That’s fascinating that you and Damon were talking about the episode’s opening scene for so long. When you finally got to act it out, was it a challenging scene — or in a way, did you already know what you needed to do, because you had lived with this moment for so long?

No, it was challenging. And this is where it’s the cherry on top: I didn’t know that [Laurie’s patient] was going to be Natalie Gold. This is where The Leftovers is just unbelievable. The very first woman ever featured on the show. She did a little blip on the second season, too, and I had to tell her, “You sold our show, with that heartbreaking moment, and such a simple moment.” They flew her all the way to Australia just for that moment. I didn’t know it was going to be her. I think the challenge for me with Leftovers is honestly how much the emotions are at the surface and how much they aren’t, you know? I try not to say too, too much when I’m acting, and also, Laurie’s a therapist. Natalie is expressing all of these emotions, and it’s where these things work. I don’t know if other actors have that issue on this show, but I’ll see it in [the editing room], too. There are weepy takes, and often with Laurie they will take the less weepy takes. It’s really where this stuff lives. If you can cry about something, you’re processing it. I think so much of what happens on The Leftovers, we don’t know how to process a lot of what goes on. It’s allowing it to be expressed as it is, if that makes sense.

We have certainly seen rage within Laurie before — when she ran over members of the Guilty Remnant last season, for example. There has always been a fire in Laurie, but I don’t know that I ever sensed a suicidal tendency in her. That really surprised me. Was that something you always sensed within the character?

Do you mean the scene at the end?

Certainly that scene, but also the first scene of the episode.

It’s funny, I sort of got this more after I saw it. I think they’re two very different impulses. The first scene is really… what Damon and I talked about, years ago after the pilot, when we started cooking up that moment, knowing that Laurie was a pretty Type-A working mom, a recognizable character. It’s not like she was a marginal, fringe, bipolar person. She was very in the world. So how does she go from that to [the Guilty Remnant]? I think Laurie, like a lot of us, had good advice for people. She was a therapist. She knows what to say. What we talked about is that a person in a helping profession is basically giving advice based on something that’s happened, or a precedent. I think it’s that moment where it’s like, “Calm down, it’s OK, here are some anti-anxiety meds.” But Laurie is now going, “What the hell do I know? I don’t know anything about this.” I think it’s really a matter of, “I don’t want to do harm. I don’t want to say the wrong thing. I realize I’ve been giving advice like I know what the f— is going on.” I think that? I don’t know it’s that she’s suicidal. I think it’s more like, “Oh my god, I need to take myself out. I may do harm to people.” And then it’s like, with the Guilty Remnant, somewhere within her she doesn’t want to leave her kids with a dead mom. I think the impulse at the end is quite different. There is so much talk about different realms of existence and who knows? Maybe I’m going to be with Kevin, where he’s going. We’re not in a binary life-death world. Laurie has been such a realist and a literal person, but obviously all of this stuff has worked on her.

There’s the conversation at the dinner table about who each character represents, and Kevin Senior (Scott Glenn) tells Laurie she’s a Doubting Thomas. Laurie then declares that she’s a Judas, after she’s drugged everybody. She has certainly been skeptical of the whole Book of Kevin idea in the past, but here she is, listening to everybody tell her what their plan is: “We’re going to have your ex-husband kill himself so he can go talk to dead people.” How does Laurie process that? Is there some sense of believing that this is actually a possibility?

No! No, no, no. It’s all bullshit. No! (Laughs.) I think even more than that, the guy is having a psychotic break. He’s afraid. He called me, right? It’s sort of like people propping up Judy Garland because I got to get a movie done. It’s like, the guy’s unwell, and you’re taking advantage of his vulnerability, and glomming your own stuff onto him. No, I don’t think she ever believes. Now, here’s her journey. And again, in the episode, there are three or four times where people say their cockamamie thing. (Laughs.) And they literally say to Laurie, “You’re going to judge me. You’re going to try to talk me out of it.” And Laurie says, “No, I really think you have to do this.” It’s like my friend Elizabeth Shue in Leaving Las Vegas: “If people need to do this stuff, then I’m going to love them, and I’m going to stop judging them.” But the reason I drug those people is because I got to talk to Kevin. But when he says that this is something he needs to do? I can’t win it. I don’t think she ever believes it, but I’m not going to convince them, and I want the last expression on my face to be one of love, if this really is the last moment we have.

Why do you think Laurie does what she does at the end of the episode? Why do you feel she throws herself into the middle of the bay?

(Very long pause, then quietly.) I think her work is done, maybe? I don’t know. Her work for herself, and her work for others. I don’t entirely know. I mean, that call that is so heartbreaking… and as a mom, that was very easy for me to tap into. You hear your adult children in a happy space, and they’re close. I guess on the one hand, that would keep you in the world. On another hand, it would be like… that is all. I lost my dad in October, and my brothers and I were there, and we all have kids, and it was like, this is all you do as a parent and as a human; you want to know that your people are OK. Once they’re OK, you can go. (Pauses again.) I don’t entirely know.

Do you think it’s open-ended, or are we supposed to read this as Laurie’s goodbye?

It’s a goodbye. And I do think in that way, it is such a beautiful, full transformation from this very hard and violent and enigmatic and judgmental, rage-y presence, to she softens. I do think that’s kind of the person she would have wanted to be, weirdly. As a therapist, she thinks, “Oh, I’m a good listener and I help people, but in real life, I’m incredibly judgmental and bossy, and so mean to Kevin.” (Laughs.) That marriage was horrible. So she’s just repairing. I think for her, it’s to a sense of completeness. But we also have to be careful not to put our non-departure world judgment on that. People are checking out different realms, pretty clearly. And maybe even Laurie, even though she’s been judgmental of all of that, maybe something has opened up in her and she wants to check it out too.

It’s not just Laurie who is saying goodbye. The Leftovers is saying goodbye as well. This is a show that has meant a lot to the people who have found it. Was it hard to let go of this series for you?

Yeah! It’s so utterly unique. It’s different from when I’ve said goodbye to other series. You’re saying goodbye to regularity, and the same crew you’ve seen for six years. It’s that kind of day-to-day experience. This is not that. I said to Liv Tyler at one point, “This must be like Lord of the Rings. Every once in a while, we get together for four months and make a chunk of this story.” But there’s no other show like it. You can tell how much I revel in these conversations. I remember with some of the other shows I’ve been on, I really want to go deep, and the showrunner looks at me blankly: “Just wear the skirt.” (Laughs.) I always want to go super deep, and Damon will match me. You get to go so deep. To the point where it’s deeper than me. When you ask me why did she do what she did? I don’t entirely know. But I think that’s part of this storytelling. It’s abstract storytelling. There are characters and there’s narrative, but it’s also working like a Jackson Pollock. It’s very much for the viewers’ projection and what it elicits in them. That’s a very unique thing in mainstream American media.

When the show began, Laurie had no voice. She’s part of the Guilty Remnant, and therefore she’s dialogue-free. Once Laurie’s able to speak, how much did having a voice impact your discovery of Laurie’s voice? Did it change anything about the character for you?

I mean, it was like, so easy. (Laughs.) Although it’s so beautiful to have started with her that way. It’s funny. I think maybe it was the fourth episode of the season, and I was doing a scene with Liv and Justin, and they were working out the script and the lines. And I remember… I love to dive in, I love being in conversations, and I found myself being uncharacteristically passive, because I didn’t have any lines. And it was like, “Wow, this is what Laurie experiences. She’s observing. She’s not contributing.” It was a really beautiful way into the character. The complete journey of that first season was that flashback episode [“The Garveys at their Best,” which shows how the main characters experienced the Sudden Departure]. I think there are those in the universe of The Leftovers who are always marginal and unstable, but Laurie wasn’t one of them. She was absolutely recognizable as a working bossy mom. That just killed me. All of the characters, seeing us before, that’s still one of my [favorites], and the way it was placed right toward the end of that first season. That’s why the beginning of this episode was so especially gratifying, [for answering] how did she get from there to there.

In that episode, we found out that Laurie lost her baby on the day of the Departure. How much has that fueled your work as this character?

That was interesting, because it’s not something Damon knew early on. It was interesting because in episode six or seven of the first season, I was getting frustrated because I didn’t really know why. I didn’t want to be general grouchy, violent Laurie. Why is she this way? Why? I didn’t know why and I was getting very frustrated. Sometimes writers will withhold things because they want to give out information the way they want to. And I felt, “What’s happening? I’m annoyed. I want to know!” And Damon was saying, “I’m not keeping anything from you. I just don’t want to say anything until we have decided what it is.” I just remember being a little grouchy about it. (Laughs.) And then he finally said, “Yeah, I think we know where Laurie was during the Departure.” He told me, and I was like, “Well, that’s really great!” (Big laugh.) Literally, it was like, “OK, bye!” I had no idea that’s what he was going to say. It was fuel for the rest of Laurie, do you know what I mean? Again, I never knew if she would ever tell Kevin. That was a beautiful surprise. And I loved the way it happened. They had been through so much. Often times, pregnancy or childbearing is treated in a very sentimental way in film and television, and I loved when I said that to Kevin: “Did you want another kid?” And he’s like, “No,” and I’m like, “Good, I didn’t either!” (Laughs.) It was a tragedy, and you get that in that line: “I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to, and then I didn’t have to.” But I loved how when it came out, it wasn’t this heightened sentimental thing. It’s just that they have been through so much.

Where do you think they are at the end of things? There’s clearly a lot of love still there, otherwise Laurie would not come all the way out to Australia to help Kevin. How do you feel they leave things?

Beautifully. I said to Damon at one point when we were shooting this episode, it’s like Laurie is sitting with people on hospice, and she’s on hospice. The whole world is on hospice.

“We’re all gone,” she says.

Right. “We’re all gone.” My father-in-law died of ALS three years ago, and he was on hospice for longer than we thought he would be. Anyone who has done it knows, the noise of the world falls away. It’s pretty holy. I think that actually helped me, that image. We’re not trying to solve problems. We’re not trying to save ourselves. I’m not trying to convince you of anything. I’m just literally being with you.

Do you think we have seen the last of Laurie, and if so, what do you think of how her story came to an end? Let us know in the comments, and keep following for more on the final season of The Leftovers.


Laurie Makes A Choice In A Stunning ‘The Leftovers’


A review of tonight’s The Leftovers

“No, I’m here to say goodbye.” –Laurie

Maybe the Guilty Remnant was right.

Maybe the world did end on October 14, 2011, and the people who are trying to go about their lives as if it didn’t are the irrational ones. Maybe humanity’s continued attempt to function normally in the wake of such a cosmic event is like a chicken continuing to run around after its head has been cut off, or like Gus Fring straightening his tie seconds before death: an instinctive response that has nothing to do with what’s really happening.

And maybe Laurie has known this all along.

“Certified” — the saddest and most beautiful episode of this final season so far — opens with Laurie still working as a therapist two years after the Sudden Departure. She can barely get through a session with the grieving mother from the series’ opening scene, then swallows every pill she has in the house in an attempt to make the pain and the confusion and the emptiness inside her go away. But she can’t do it, and after vomiting up the fatal dose, she gets decked out in white and throws in her lot with the Remnant. We know that Laurie will eventually leave the group after Jill nearly dies due to one of Patti’s stunts, and will devote herself for a time to trying to help others get out of the GR and back to their own lives. But when “Certified” ends with her appearing to follow Nora’s advice about a way to commit suicide without pain, and without leaving your loved ones with the burden of knowing you killed yourself, it’s hard not to think that Laurie — like the woman she tried and failed to counsel back in “Off Ramp” — never really left the Remnant. Or, at least, that she never really came to disagree with the fundamental belief at the heart of the group.

In what Laurie and Kevin both come to realize is their final conversation, he asks her if Nora is gone — whether through the LADR machine, a flight home to America, or something else. Laurie thinks for a moment about how to answer her ex-husband’s question, then lays out the idea that she has long believed, even if she never wanted to say it out loud:

“We’re all gone.”

One of the best things about The Leftovers is the way that the Sudden Departure serves to magnify basic concerns of our own reality. Two percent of this world’s population didn’t all go “poof” at the same time, but we all go through every day with the awareness — even if we bury it deep down below happier or more frivolous thoughts about our families, our favorite TV shows, or just the grocery list — that the lives we’ve been given are temporary, and can be snatched away without warning. You can take that understanding and use it in an attempt to make every moment you have on this planet special. You can turn to religion and thoughts about the world to come. You can just ignore it and do what you can, while you can. Or you can let it all paralyze you, until thoughts of life’s apparent meaninglessness, coupled with whatever bad things are happening in the here and now, can lead you to hurt yourself in an attempt to escape it all.

And that’s just in our reality. In the broken Leftovers world, it’s easy to see how coping would be even harder, how the temptation to end things on your own terms would be greater, how even someone like Laurie — who had fallen apart, put herself back together, and built a pretty good life with John and Michael — could decide not to wait for Kevin Sr’s promised apocalypse, and drown herself before Kevin could try to drown himself.

Does she go ahead and do it, or does she just go for a swim? And when, exactly, did she even start thinking about it?

It’s an enigma, but then, so is Laurie Murphy. The thing you have to remember is that when we first met her, she didn’t speak. She was more committed to the GR’s tenets than either her mentor Patti or her protege Meg, and kept to her vow of silence until her daughter’s life was in danger.

Since then, she’s been among the most verbally assertive people on the show, but only in a way that’s directed outward. She will talk forever and a day about what’s ailing the people around her, but what’s actually going on behind those big, expressive eyes, or under that mop of hair she’s never been willing or able to untangle since the day she attempted to kill herself, gave up, and joined the GR? Push her too hard to examine her own inner turmoil, and she will either try to change the subject, or completely lose her mind for a moment.

“Certified” is an enigmatic episode to match its heroine — even the title could be read as either referring specifically to Laurie’s dive certification, or to the colloquial term for someone who’s mentally ill. It opens with a flashback to that aborted suicide, then leaps ahead five years, and even within that story toggles back and forth between Laurie’s day at Grace’s ranch and her adventures the night before with Nora and Matt, where the three of them get to play at being hard-boiled private eyes trying to solve a mystery for Nora. Over the course of the hour, that scrambled structure gradually and often movingly answers many of its own mysteries: How did Laurie get the black eye? Nora gave it to her during a tussle between Kevin Garvey’s two exes. Why does her van have a screwdriver in the ignition? Nora and the others stole it to track down Drs. Eden and Bekker. How did Laurie find Grace’s house? Michael called her, no longer willing to support another messianic suicide episode for Kevin. Why can’t Laurie tell John what happened to Nora? She took her on as a patient — for the fee of a pack of cigarettes — to preserve the secret that Nora decided to go through the LADR machine, if the scientists would give her a second chance. Why has she come to the ranch? Not to stop Kevin from taking another trip to the afterlife hotel, but to have one last conversation with him away from the pushy zealotry of Kevin Sr. and the others.

The episode even answers a question I’m not sure I ever expected resolution to: when Laurie stared at the ultrasound machine at the end of “The Garveys at Their Best,” she did indeed see the image of the fetus vanish at the moment of the Sudden Departure. The pregnancy ended by supernatural causes, not because Laurie decided she didn’t want to bring a child into a world that no longer made any sense to her. (Which means the Garveys actually were directly affected by the Departure, and didn’t just fall apart as stunned bystanders to it.)

But “Certified” elects not to answer, at least not for now, the questions of whether she goes through with Nora’s plan, and when the thoughts of suicide returned to her.

In “It’s a Matt, Matt, Matt, Matt World,” Laurie doesn’t come across as a woman looking to end her own life. She’s on a mission, albeit a different one than the other members of her traveling party. Matt, John, and Michael want Kevin to fulfill their prophecies for them on Departure Day, where she just wants to get her ex-husband the psychiatric help she believes he so desperately needs. The real world is full of tragic stories of people who seemed to have everything going for them and committing suicide nonetheless; is this what’s happening with Laurie? Is dying on her mind as she embarks on that mission? Does she intend to get Kevin into a hospital, and then figure out the best way for herself to go? Does the thought reoccur only after Nora — dark, devious Nora, snacking in their stolen van and speaking casually of the best way to kill yourself without too badly scarring your loved ones, as if she has researched this subject a lot in the years since her family disappeared — presents her with the scuba idea? Is it when she stands on that cliff with Nora, and realizes Nora has decided not to try to bust the scientists, but beg them to send her to where her family went — even if that place is oblivion? When she arrives at the Playford family ranch and sees how committed everyone is to this Wizard of Oz idea where Kevin’s latest suicide attempt will bring closure to Grace and John, and help Kevin Sr. save the world? Or is it only after she’s drugged the others with the dog’s pills, settled all family business with Kevin — from small secrets like the expensive spa trip to big ones like the pregnancy and its Departure — and looked him in the face for what each knows will be the last time?

And if she really does plan to appropriate Nora’s suicide plan for herself — to do the thing she couldn’t find the nerve to finish five years earlier, on the day she joined the GR — does she actually do it, or just go for a swim? Her unexpected phone call from Jill and Tommy seems to give her the perfect note to end her life on, but she also doesn’t tell the kids that she has followed their father to Australia, and is planning on taking a deep sea swim before Departure Day — which defeats the whole purpose of Nora’s theory that this would spare your loved ones any questions or guilt from the idea that you killed yourself.

We don’t know. We may never know. The Leftovers itself is almost all gone, and each episode now carries the same weight of impending doom that its characters feel as the seventh anniversary approaches. If not for the Old Lady Nora epilogue from the season premiere, it would be easy to look at Nora and Laurie’s final conversation as our farewell to Nora Durst. Matt could keel over at any moment. Jill and Tommy’s giggling voices on the phone could be our last exposure to them. Etc. This fictional world that Tom Perrotta, Damon Lindelof, and company have built is coming to an end, one way or another, and in two weeks all of these people will be gone from us.

But if this was Laurie’s way of saying goodbye to the world, and the show’s way of saying goodbye to her… what a way to go.

The puzzle box structure of the episode is so powerful because it’s not really about any of those individual mysteries. As it is, “Certified” glosses over a bunch of plot developments — Laurie and Matt finding Nora in the ruined hotel room, John and Michael linking up with Kevin Sr., Kevin Jr. being told about his father’s grand plans to kill him (temporarily) in order to save the world — in a few lines of dialogue(*). But it gradually draws out the idea that Laurie, Nora, Matt, and Kevin have all, to varying degrees, made peace with impending death, or death-like events, so that when we get a scene like Nora and Laurie on the cliff, or Laurie trying to comfort Michael as they discuss Judas’ suicide (Laurie, at her most maternal: “Did he leave a note?”), or Kevin and Laurie finally unburdening themselves of all their marriage’s secrets, each one hits so much harder because it seems so unexpected at first, until you realize this is where the story has been taking them, and us, all along.

(*) This is a rare instance of the reduced episode order working to the series’ advantage. We could have seen all of these events as part of a separate hour, but none of them turn out to be necessary. We know how Nora ended up alone in that room, what Kevin Sr. wants Kevin Jr. to do, etc. This way, we get right to the emotional heart of it without having to sit through the characters reexplaining things to one another.

It’s also, at times, a startlingly fun episode about suicide. I would absolutely watch a detective show about Kevin’s two exes teaming up to solve mysteries, with Nora’s goofy brother along for comic relief, and the script wisely never lets the tension between the two women have anything to do with Kevin. Nora resents Laurie for joining the Guilty Remnant — from running away from her life and grief when Nora herself had to stand in the middle of it all and find a way to keep functioning — and for the stunt the GR pulled with the mannequins of her family, while Laurie envies the way that Nora has been able to seemingly keep herself together despite suffering so tremendous a loss, and is annoyed with how effortlessly Nora can push her buttons. And the Last Supper scene at Grace’s house not only hangs a lamp on the Biblical aspirations of the Kevin resurrection story (down to Matt and John already having the names of Apostles), but has a wickedly funny punchline where Laurie, having drugged everyone else, looks at Grace’s dog and whispers conspiratorially, “I borrowed your pills.”(*)

(*) Amy Brenneman’s delivery of, “Yeah, well, I joined a cult, you know” earlier is nearly as good. She’s primarily been a dramatic actress throughout her career — and is spectacular throughout this episode as she’s simultaneously so expressive and so inscrutable — but there’s a reason she hasn’t seemed out of place this season on Veep.

Then those unexpectedly light moments take the inevitable Leftovers turn into the darkness, and good luck making it through some of that material without exhausting your local tissue supply. Nora’s story about the stadium usher taking away the beach ball, and the pain in her voice as she asks, “Why would he want to do that job? Why would anyone?” — Nora confronting the reality that she has devoted her post-Departure life to taking away the metaphorical beach balls of everyone who needed to believe in a little magic to cope with unimaginable global tragedy, and deciding to beg the scientists to try their magic on her — are both devastating. (If that actually had been the last we saw of Carrie Coon on this series, it would have been a hell of a swan song, particularly with Laurie being so warm and protective of her as she figures out a way to invoke doctor-patient confidentiality.) So, for that matter, is the anguished pride in Kevin’s voice as he talks about how much more alive he’s felt each time he’s journeyed to that other place, and his understanding that he is somehow always happier being dead than in a world filled with the people who care so much about him. And then, of course, there’s the look on Laurie’s face as she says goodbye to Kevin, and then when she listens to her children sound so happy and carefree from thousands of miles away. Tommy and Jill have been through their own spiritual crises, but they’ve made it out to the other side, and can laugh and insult each other without the existential burden that is weighing down their mother, and that could hold her underwater forever if she opts to go through with the plan.

It’s an episode that takes us full circle, revisiting the first person we met in this world, explaining how and why Laurie joined the Guilty Remnant, looking back on the Garvey marriage (and Laurie’s relationship with her former father-in-law), and then it takes us very close to the end, for everyone.

Does Laurie actually kill herself? And when exactly did she decide to do it? Ultimately, those questions don’t matter, not this close to the end of the series, and not considering the show’s dominant themes. When did Laurie know she was going to die? Hell, she’s always known.

“We’re all gone,” Laurie says. She believes it, and soon — whether on that dive, if the apocalypse comes later that day, or simply when the show ends in two weeks — she’ll be proven right.

Some other thoughts:

* For the second time in its run, The Leftovers uses an Apocalyptica cover of a Metallica song — “Wherever I May Roam” here, after using “Nothing Else Matters” when Jill finally donned the Guilty Remnant white in the season one finale — for Laurie’s initial suicide attempt. Other songs this week: “1-800-Suicide” by Gravediggaz over the opening credits, “La Traviata, Act III: Prelude,” performed by Ondrej Lenard & Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra, and “Kneel at the Cross” by Jean Stafford (heard briefly on the radio at Grace’s house). As if to underline the decision Laurie appears to have made, there is no music at all over the closing credits, just the sound of the water slapping against the boat.

* Again, I wish we could have gotten a full John Murphy spotlight episode, but Kevin Carroll gets some incredibly tender and powerful moments to play here, from John’s very simple and heartfelt explanation of what he expects Kevin to tell Evie should he find her in the afterlife — “I want her to know that she was loved” — to his generous offer to Laurie to shred all this craziness and go home together. If Laurie really did go into the water with no intention of coming out, then she had a pretty rotten final interaction with her second husband — drugging him and his son so she could have alone time with Husband #1 — but I also don’t know that Laurie and John had any illusions that they were the great love of each other’s life.

* Given the gravity of Laurie and John’s argument in Grace’s house, I shouldn’t have laughed nearly as loudly as I did at the sight of Kevin Sr. whacking the Australian cop (aka “Officer Koala Fart”) over the head with a shovel way off in the background. Or maybe the juxtaposition, and the matter-of-fact way this act of violence occurred, should have made me laugh even louder.

* Despite being a half-Canadian Gen X’er, this episode was the first I’d even heard of Today’s Special, which was produced out of Ontario in the ’80s and aired in many parts of the U.S. Here’s the theme song that Laurie had to endure over and over on Jill’s behalf:

* Nora provides an explanation of the naked French nuclear missile launch from the opening of “It’s a Matt, Matt, Matt, Matt World”: the sailor was trying to prevent the hatching of a sea monster he had read about in the Book of Revelation, prompting derision from Matt the preacher, who tries explaining that Revelation isn’t meant to be taken literally. (Nora: “So it’s only literal when it’s not ridiculous?”)

* Laurie’s surveillance on Eden and Bekker reveals that they’re a couple, which gives new context to Dr. Eden’s comment in “G’Day Melbourne” about how she hasn’t used the LADR machine because everything she needs is right here.

* I’m told this wasn’t an intentional homage, but Christopher Eccleston’s delivery of the line about how Eden and Bekker “Don’t look like physicists to me” sounded a lot like Fozzie Bear declaring that the Electric Mayhem “Don’t look like Presbyterians to me.” The Matt we see here is definitely a more relaxed and light-hearted figure, as a result of the breakthrough that “God” helped him achieve last week. There’s a playful dynamic between him and his sister that’s echoed later by Jill and Tommy Garvey busting each other’s chops on the phone with Laurie, and Matt’s insistence on remaining with his sister — echoing Nora’s bitter earlier line about how today, people should be with their families — a poignant underlining of his decision to focus on the world he knows rather than his oft-disproved beliefs about the world to come.

* Kevin’s explanation for why he never told Laurie he disliked their house echoes his comment to her in “The Garveys at Their Best” that he didn’t want the dog, but said nothing, “Because you wanted it.” Kevin spent most of his life doing things others wanted of him, and there’s a chance he could die the same way if Kevin Sr. and John are wrong about what will happen when they strap him to the Playford seesaw and drown him.


The Leftovers Recap: Diver Down



“Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” The gospel according to Matthew (the evangelist, not Reverend Jamison) tells us that Jesus said this to Peter the night he was arrested, and he was right. Maybe I’ve just got the Bible on the brain after tonight’s episode of The Leftovers — given that it included a dinner scene in which the characters assign themselves the roles of figures in Christ’s Last Supper, who can blame me? — but I thought of this quote when reflecting on my own reaction to the show. I remain agnostic on the divinity of Kevin Jamison, so I didn’t deny him per se. But three times before the closing credits, I did say, “Oh no” out loud.

The first time was when I realized who starred in the cold open. Not Laurie Garvey, that was obvious enough, but her patient — the woman who opens the episode with the words, “I gave up.” She’s telling the story of how she and her husband went through years of fertility treatments and debates about adoption before calling it a day, only for her to get pregnant and give birth, only to lose the infant during the Sudden Departure. This, of course, is the woman whose plight opened the entire series: We watched as she discovered the disappearance of her bawling baby from the back seat of her car in a grocery-store parking lot. She’s back now in a flashback from a time when Laurie was working as a therapist, seeking nothing so much as affirmation that it’s okay to move on. But thinking of the unborn baby she lost from within her own body at that same moment, Laurie can’t offer this to her. For an endless moment, she can’t say anything at all. “Tell me what to fucking do!” her client shouts. “I don’t know,” she replies.

From there, the sinister strains of the metal cello group Apocalyptica kick in with a cover of Metallica’s “Wherever I May Roam,” and Laurie proceeds to try to kill herself with an overdose of pills. She rethinks it at the last moment, swallows ipecac, vomits in painfully graphic fashion, gathers up every item of white clothing she can find, slips it all on, and heads outside to the members of the Guilty Remnant who’ve been stalking her office to pick off her clients. “Tell me what to do,” she tells them, ending actor Amy Brenneman’s finest sequence in the history of the show. Her pain — to quote Radiohead, the panic, the vomit — comes across as so real and so immobilizing in her frightened face and absent voice. The origin of her time in the Guilty Remnant now makes perfect sense: They may be nihilists, but as she decides in her extremis, nihilism is better than nothingness.

Up next is the second “oh no” moment of the evening: the opening credits, this week soundtracked by Gravediggaz’ “1-800-SUICIDE.” In an already surprisingly Wu Tang–heavy season, this cult-classic side project featuring Wu mastermind the RZA and alt-rap mastermind Prince Paul is a delight to students of Shaolin, for sure. But it’s also very, very grim — and not just because of its explicit references to the method the group’s contemporary Chris Cornell used to take his own life just days ago. As we’ve discussed before, the opening credit songs this season have a certain predictive value. Struck as I was by the unsparingly blunt “suicide, it’s a suicide” chorus, I still managed to convince myself this was just a reference to Laurie’s long-ago episode. I wanted to believe.

The episode moves quickly and unpredictably, beginning with a time jump and a rearrangement of the players that’s hard to miss, but still subtle enough that I thought I’d somehow watched next week’s episode by mistake. Laurie somehow found the ranch where the Kevins Garvey are hiding out, and she traveled there without Matthew or John or Michael, but with a black eye. John and Michael beat her there, though, because she’d spent some time working with Matt and Nora, trying to track down the physicists running the Departure machine that Nora’s so desperate to access.

Nora isn’t with her on the ranch because she’s decided to try to use the machine — but not to kill herself, she tells Laurie. If she were gonna do that, she says, she’d just go scuba diving and fake an accident, as she believes countless people have probably done before. (Also, Nora gave Laurie that black eye when they fought over the lighter Jill Garvey had given her as a present.) Matt isn’t there because he’s more or less lost faith in his Book of Kevin, but still loves his sister and wants to be by her side when she Departs. Kevin Jr. isn’t there because he rode off on horseback when he heard his father’s plan and hasn’t returned. That plan, in full, is to drown Kevin Jr. so he can make contact with the aboriginal clever man Christopher Sunday in the afterlife, learn his part of the world-saving song that Kevin Sr. was trying to access, return to life, teach it to his dad, and thus save the world from the biblical flood.

Oh, and Kevin Sr. seems to be hiding the shoes of his new disciple Grace’s dead children, whose corpses were found barefoot, so that she’ll continue helping him with his plan. She wants Kevin Jr. to find her kids in the astral plane and ask them where the shoes went, you see.

At dinner that night, everyone compares themselves to Jesus’s disciples, then Laurie pulls a Judas by drugging everyone so she can say good-bye to Kevin Jr. without interruption — a good-bye that includes informing him she was pregnant with their baby during the Sudden Departure — and wish him luck on his journey. Somewhere in there, a cop also shows up investigating the murder of his chief, Kevin Sr. knocks the guy out with a shovel and drives out into the middle of nowhere, and we learn that the nude French naval officer was trying to destroy the seven-headed dragon from the Book of Revelation before its egg could hatch in a volcano. (Nora: “‘Hey, Doc, I have access to nuclear weapons and I need to destroy Godzilla.’ What do you even say to that?” Laurie: “Don’t miss.”) Y’know, just your basic Leftovers plot at this point — arguably more jam-packed with disconcertingly bizarre and life-changing events than last week’s episode, which, need we remind you, was about a lion orgy attended by God. The confidence this show has in its own mad momentum is awe-inspiring.

Then we get to the final scene. Laurie has had heart-to-hearts with her husband, John, her ex-husband, Kevin, and her frenemy Nora, and seems unburdened by it all, though she’s decided not to stick around to see if Kevin is the messiah. (“Is Nora gone?” he asks her as she leaves. “We’re all gone,” she replies, not unkindly.) The whole wide world is open to her, and sure enough she seems to be taking advantage of it. We pick up with Laurie as she rides a boat out into the ocean, wearing scuba gear, and … oh, God, scuba gear. That’s my third and final “oh no” moment: the realization Laurie intends to kill herself, just as Nora described. Then she gets a phone call, from her daughter Jill, with her son Tommy laughing along in the background. They’re calling to clear up an argument about a kids’ show Jill used to watch on a tape salvaged from a garage sale — the old Nickelodeon show Today’s Special about a mannequin who comes to life, which has got a real earworm of a theme song. Grinning from ear to ear, Laurie clears up the question for her kids, tells them she loves them, and hangs up.

“It’s now or never, miss,” the captain tells her. A storm’s been coming since the day before, as Kevin Sr. pointed out earlier with evident satisfaction, so if she’s going to dive she’d better go before it hits. She puts on her mask and mouthpiece, breathes, breathes, breathes, breathes, breathes, and falls backwards into the sea. The camera just sits there, filming the emptiness she’s left behind. The sound of the storm approaches. The scene cuts to black. Laurie’s love for her children, for her husbands, for Nora, for everyone — it’s all real, and it’s still not enough to stop her. Everyone involved, from Brenneman to episode writers Patrick Somerville and Carly Wray to director Carl Franklin, seems determined to drive both points home. Love is real, and love is not enough. The episode ends as it begins: with a woman giving up.

What an extraordinary show.


Amy on Laurie’s Shocking Decision on Last Night’s ‘The Leftovers’


[SPOILERS for 5/21/17 episode of The Leftovers below.]

Sunday night’s episode of The Leftovers is going to go down as not just the best of its third and final season (so far; two episodes remain before the great flood or whatever is supposed to happen on the seventh anniversary of the Sudden Departure), but as one of the best of the entire series. Titled “Certified,” it pulls its main characters together now that they’ve all ended up in Australia for the home stretch. But undoubtedly, the hour belongs to Laurie Garvey (Amy Brenneman) and serves as a reckoning for all the searching and silent screaming she’s done over the course of the series. It’s a gorgeous final chapter for a character who’s been perhaps the most restless on a show defined by its restless characters, and in the final moments, Laurie decides to put it all away.

The episode begins with a flashback to the period after the Sudden Departure but before the first season began, when Laurie was still a practicing therapist. In a knockout sequence, set to a string quartet version of Metallica’s “Wherever I May Roam,” Laurie is unable to come up with anything to say to the mother of a departed infant, and afterwards, Laurie tries to swallow a bottle of pills and kill herself, before she changes her mind, relents, and then finds the nearest pair of white sweats so she can go pledge the Guilty Remnant (which is where we meet Laurie in season 1). It’s a scene that sets the tone for the rest of the episode and clarifies a lot about Laurie, a woman who is so used to having the answers and knowing more than everyone else. The Departure is the one boulder in the middle of the road she can’t get around. It’s why she and her husband, John, can’t give their fake psychic readings to Departure victims; they can’t figure out what these people want to hear yet.

In Australia, Laurie spends some time in a van with Nora and Matt, stalking the lesbian couple who appear to be in charge of the suicide-device that they say will send people to wherever the Departed went. After a series of wildly tense but amazingly acted scenes with Nora (the final one of which will leave you in tears), Laurie joins the rest of her party on Grace’s ranch, where they’re preparing to drown Kevin (Justin Theroux) and have him visit that great afterlife hotel once again. Laurie looks on disapprovingly, with some judgment, but she doesn’t stand in the way. She waits to speak to Kevin himself, and in the episode’s second knockout scene, the two former husband and wife have a final sweet, sad meeting of the minds.

In the episode’s final moments, in a callback to something Nora had said in the van earlier, Laurie goes out to the ocean to scuba dive. Nora had mentioned earlier that one could commit suicide that way without anyone ever finding out it was on purpose; just turn a dial the wrong way. Laurie fields a phone call from her kids back in Texas, fights back her own tears, and then descends out of frame, the perfectly devastating exit.

This week, we got to speak to Amy Brenneman on Laurie’s phenomenal swan song, how her character changed over the course of the seasons, and what The Leftovers says about the stories we tell ourselves.


Decider.com: After the events of season 2, and knowing you were going into the final season, do you recall the hopes for how Laurie’s final arc would go? Did you have any discussions with Damon Lindelof about where she was headed?

Amy Brenneman: It’s a different process in that way, because they conjure entirely new worlds and new kinds of scenes every season, so it’s almost like I hear where they’re going and then ask questions and graph after that. You know what I love in general in season 2 and season 3 is that I feel that Laurie —well maybe it’s true for all characters but with Laurie it’s particularly true — she starts in season 1 as the most “other” and most extreme that we see her and I feel like she’s taken more and more human form in both terms of why she did what she did that first season and just becoming more and more humane. I think her compassion is what really shines through at the end, which is a really neat thing because you would never think, [given] how she started season 1, that she has all this compassion and forgiveness. It’s pretty neat.

When you got the script for “Certified,” what were your initial thoughts?

You’re so grateful. To the writers, to the directors, to Damon. To have all that focus and detail on your character, it’s just really moving, on the simplest level. I always write the writers and go “Thank you.” And also anything that goes out of that writer’s room is so thought through and vetted. You can only imagine. I’m a lucky, lucky girl. So, then after that, you know that [opening] scene … Damon and I conjured that scene [set] three years ago: she’s in the middle of a therapy session, doing what she always did, and then she realizes that, as I said, I think the words become sand in her mouth. As a therapist, she would say comforting things to people, and they were the things that she’s always said, because they were events that she knew about. And that moment of “I don’t know what I’m talking about, because this has never happened,” — that that would lead to her not speaking made a lot of sense to me. I didn’t know if we’d ever see that scene; there’s a lot of scenes that we have in our back pocket in our history of the characters, and they may or may not make it to film, so that was really cool. It’s like “Ah, great! We get to go back in time.” It’s like a crochet stitch; you get to pick that up. And then the other big question was what [Damon’s] intention was for the very end, because that did take me by surprise, and when I first read it, it didn’t initially track. Which intrigued me — I’m not saying it’s illogical, but he kind of had to walk me through a little bit of what that moment was at the very end.

And did you play that final scuba diving scene as a finality? Or was there even an ambiguity in that, in this world where death may not be what we think?

Right, I pressed him on that. He said, “I think she intends to kill herself, and that’s all you need to know as an actor, because whatever happens after that final frame is another story.” But I think she goes in with that intention.

Is it hard to play a character where so much of the characterization is that she doesn’t always know how she feels? I feel like that’s probably true in a lot of characters on The Leftovers, but for you specifically, did you feel that?

What Damon’s always said, which I love, is that on the psychological framework the Sudden Departure amplified — yes, it was a game-changer in some ways but on a psychological level, one could argue — [but] it amplified who people were. It brought that to extremes. So Laurie, in the flashback in season 1 [“The Garveys at Their Best,” the episode where we see all the characters on the day leading up to the Sudden Departure], was a pretty Type A bossy kind of mama, in a way I really relate to. [laughs] She was the primary bread-winner, she organized all the stuff for school, and she worked. She was a very high-functioning person. And I think that was the seed of the demise of her marriage; that [Kevin] had become this little skulking boy, and she had sort of dis-empowered him. It happens in a long-term dynamic. So I think that those seeds are in there. Laurie thinks she knows what she feels and for season 2 — and a lot of season 2 was trying to get back with her daughter and stay connected to her son — but she’s always had schemes. Everybody has schemes. So her scheme is that she’s so smart about the psychological process that if people are projecting onto Tom, and he gives them a hug and they feel better, that’s what we’ll do. Or if people seem to need to have this psychic arena, we’ll work in that. But I do think she’s like a lot of people that want to help. You can judge them on it, but I think she really does get off on helping people release their pain. I think she really does. But along with that is the bossiness and “You should do it this way; next!” So I think that the wonderful surrender of her in “Certified” is that she acknowledges she doesn’t know what’s best for other people, and probably for herself as well.

There was a scene at the dinner, at the ranch, where Kevin Sr. calls Laurie the Doubting Thomas of the group. I thought that, that had a lot of resonance, because she’s, especially in this last arc, the only person among this group of people who are really believing in this magical thinking of what’s going to happen to Kevin — and even in the Nora scene with the suicide machine, Nora is thinking now on this magical plane — and Laurie is set on being the realist in the midst of that. But then she says she’s not the Thomas, she’s the Judas. Did you feel like that was an important distinction for her in this last?

Yeah. I think both are true. I don’t think Laurie would judge this mob — magical thinking, as you put it — hysteria of the group if it wasn’t going to potentially involve hurting/killing her ex husband who she knows is on a psychotic break. Basically, it’s like they’re taking advantage. Kevin Sr. and Matt in particular are taking advantage of a very fragile psyche for their own needs. I think that’s pretty effed up. It’s like, I have to speak to him — and the scene between the two of them it’s so beautiful — but in terms of Laurie, it’s like, “If you’re okay with it, I’m okay with it, but I don’t want these people to take advantage of you”, which is what I was feeling. Absolutely I am a Doubting Thomas, but the Judas thing is I betrayed the group. I think it’s more of I’m a Judas because I betrayed the group. But I’m pretty true blue with Kevin. I didn’t betray him. I wasn’t a Judas towards Kevin.

Was there a whiplash filming “Certified” directly after the sex-boat episode?

Yeah man, right? You never know what’s going to happen on this show. I love the sex boat. I love that episode. I love when you’re on location; we were already on location in Melbourne, and then we went this awesome town called Queenscliff, [where] it’s all wintry. The whole thing was so dreamy and magical. I love it. There’s always whiplash. I feel like this season, even more, I feel like [Damon] is gaining this way that he likes to work, which is each episode is a film. It’s a whole complete universe. In the first season, we were still in the mode of A story and B story, and we check in with this person. And by the second season, he was like, “Oh, fuck it. I’m just going to do what I want to do”.

Here’s Nora who’s doing her bravura thing, her I’m-a-tough-girl thing, but Laurie can see right through it. She’s like a child. Which is what’s so beautiful, in that scene on the bluff she finally let’s that little child through, and Laurie sees that.

I wanted to talk a little bit about the scene in the van with Laurie and Nora and Matt too, but specifically with Nora. What was it like filming those scenes with Carrie Coon, where you have these two characters with so much history built up between them, but we haven’t really seen them in all that many scenes together across the seasons? Did you two have any discussions about what the relationship between these people would be like, even though we haven’t really seen it?

We loved it. I loved it, I can’t speak for her. It’s like when she sat down with Regina [King, in the season 2 episode “Lens”]. Part of the joy of these entire separate universes, if you will, is what happens when they collide. I’m sure part of the writers room is like, “Oh my god! John Murphy and Laurie Garvey, how great is that?” You sort of put these elements together. I think that arguably, Nora and Laurie are these two female pillars around Kevin, and in the show in general. We didn’t talk that much about it. I think that what’s really awesome about that that moment in the characters’ lives is here’s Nora who’s doing her bravura thing, her I’m-a-tough-girl thing, but Laurie can see right through it. She’s like a child. Which is what’s so beautiful, in that scene on the bluff she finally let’s that little child through, and Laurie sees that. So it doesn’t get to me until … until later, until it does get to me. That’s what Nora does. She’s a provocateur. She’s going to poke until she hits something. They’re these two prize fighters that are sort of sussing each other out.

Speaking of the show in general, because it deals so beautifully in this kind of ambiguity, it ends up being about a lot of things to a lot of different people. I’ve heard some people say it’s a show about grief and loss, some have said it’s a show about depression, and some have said it’s a show about religion and faith. Because it’s such a personal thing, what is The Leftovers about to you?

The Leftovers is about what human beings do in the face of mystery and the systems that they construct and the stories they tell themselves to comfort themselves. I think that that beautiful speech, beautifully performed by Lindsay Duncan at the end of Scott Glenn’s episode, kind of sums it up. She thought this one thing and that fit into her spiritual structure, her religious structure, and then knowing that essentially her children died because of her religious beliefs. She says, “These are just stories that we tell ourselves”. But stories are important. I was a comparative religion major myself, I think myths are important. It’s not like, “Oh they’re silly”; they’re actually the fuel and the construct for us to understand things. Ultimately, and I think this is probably true — I’m not a lot in the final episode, but having read it — it is truly about the yearning for love and to be accepted and known. This episode, for Laurie, is about getting out of judgment, and people should do this, people should do that, and just sitting and listening. I said to Damon, “Laurie’s sitting with all these characters, and perhaps the world, and it’s like everybody’s on hospice, and she’s just sitting with them. That is a loving act”.


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