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‘The Leftovers’ recap: Season 1, Episode 10, ‘The Prodigal Son Returns’

Kevin realizes that, yes, maybe some of this was his fault.
Credit: Paul Schiraldi.

Well, here it is. The final episode of the first season of “The Leftovers.” Did it redeem itself?

Yes and no. The episode, which follows the flashback from two weeks ago, has trouble gaining momentum after this break in airtime, focusing mainly on Kevin’s self-pity until three-quarters of the way through, when we’re confronted with the awful chaos that the Guilty Remnant has chosen to inflict upon Mapleton in honor of the anniversary of October 14th. Kevin easily remains the show’s least interesting character, so it’s a relief when the episode veers away from his problems to wrap up some of the story lines the show’s spent most of the season ignoring.

The episode begins in the same cabin that episode eight left, with a shocked Kevin staring at Patti’s corpse as Jacques Brel’s “Ne me quitte pas” (“Don’t Leave Me”) plays in the background. It’s clear that he has no real idea of what to do, because his plan apparently involves smoking a cigarette and calling Matt. As Kevin smokes, the scene switches to a communal bowl of cigarettes that Jill, intent on joining her mother in the GR, takes from. There’s something satisfying about watching the GR after “The Garveys at Their Best,” knowing that Laurie disliked Kevin’s smoking.


Laurie is distressed by the idea of her daughter joining her. “Please, Jill,” she writes. “GO HOME.” Jill, like the rebellious teenager that she is, won’t hear of it, and instead strips down to her underwear in front of the GR, quickly donning their white uniform and refusing to speak. “At least you’ll be together,” Meg writes to Laurie, before demanding to know if the plan is still on. Reluctantly, Laurie nods.

Just before the opening credits, we’re reminded that Christine and Tommy exist, and they’re distressed. Tommy is driving in the heavy rain, attempting to get both him and an increasingly despondent Christine home, while Christine’s newborn daughter cries. Christine ends up abandoning her in a gas station bathroom, before Tommy finds and rescues the baby. After the credits, we’re treated to another depressing scene, with Nora discovering the plastic facsimiles of her family that the GR have placed in her kitchen, in an attempt to remind the town of what they lost. Nora’s silent scream of horror is heartbreaking.

Back to Kevin. Matt arrives, and together, they bury Patti’s body and discuss what exactly happened. Matt believes Kevin, but also forces him to read a Bible passage in memory of Patti. They drive away, but eventually stop in front of a large brick building, where a pair of hospital orderlies pulls Kevin inside. “I had to,” Matt tells him, shrugging helplessly. “There was no other choice.” A screaming Kevin is dragged into a mental hospital – the same mental hospital that, you guessed it, his father is held.

As Kevin mutters to himself, claiming innocence, it’s clear that there’s something off about this hospital. He appears to be in some kind of solitary confinement, which makes sense if they believe that he murdered someone, but he’s also allowed to leave and watch TV with his father? The TV watching follows a curious detail: a “National Geographic” magazine pushed through a food slot in the door. Tucked against a feature about Cairo (eyebrow raise) is a note from his father: “Stop fucking talking to yourself and they’ll let you watch TV.”

In the television room, Kevin and his father discuss the events of October 14th, with his father adamant that only “bad people” were left behind. “I’m not fucking crazy!” Kevin insists. “Neither am I,” his father tells him. “But I’m a bad man, and bad men end up here.”

It gets stranger when a re-animated Patti shows up and straddles Kevin, telling him that he didn’t thrust the knife “deep enough.” The whole overtly sexual evil and / or crazy woman trope is a little old, Lindelof. It doesn’t matter, though, because as soon as Patti starts screaming for Kevin to “WAKE THE FUCK UP,” he does, indeed, wake the fuck up. It was all a dream! What a cop out.

Matt takes him to a roadside diner where, over cheeseburgers, they discuss Kevin’s moral state. He confesses that he was thinking of leaving Laurie and that he cheated on her on October 14th. Matt is shocked to hear that this other woman disappeared right in front of Kevin, and then basically absolves Kevin of all his sins. “It’s not your fault,” he tells Kevin, meaning the departure and the guilt that followed. This is true, though it also conveniently ignores the fact that while the departure wasn’t Kevin’s fault, the whole cheating-on-his-wife thing was.

After their talk, Kevin goes to the bathroom and finds a bloody Holy Wayne sitting in one of the stalls. He’s about to die, and he begs Kevin to stay with him, not wanting to die alone, and promises to grant Kevin one wish. This all feels a bit like a get-out-of-jail-free card for Kevin, and it’s irritating that we’re still not fully acknowledging that he is, in fact, not that great of a person.

Wake Up!

The brooding anti-hero shtick is for the most part forgotten for the rest of the episode, luckily, and this is when it starts getting good. Kevin returns to a chaotic Mapleton, where the town’s angry residents have lit the GR’s home on fire and GR members are being beaten in the streets. Kevin finds a hurt Meg and asks her what is going on. She smiles and writes, “We made them remember.”

What’s so well done about the GR is that their stance is perfectly understandable: the urge to forget, to bury one’s sadness following a traumatic event, is unhealthy. But their response – those mannequins, perfectly posed in the homes of their respected loved ones – is heartless. What we see in Mapleton’s destruction of the GR are the corrosive effects of grief.

Kevin runs over to the GR’s burning house, where Laurie, her voice scratchy from months of silence, chokes out one word to him: “Jill!” He runs back into the house, searching for his daughter, and it’s interesting to see the responses of the GR to this catastrophe. One sits near the flames, allowing himself to burn – or is it a mannequin? Bodies litter the floor. Kevin finds an unconscious Jill and carries her outside, where she comes to, coated in ash. The firemen come, and Kevin and Jill stay there until morning, watching.

Later that same morning, in a different part of town, Nora tucks her mannequins into bed, kissing the plastic foreheads of her faux-children, and writes a note to Kevin. It might be a suicide note – it certainly reads like one – but when she arrives at Kevin’s house to deliver it, she’s distracted. Tommy has left Christine’s baby on the doorstep while he leaves to find his mother, and Nora lifts the baby as Kevin and Jill return. Is this really the end of the episode? “Look what I found,” she says, smiling at them.

And yes, it’s the end of the episode and the end of the season. It ends on a hokey note, but at least Nora, by far the most interesting character in the series, didn’t die. The GR’s destructive plan, though twisted, was one of the best moments of the series, and a plot point that felt as though it truly wanted to engage with the hypocrisies of mourning, arguably one of the show’s overarching themes. Next season, it might do the show well to focus more on the GR and other townspeople instead of Kevin. We’ve had enough of his self-inflicted wallowing; more Laurie, Nora, and Matt, please!

Episode: B

Season: B-

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