Sunday, September 7, 2014

REVIEW: 'The Leftovers' - The Guilty Remnant's Latest Stunt Pushes the Town Over the Edge in 'The Prodigal Son Returns'

HBO's The Leftovers - Episode 1.10 "The Prodigal Son Returns"

An unexpected ally helps Kevin get out of a jam near the town of Cairo. Meanwhile, an elaborate Memorial Day initiative by the Guilty Remnant plunges Mapleton into chaos. Holy Wayne grants a final wish; Tom copes with his new reality; and Nora makes a life-changing decision.

So, I've liked The Leftovers - quite a bit too - in its first season but I don't love it. It excels wonderfully in establishing mood and atmosphere and the emotional beats of this particular story are suburb. The pilot, Matt and Nora focused episodes and the all-flashback hour are just great episodes of television. It has struggled at times though with plot and figuring out what exactly is propelling this narrative forward. When the show doesn't give its characters a good reason to do what it is that they are doing, it falters quite a bit. And yet, there is so much good stuff in the heart and soul of The Leftovers. "The Prodigal Son Returns" is an exquisite finale that really is a great culmination of the season preceding it.

One of the things I love the most about The Leftovers is that it simply has no desire to give us any real answers to the big mysteries of this universe. We are never going to get an explanation as to why The Sudden Departure happened or why some people went while others did not. Kevin could be crazy or he could be completely sane. And that's just fine. I'm all for ambiguous narratives. It was a singular event that no one person can explain. The show puts that out there and then boldly just moves on. The important part is the reaction of these people - both those who lost someone that day as well as the families that stayed completely the same.

Our major entry point into this world is through the Garvey family - none of whom disappeared on October 14, 2011. And yet, they all pulled away from one another in the aftermath. So many of the main characters didn't really lose anyone on that day. Patti had already left her abusive husband. Gladys only had her dogs. Meg lost her mother the day before and yet still had her fiance. Matt lost the essence of his wife but she was still physically there. And yet, it all effected each of their lives dramatically. And then, there was someone like Nora Durst who lost her entire family. At times this season it appeared that she was the best adjusted of the entire cast to this new world. However, the more closely we got to know her - the deeper her true pain was apparent.

How in the world can people move on after such an event occurs? The members of the Guilty Remnant believe that humanity can never forget this event. They are dead inside as a way to be living reminders to everyone else of October 14. And yet miraculously, Kevin and Nora found each other and started to move forward and be okay in life again. It's taken three years but progression has happened. And then, the Guilty Remnant pulls off their biggest stunt yet by bringing life-like models of the departed to the exact positions they left from. Things quickly spiral out of control. Chaos has erupted on the streets. After the ordeal he's faced in the woods with Matt and Patti, Kevin doesn't want to deal with this. And yet, he takes charge and makes sure that his family is still safe. Things seem hopeless for Meg as she has completely committed to the cause now. But things are less sure for both Jill and especially Laurie as she speaks for the very first time in the present-day timeline. It's just one word but it's incredibly powerful as she cries out for Jill as she's trapped in the burning Guilty Remnant building.

It's easy to guess that Kevin wished for his family to be together again when he was there for Holy Wayne during the last minute of his life. And that strangely is exactly what comes to fruition during the final few moments of the season. His life pre-Departure wasn't that great as the last episode showcased. And yet, it's something that he desperately wants back. He wants to be happy and with his family again. He doesn't want to be crazy and locked up alongside his father. Things only get more chaotic for Kevin following Wayne's death. But the finale offers an emotion in its concluding moments that isn't often felt on the show: hope.

Nora is willing to say goodbye to this world after seeing her husband and two children at the table again. She's loved the time she's spent with Kevin and Wayne's hug took away her pain for awhile. And yet, it's something that will always be a part of who she is. That cannot be changed no matter how hard she tries to make it. Killing herself would be the easy way - to stop all this pain and hopefully be reunited with the people she loved the most in the world. She writes out a farewell letter to Kevin and we hear her deliver the lines as if she is heading to the final act of suicide. That would have been the most depressing thing for the season to end on and yet completely feel in tone with the series. Carrie Coon has been a revelation in this role and yet that would be an end for the character that would have totally been justified. And yet, she instead ends the finale with hope. She spots Christine's baby on the porch of the Garvey house and is filled with joy once again. Kevin and Jill walk down the street and it very much feels hopeful of a second chance at life and a new family unit.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Prodigal Son Returns" was written by Damon Lindelof & Tom Perrotta and directed by Mimi Leder.
  • For a brief moment, it also seems as if Laurie will take suicide as well by walking out into the body of water. The only thing that could have brought her back from that is the return of Tom which should prove meaningful in the next season.
  • I just love that whenever someone is watching TV, it's Perfect Strangers.
  • Seriously, Carrie Coon for all the wins come award season. She's that fantastic. If she doesn't win (or even get nominated), I would be pissed. Justin Theroux, Amy Brenneman, Ann Dowd and Christopher Eccleston have done deserving work as well. But her's is the only nomination I really need.
  • I have no clue what the second season will bring for this truly unique show. And yet, I am completely all in for whatever Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta have planned.