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The Leftovers “Certified” 

The Leftovers “Certified”
Photo Credit: Ben King/HBO
Photo Credit: Ben King/HBO

Sometimes it feels inappropriate to write about a show. Like doing anything but experiencing it is wrong, that discussing it won’t do it justice.

“Certified” is certainly one of those occasions. It took me a few days of digesting to feel OK enough to talk about it. I think I mention every week how emotionally powerful The Leftovers is, but I’m not exaggerating when I say I don’t think I’ve ever watched a more emotionally effective hour of television.

“Certified” came a little out of left field for me. For one, it’s such a boring title compared to “Crazy Whitefella Thinking” or “It’s a Matt, Matt, Matt, Matt World.” And not to spoil future episodes, but I’ve been especially excited for the final two of the series only because of their titles. “Certified” didn’t stick out. It’s vague enough to dissuade speculation. And it’s possible that my lack of expectations allowed “Certified” to make such an impression on me.

“Certified” was such an incredibly nuanced look at suicide from the perspective of the person actually experiencing suicidal thoughts. There’s certainly a lot of buzz about the portrayal of suicide in the media these days, mostly because of the meteoric success of 13 Reasons Why.

“Certified” dealt with it in a way I’ve never seen on TV before, which is with no outsider perspective. The way that The Leftovers has the ability to easily switch protagonists has been especially impressive in this final season, and “Certified” is the perfect example. We are so completely in Laurie’s head this episode. From the opening scene of her initial suicide attempt that spurned her to join the Guilty Remanent to the final scene of her final suicide attempt, we are only with Laurie.

But because Kevin has been our lead for so long, we’ve always had a distant relationship with Laurie. She was in many ways an antagonist when we first meet her. Her transition to a someone we can root for was slow, and even then she’s still at odds with the remainder of the characters. Although she’s on the “sane” side of things now, this somehow still leaves her in this antagonistic role, since everyone else is on the crazy side now. It’s the main takeaway from Nora’s story about the beach ball at the baseball game; Laurie is the one who tries to maintain order at the risk of ruining everyone’s fun. She’s the rational killjoy surrounded by people who believe in fantasy.

Photo Credit: Ben King/HBO

That’s why it’s so fascinating to see the world from her point of view and ultimately heartbreaking. Laurie is highly aware of her oppositional role. She embraces being the Judas. But what’s the most surprising is that she doesn’t drug Grace, Kevin Sr., Michael, and John to stop them from killing Kevin. She wants to talk to Kevin, alone. And that’s when we see this is about her looking for confirmation that death is the way out. And it’s telling that she chooses Kevin, her former husband of fifteen years, and the only one who has experienced death to talk to before she leaves. Her new family, John and Michael, passed out inside, don’t get a goodbye. Maybe because she thinks only Kevin can handle it.

We haven’t seen Kevin for a few episodes now, and he seems like a stranger when he talks about how his time on the other side was the most he’s ever felt alive. It always seemed like he had a complicated relationship with it before, and it seemed like he was done believing after the fake Evie incident. So his complete surrender to the belief of something more felt odd. But if we remember this is all from Laurie’s perspective, it makes more sense. She’s looking for answers that will justify her decision to end her own life. When Kevin tells her he’s not afraid, she responds with, “Then I’m not afraid either.” He gave her what she wanted.

The emotional heft of this conversation between Laurie and Kevin didn’t hit me until Kevin asks Laurie to stay and she says she can’t. Both Justin Theroux and Amy Brenneman were breathtaking here, quietly showing how difficult it is to say goodbye to someone you’re never going to see again. Even as we see Laurie standing on a boat on the morning of the anniversary, I didn’t actually believe she was going to take Nora’s perfect suicide suggestion.

She waffles as the boat driver tells her she’s running out of time and it’s now or never. And then there’s the call from Jill and Tommy. Laurie tells Kevin that raising Jill and Tommy was the best thing they ever did. And hearing Laurie talk to her kids, who seem legitimately happy, almost made me think she wasn’t going to go through with it. But if anything, it gave her the final push. They’re going to be OK without her. If that doesn’t destroy you, I don’t know what will.

Of course, there’s the slight possibility Laurie changes her mind when she’s underwater and doesn’t go through with it. It would be thematically off, but I feel the need to consider it, since I find the more obvious answer so terribly sad.

Suicide is contagious. Laurie isn’t the only one. Kevin, Nora, and Matt (by not treating his cancer) are all dancing with the notion of ending their lives. Regardless, “Certified” ended on the seventh anniversary of The Sudden Departure, the day the world is supposed to end. “No need to cry, we all die” is the final line in “1-800-SUICIDE” by Gravediggaz, the theme song in “Certified.” More poignantly, when Kevin asks Laurie if Nora is gone, she replies, “We’re all gone.”

The final season of The Leftovers airs Sundays at 9/8c on HBO.

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