The Leftovers season finale recap: 'The Prodigal Son Returns'
“But He stands alone, and who can oppose Him? He does whatever He pleases. He carries out His decree against me, and many such plans He still has in store. That is why I am terrified before Him; when I think of all this, I fear Him. God has made my heart faint; the Almighty has terrified me. Yet I am not silenced by the darkness, by the thick darkness that covers my face.” —Job 23, as read by Kevin Garvey Jr.
The title of The Leftovers‘ season finale, “The Prodigal Son Returns,” refers to a New Testament parable, but the soul of the episode belongs to Job, the put-upon God-fearing man of the Old Testament who bravely weathered the Lord’s harsh neglect. It’s more than an apt metaphor for the residents of Mapleton, especially police chief Kevin Garvey Jr., who’s been punished by forces within and without ever since 2 percent of the world’s population inexplicably went poof. In episode 9, “The Garveys at Their Best,” a pre-Departure flashback episode that revealed interesting character connections, Kevin told a stranger that he wasn’t a good guy—right before he committed adultery with her. In last night’s finale, which picked up directly after episode 8, “Cairo,” when a battered Patti purposely slashed her own throat and died in Kevin’s arms, Rev. Matt argues that Kevin is a good man, and makes him read the above Biblical passage before burying Patti in a ditch.
Good? Bad? Spared? Condemned? Potato, po-tah-to. That’s been the whole M.O. of The Leftovers, hasn’t it? There’s no rhyme or reason to what happened, and if you insist on concrete answers, you might find yourself in a rubber room watching Perfect Strangers. The real question is, are your intentions good? Um, actually, that’s also now up for debate.
Patti really screwed over Kevin when she jabbed a shard of glass into her neck and bled out on his cabin floor. When we first see him in “The Prodigal Son Returns,” he’s standing over her body, practically in shock (likely just as he was on Oct. 14 after his nameless lover vanished before his very eyes) as Nina Simone’s cover of “Ne Me Quitte Pas” haunts the background. When he finally comes to his senses, he dials a number on his cell. Who would he call? Nora, who he’d previously called from the woods in a panic when things initially turned bad? His daughter, Jill, at home, if only to tell her he loves her? Nope. Instead, it turns out that the Garvey men have a habit of turning to Matt when they’re in a bind. And Matt, who knows first-hand how easy it is to lose control, comes through, Mr. Wolf style, with a change of clean clothes, fresh water, and two shovels in the trunk. (I was almost surprised the good reverend didn’t pull some decomposition lye out of his car.) They bury Patti’s body together, an emotional teetering Kevin falls apart when he reads Job 23, and Matt does his best to not tap-dance on the grave of the woman who evicted him from his own church. The ceremony culminates in a baptism of sorts, with Kevin pouring water over his head and bloody skin after the ghastly series of events. He looks like a new man as he and Matt get in the car to head for home, and he drifts to sleep as the radio announcer talks of a shootout between authorities and a fugitive. (I couldn’t make out on my TV whether the radio reported it was Holy Wayne, but it seemed to be understood.)
NEXT: Operation M.D.
If Kevin isn’t the Prodigal Son of the episode’s title, perhaps it’s Tom, who’s nearly running on empty with Christine and her baby. To say that Christine is deflated by her circumstance would be an understatement. She’s bitter about being used by Wayne and is struggling with the ugly combination of poverty and new motherhood. Like the man who raised him, Tom is willing to raise the child of the woman he loves as his own, but Christine is unworthy of his declarations of love. She abandons the baby in the public bathroom, and though Tom is left to care for the child all by himself, it’s the best thing to happen to both of them in 10 episodes.
Before Christine scrams, a minister approaches Tom with an offer of help. (Kudos to the 1980s’ kids who recognized the actor as Geoffrey Owens, Elvin from The Cosby Show.) Tom declines and then, out of curiosity, asks if anyone ever accepted the offer. “All the time,” says the minister, before climbing back into his Grace Church minibus. Two thoughts: The exchange evoked the theme of “Two Boats and Helicopter,” episode 3, which referenced the Christian parable of foolishly waiting for God himself to save us rather than the good neighbors who act in his spirit. Also, the Grace Church bus was the first real evidence of a motivated Christian organization—no offense, Matt—that seems to be missing from the post-Departure landscape. I’ve argued that such a momentous, unexplained occurrence, of such Biblical proportions, would replenish and rededicate established religious faiths. Not every lost sheep would turn to chain-smoking cults and bald messiahs, as has seemed to be the case with The Leftovers. Perhaps the Grace Church, or the movement it represents, will return for season 2.
Back in Mapleton, the Guilty Remnant is poised to commit its cruelest stunt yet. With Patti missing, Laurie is in charge to execute the long-in-the-works Memorial Day operation. Everything has been planned perfectly, so perfectly that no one in the entire town will hear them at night when they break in to their homes to set up lifelike mannequins of their departed loved ones, positioned precisely as they were at the moment of Rapture on Oct. 14. Megan is positively itching to carry out the provocative measure, but Laurie is distracted by Jill, who sought refuge at the GR’s cul-de-sac at the end of episode 8 and wants to join the group to be close to her mother. Laurie’s conviction is called into question; she doesn’t want Jill smoking, she doesn’t want her to get hurt in what is to come, she doesn’t want this intentionally pointless life for her daughter. But those sentiments, though perfectly natural to any normal parent, would’ve made Patti laugh. Jill is hard-headed about staying and gets dressed in white. “At least you’ll be together,” writes Megan, who finally gets Laurie to sign off on Operation M.D.
Kevin’s sleepy ride home with Matt is interrupted by a dream, in which he’s betrayed and forcibly admitted into the same mental institution where his father is being held. It seems real to him, and he’s left in solitary to peruse the mysterious National Geographic issue his father was obsessed with. Eventually, he gets a face-to-face in the lounge with Kevin Sr., who welcomes Jr. to crazytown and drops some deep truths on him. “I am a bad man,” he says. “My intentions are good, but my heart and my mind and my balls, son—the holy f—in’ trinity—they all knew. That night three years ago, we looked at ourselves in the mirror and none of us wondered why we were still f—in’ here. We knew. Of course we knew. You knew.”
Intentions. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Later, back in reality, over a cheeseburger at the diner, Matt will spout about his own good intentions while grilling Kevin about Patti’s last words. His mission is to save the GRs from themselves. “I know I can because I’m supposed to!” he says with missionary zeal. Hmm. Matt is a good man, but his intentions can lead him to dark and dangerous places. Think back to the casino episode, when he bashed that thief’s skull in. Let’s keep a close eye on Matt in season 2.
NEXT: Make a wish
That diner conversation also results in a confession, Kevin’s second religious sacrament of the episode. Still rattled from his dream, which also included a visit from a foul-mouthed Patti, who straddled his lap and murmured, “Looks like we’re going to be traveling companions, until the end,” he tells Matt about his Oct. 14 fling and the immediate aftermath that cured him of his urging to flee his family. “It’s not your fault,” says Matt. (Somewhere, Robin Williams is saying, “Son of a bitch, he stole my line.”) Tearful, Kevin retreats to the bathroom, where he finds a wounded and bleeding Holy Wayne, dying in a stall. The likely charlatan who assigned Tom to babysit his unborn child and nearly cured Nora with a hug—such a small world with 2 percent gone—asks Kevin a favor: can he grant Kevin a wish. If it comes true, then Wayne might die knowing he wasn’t a fraud. No doubt, Kevin wishes for his family back, making the amateur mistake of not wishing for three more wishes.
Wayne dies just as the feds burst in, but the look on his face as he read Kevin’s mind was one of happiness. Did that smile represent him understanding how Kevin and he were connected, or was he just pleased to try and grant such a worthwhile request?
Matt and Kevin cruise home to Mapleton to Al Green’s “Dream,” but Kevin is bolted upright by gunshots as they arrive in town. The GR’s Memorial Day operation worked perfectly, and the outraged town responds exactly as they hoped: with the 21st-century equivalent of pitchforks and torches. The police are standing idly by while citizens pummel GRs and burn their homes. It is a scene ripped from The Leftovers opening credits, with Man doing horrible things to one another. “You were right,” mutters a distraught Mayor Lucy, who once told Kevin that his fears about the GR were overblown. “We made them remember,” writes a bloodied Megan. Patti would be so proud.
Kevin tries to restore some semblance of order, but his first priority becomes protecting Laurie from the angry mob, and after she blurts out that Jill is in one of the burning houses, rescuing his unconscious daughter. He heroically succeeds, but the glare he throws Laurie afterward, full of hatred for her putting Jill in that house in the first place, indicates that the couple will start season 2 very much at odds and that there might be limitations to Holy Wayne’s wish-fulfillment powers. Or perhaps he just works in mysterious ways.
The only Departure relative who isn’t part of the mayhem or throwing mannequins into the bonfire is Nora, who was throttled by the sight of her plastic family waiting for her at the breakfast table that morning. When she calmly picks up the notepad to write a Dear Kevin letter, my only thought was the pistol upstairs—was this a suicide note? No, but it is meant as a goodbye. She confirms Jill’s suspicions that it was impossible and unrealistic to really move on from what she had lost and she waxes poetic about living in “the abandoned ruin of a dead civilization.” When she drives by the Garveys to drop it off on her way out of town for good, she’s stopped in her tracks by the coos of a baby on the porch—Christine and Wayne’s baby. “Look what I found,” she says to Kevin and Jill, as they walk toward the house, holding hands. Maybe this is the picture that Kevin envisioned in his head when Wayne asked him for a favor?
Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrota have repeatedly cautioned the audience not to expect answers or explanations for the Departure, but the accelerated pace and reveal-heavy content of the previous two episodes raised expectations nonetheless. In the end, the finale delivered what was promised: The premiere of The Leftovers was specifically about the Garvey family, and the finale returned to them and those themes. Laurie and Tom even had a chance reunion near the river—were we to think that Laurie was contemplating jumping in and that his from-nowhere appearance saved her? We never heard from Aimee, who bolted the Garvey home after her spat with Jill in episode 8. And we never learned if Matt’s wife had miraculously recovered from her car-accident injuries, or if she just had a twitch the day that Megan came by to apologize to him. Holy Wayne is gone. The GR is gloriously depleted. Patti is back, if only in the darkest corners of Kevin’s still-troubled psyche. And Nora might be raising the Chosen One. Or the Anti-Christ. It’s not a bad place to start season 2.