The Ending to 'The Leftovers' Premiere Delivers a Shocking 'Lost'-Style Twist

The Leftovers HBO
Note: This article contains spoilers for the first episode of the third season of HBO's The Leftovers and speculation about the ending. 

For the Easter premiere of its third and final season, HBO's biblically minded drama The Leftovers showed us how a resurrection really feels. While the show's critically acclaimed second season featured two separate occasions where Kevin Garvey, the weary but buff protagonist played by Justin Theroux, died and came back to life, last night's episode, "The Book of Kevin," provided the creative rebirth of one of the most controversial shows of the '00s. That's right: Lost has risen.

Ever since The Leftovers debuted in 2014, the adaptation of Tom Perrotta's novel has withstood comparisons to co-creator Damon Lindelof's previous series about a group of plane crash survivors on a mystical island, which aired for six seasons on ABC. A sensation from its first episode, Lost ended on a divisive note that can still provoke arguments years later. Personally, I thought it was a good finale. (Yes, even the scenes with Jack and Christian in the church.) Many angry people on the internet disagree.

Though both The Leftovers and Lost deal with the supernatural, they've approached their subject matter in different ways: Lost was an action-adventure and science-fiction show, while The Leftovers is a more grounded family drama with darkly comedic elements. Lost set up narrative puzzles that demanded answers; The Leftovers is explicitly about the agony of existing in a world of unending mystery. It's hard not to see the shows as in conversation with one another.

Now, with only seven episodes to go, the mind-bending ending to last night's premiere found The Leftovers getting even more Lost-like. (I'm not just talking about Kevin's Jack-like beard or the Nirvana shirt his daughter Jill was wearing.) Here's what you need to know.

The Leftovers HBO Season 3

The prologue takes you back to 1844

Like Season 2's opener, "Axis Mundi," which kicked off with a 2001-esque sequence about a cavewoman, this season begins with another curious montage. 

As a stirring rendition of Larry Norman's "I Wish We'd All Been Ready" plays, we're transported back to 1844, where a 19th-century Rapture-seeking group of Christians called the Millerites (who were a real group) prepare for God's sweet embrace on a very specific date. They even wear little white cloaks in anticipation. But it doesn't happen. God leaves them standing on their roofs. After the disappointment, the preacher who leads the group gets a message with a new apocalyptic date delivered by a pigeon.

This isn't the first time birds have played a peculiar role in the show: In last season's standout, "International Assassin," when Kevin drank poison and woke up in a dream-like afterlife, there was a bird loose in the lobby of the limbo-like hotel he stayed at. When he pushed Patti down the well, he heard a bird call out to him. And let's not forget Erika Murphy's bird in a box from last season, which took flight after it was dug up from the ground, or the pigeons that guided Matt (Christopher Eccleston) to the casino way back in Season 1's "Two Boats and a Helicopter."

Anyway, the sect from last night's opening doesn't ascend to heaven. Instead, the camera pans over its members' sleeping bodies and jumps over 100 years to the present, where the equally sleepy and clad-in-white Guilty Remnant, now led by Liv Tyler's Meg, has holed up in the the destroyed town center it took over in Season 2's finale. After a quick argument with Meg, Evie (Jasmin Savoy Brown) rushes outside, spots a drone flying in the sky, and, barring divine intervention, gets blown up. Then another title card appears: "three years later."

Leftovers HBO Season 3

Then we go into the future... 

In the same way Lost used the "flash-forward" and "flash-sideways" scenes to provide information and introduce new mysteries, the new episode of The Leftovers uses that three-year gap to draw you in with questions. Did the Guilty Remnant get wiped out in the drone attack? What happened to Nora's arm and why is she working for the Department of Sudden Departure again? Is Kevin actually the Christ-like figure Matt believes he is? Where's Lily? Where's Erika? What's up with the Gary Busey statue?

None of these dangling threads is as potentially mind-blowing and Lost-like as the reveal that comes at the end of the episode. As Kevin gets ready to burn the gospel Matt has been writing for him, he looks into the sky and sees a bird, which the camera follows to what appears to be a dove farm in Australia. Like the ones from the prologue, these birds also have little messages tied to their feet.

A woman with her face obscured then uses her bike to transport these possibly prophetic doves to a nun at a church. "Don't usually get so many so close together," says the nun. "Love is in the air." After paying the dove-transporter for her troubles, the nun asks her a question: "Sarah, does the name Kevin mean anything to you?"

That's when we get the big reveal: The dove-transporter is an older Nora, Kevin's romantic partner throughout most of the series and probably the show's most compelling character. "No," says Nora, denying her relationship with Kevin in a way that brings to mind Peter's denial of Jesus in the New Testament. Besides the Bible, the final moment might also remind you of the spine-tingling "we have to go back" scene from Lost's Season 3 finale, when the concept of the "flash-forward" was first introduced.

This jump into the future could have all sorts of implications forThe Leftovers endgame. What type of messages are on those birds feet? Why do they mean that "love" is in the air? Why did Nora, who now goes by Sarah, deny knowing Kevin? (And OK: Why is it so hard to create convincing old-age makeup?) There are only seven episodes left, and judging by the hours of television that have come before, it's safe to assume that the ending of The Leftovers will deviate from the spiritual bear-hug that Lost delivered. Expect ambiguity. Expect mystery. Expect birds.

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Dan Jackson is a staff writer at Thrillist Entertainment. He's on Twitter @danielvjackson.