There were a lot of things to digest on the last episode of The Leftovers and yet not as much as I thought there would be. They managed to resolve a lot of character arcs and plots along the way in the last season. We already knew the great flood wasn’t coming. The seventh anniversary was a bust. The only surprise was Laurie popping back up, but otherwise the finale was more an emotional resolution than a climax, and for this show it felt exactly right. Some of the symbolism that’s been sticking with me since then is that of Nora’s doves and the goat she rescues.
Lambs and doves are both traditional sacrificial animals in the Old Testament. And I noticed that both Nora’s doves and the goat at the wedding were pure white, unblemished. They were temple-ready sacrifices, and I doubt that was unintentional. Both goats and doves could be sacrificed as a Peace Offering or as a Sin Offering. Peace Offerings were voluntary acts of worship or thanksgiving. Sin Offerings were mandatory atonement.
The doves are peace offerings in the show, they «spread love.» The joke is just that they don’t spread it any farther than the immediate vicinity. They take what is given to them and come back to the same place each time. It doesn’t matter what the sentiment is, someone felt good writing it and watching the dove fly off, so the purpose has been served. This purpose served, they unerringly return home to be «offered» again. The goat is explicitly a sin offering, as stated by the groom. It is to take the burden of the sins of the wedding guests and carry them off. The «where» doesn’t matter for the goat either. But unlike the doves, it has no fixed place. It only has a fixed purpose. Once it reaches Nora’s farm, it immediately starts trying to eat the messages that had been affixed to the doves, taken upon itself more emotion, more to bear. The doves had a temporary burden, the goat tries to make it permanent.
Throughout the show Kevin has been sacrificed over and over again and just keeps coming back. We’ve watched him bend his life to what others need of him over and over again, apparently unaware of his own desires or simply without many strong desires of his own. He gets dragged into people’s lives and stories almost by the force of gravity. And when those stories end, he just walks away. He has temporarily been entangled with Patty, with his father’s delusions, with the guilt of Evie’s disappearance, with Matt’s conviction that he’s a savior, and he’s come back from all of it. This is why he’s so cruel to Nora about the disappearance of her children, moving on is all he knows. But his slate is still not clean, exactly. He is willing to try to bring others peace, but the only kind of peace he knows is returning home.
Nora is a goat. She is stubborn as hell and will fight any help you try to give her. She will take hurt and anger and pain upon herself and into herself. Her self-harming was an extravagant yet deeply personal expression of grief. Her work with the DSD involved throwing herself at hope and forcing it to explode against her to save others the pain. She gave up a child because its mother repented, and bore that burden on her heart without question. If we believe her story, she literally walked through heaven and hell to find her family, and upon seeing them she decided to leave and bear the exquisite pain of her knowledge alone rather than risk a moment of their discomfort at seeing her. She’s atoning over and over again for sins she can’t even name. She will never reach out for help. It has to come for her, be forced on her in a way.
This all just drives home how much Kevin and Nora need each other. Kevin needs Nora’s ability to ground him. Laurie would try to fix him, but he needs stability more than he needs help. His psychic breaks always seemed to come when his sense of «home» was threatened. Nora needs Kevin’s spirit to keep her from spiraling into a self-imposed form of exile and self-loathing. He will always return to her. She will always need to be returned to. Doves and goats can be sacrificed in the name of peace or the name of sin. Either in thanksgiving or to cleanse one’s soul. Both Nora and Kevin need their souls cleansed, and they need to be at peace. Perhaps by finally, fully, sacrificing themselves to each other they can find that peace. And that is the only resolution that makes sense.