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The Leftovers, Ep. 1.10, “The Prodigal Son Returns,” ends the season, and any doubts

The Leftovers, Ep. 1.10, “The Prodigal Son Returns,” ends the season, and any doubts

leftovers

The Leftovers, Season 1, Episode 10, “The Prodigal Son Returns”
Written by Damon Lindelof & Tom Perrotta
Directed by Mimi Leder
Airs Sundays at 10pm EST on HBO

“He’s never coming for us, is he?”

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Christine asks this to Tommy in regards to Wayne, but in a series that asks all the Big Questions by virtue of its premise, that’s not the whole story. Whether she realizes it or not, what Christine’s really wondering is if God is coming, and what’s remarkable here is that she could be speaking for every single character in the series, which just goes to show exactly how focused we have come since its strange beginnings.

In its first five episodes, The Leftovers danced around the Sudden Departure that ruled these characters’ lives. Now that it’s finally been being dealt with head on, both by the writers, and by the characters themselves, the real magic has been happening. Like Nora says in her letter, she was looking for a quick fix, but there is no such thing. She doesn’t want to forget. Nor should she/the show. The idea of a random act of disappearance is such a palpable metaphor that every episode could look at it from a different angle, and it could never get old. Especially when supported with acting and directing of the high caliber we see here (Nora discovering her family will stick in my head for awhile).

But let’s look back at that conversation with Christine, because it is casual, yet loaded:

“I should’ve known he was a liar when he said I was special,” she says.
“We don’t need him,” Tommy counters.

When taken in the God-context, this one exchange rings out like a powerful message for the entire season, and instantly re-contextualizes a story line that always stuck out as forced. Wayne’s cult suddenly isn’t a supernatural mystery of the Lost persuasion, but a metaphor for all of the Rapture and religious themes the series toys with. It also shows us what was skipped of the years off-screen.

Tommy and Christine here are an analog to Kevin and Laurie, and we understand that dealing with a disaster with no explanation can be disastrously traumatizing, but that people can react in different ways. Some people run, while others take on the stress. Tommy scooping the baby off the floor, later mirrored by Kevin picking Jill up off the floor of the GR at the end, is no accident. Tommy may have killed a man, but he wants to take care of his new family. Kevin, too, sees his salvation there.

Kevin is truly at his dynamic height in this episode. It’s incredible how much last episode’s back story added to him, and the investment the audience can now have in his putting his life back together. He thinks because he cheated and the woman disappeared in front of him, nothing will be OK (to steal the vernacular from “Cairo”). But then there is Matt’s point—he is good, and thinking about leaving your family is not acting on it. (This is by far Matt’s best episode as well, as we can really feel his desire to believe in Kevin.)

So, is Kevin good? The episode never says one way or the other. We are still dealing with someone who has a split personality that kidnaps and beats women. And the fact that we are never asked to forget that is invigorating. At first, his dream sequence sticks out as overlong, but Patti’s line, “Looks like we’re going to be traveling companions,” is extremely tantalizing for what may come next year. He might find some happiness with Nora, and his wish may have been granted for what we can assume is a new family, but those ghosts, along with his father, will still haunt him, and the story is not fully resolved.

Some things are though, which is what makes this finale satisfying. Laurie experiences the consequences of joining the GR on a truly massive scale; Tommy returns, and reunites with his mother; and we get to close the chapter on Wayne. Now, is it absolutely ridiculous that on the way from Cairo to Mapleton, Matt picks a diner stop that so happens to be where Wayne is dying in the bathroom? Yes. Still, it gives us the moment of thematic resonance we needed.

Because the thing is, Wayne may have been a disgusting fraud, but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t have some gifts to share. It’s the same, in the end, as The Sudden Departure. It may have been a miserable tragedy, but that doesn’t mean we can’t find some good in it, like when we see our loved ones are OK afterward and we remember what they mean to us, as Kevin relays in the most striking monologue of the season.

This, along with the stroke of semi-schmaltzy brilliance to have the wild dog comes back domesticated, signals a ton of hope in a series that most critics including myself called too bleak and self-serious in the beginning. I almost don’t want to turn in to another season to see it smashed all over again (there is something graceful about this endpoint), but I’d be a fool not to. After all, there’s still another mystery to solve: how the hell did this show get so damn good?