Take everything else away from what’s going on in The Leftovers — the National Geographic magazine; the Biblical quotes; the spiritual guru; the Guilty Remnant; and the obfuscation and the misdirection — and underneath it all, at its very core, The Leftovers was an existential drama about overcoming loss, about finding a way to move on. That’s what was at the root of Tom Perrotta’s novel. Lindelof added his own flourishes, of course, and his little mysteries. He posed questions, some of which he answered, and some of which he simply let go. In the end, however, the first season of The Leftovers was a heartbreaking story about moving past depression, and about surviving grief that ended on a hopeful note that suggested it is possible to move on.
“The Prodigal Son Returns,” the first season finale, continued to do what the series has done all season long: Mix Perrotta’s story of grief and recovery with Lindelof’s mindf*cks. Lindelof took some of the more straightforward storylines from the novel and confused the hell out of us briefly by tossing in a dream sequence in which Kevin was thrown into the nut house and seduced by a suddenly not-dead Patti. What did it mean? Ask any dream therapist and they’ll tell you that a dream means what you think it means, and that’s the best I can offer here: The guilt of Patti’s death, Kevin’s uncertainty about his role in it, and his fear about his own sanity were plaguing Kevin. “I don’t belong here,” he kept shouting, and that was his subconscious trying to convince him of it. Grief and depression have a funny way of clouding our minds.
But the dream was just more confusing obfuscation, disguising something more simple, beautiful, and novelistic in the season finale: The Garvey family — torn apart by the departure of an unborn child — was brought back together by the appearance of another baby. It was Holy Wayne and Christina’s baby, of course, and that baby has presumably given Kevin, Nora, Jill (and maybe even Laurie and Tom) the impetus to move on. It’s given them what they lost. It’s made them whole again. Holy Wayne, in his own way, was not a fraud, at least cosmically speaking. He managed to grant Kevin’s final wish, which was almost surely, “To have a family again.” He also gave poor Nora — whose grief, sadness, and guilt came flooding back after the GR’s heinous stunt — a little peace, and a little hope.
Who is going to constitute the family at the center of The Leftovers next season is still uncertain. Does Nora stick around now that there’s a baby to take care of? Do Laurie and Tom return, since it was Tom who left the baby? Could Jill ever even forgive her mother for what she and the Guilty Remnant did? Those are questions for next season.
So is the continued existence of the Guilty Remnant. What’s left of it after the stunt they pulled? Emotionally speaking, have you ever seen anything more sick and twisted in a television drama? How can you do that to someone? I’m a little unsure of what the GR wanted to accomplish by it, other than to upset a lot of people. But these people didn’t need reminding of anything. If Kevin was right about the reason their loved ones were taken, then you can trust that they never, ever forgot.
Did the GR anticipate the violence? Were they hastening their own deaths? Was this intentionally the GR’s endgame? Was this an elaborate iteration of suicide by cop? Was that the point of the Guilty Remnant all along? Have they been working for three years toward that? Because I don’t know how they come back from it. I don’t even know if there will be anyone left in the second season to bring the Guilty Remnant back.
I say, good riddance.
As for the big question — what was behind the departure — the season finale both answered it and it didn’t. Kevin thinks he understood why the baby was taken away from Laurie, why he lost his family, reasons that were both explained implicitly in his dream sequence and more explicitly in his conversation with Reverend Jamison in the diner: Because, like Nora at the moment of the departure, it’s what he wanted. He was trying to escape his family, while Nora was wishing her family away. That they got what they were wishing at that exact moment of the departure was a big reason why they felt so guilty about it, why they were so depressed. They felt responsible. They felt like bad people.
However, after realizing that her actions almost cost her the life of her daughter, maybe Laurie will come to her senses and try to repair her relationship with her family. After saving Jill from the fire caused by his wife, maybe Kevin will be able to absolve himself from some of the guilt. Maybe Jill will forgive her father. Fire, after all, is cleansing. Maybe Tom also finds some common ground with his mother, since they both sought extreme beliefs to help them deal with the departure. And maybe Nora just needed someone else to take care of, a new family that would allow her to get over her old one.
New life and fresh starts brings out the hope in all of us.
Damon Lindelof said from the beginning that he didn’t design The Leftovers necessarily for multiple seasons, and that the first season could stand on its own. I think that’s true. There were a lot of unanswered questions after the finale, but they didn’t feel that important anymore. If last night’s episode had been a series finale, I wouldn’t have been at all disappointed.
— The music in this series has been exceptional since the beginning, but that instrumental version of Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters” was absolutely terrific and perfect for this series.
— Let’s give a big hand to Reverend Jamison, a good friend who knows when to bring some shovels and an extra pair of clothes.
— Among the biggest unanswered questions is the real identity of Dean the Dog Killer, and the truck he just “gave” Kevin. Was he even completely real? I still think he was in cahoots with Patti.
— The subplot with Aimee — Jill’s friend — just kind of fell away, didn’t it? I’m curious about Aimee and the twins, and I hope they’ll be back next season to continue providing some levity (BOOK SPOILER: Jill left the GR to pursue one of the twins in the end of the book).
— We still don’t know who or what gave Kevin that bite mark on his hand, though it’s obvious it wasn’t a dog.
— BOOK SPOILER: One of the most devastating events in the book, left out of the series (though, it’s possible it comes in next season) involves the relationship between Laurie and Megan, which was very close in the novel. However — and this was kind of absorbed into the Gladys storyline — members of the Guilty Remnant are asked to sacrifice other members of the GR. In the book, Laurie was asked to kill Megan, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it, so Megan shot herself out of love for Laurie. All of which is to say, yes: The Leftovers actually could’ve been darker.
— BOOK SPOILER: With the exception of Tom leaving the baby with Kevin, there was very little in common between the conclusion to Perrotta’s novel and the HBO series. The book left open a few possibilities, but for the most part, Lindelof has exhausted the source material.