Who is good? What is goodness? Why do good people suffer?
This entire season of The Leftovers has explored these questions, but episode 10 brings them to the forefront. The writers have already given us several references to the Book of Job — a Jewish epic poem that deals with these questions on a cosmic scale — but during the finale, we are treated to a gut-wrenching recitation of a lengthy portion from Job 23.
When biblical Job's entire family is taken away from him in an instant, he is forced to try and make sense of their Departure. His misfortune is surprising. Job is a righteous man — even God compliments his blameless character — so it doesn't make sense that he would be so unjustly punished. Job's friends point this out to him and offer him their various takes on Job's conundrum, which are mostly theological riffs that all amount to victim-blaming: Look, Job, God would not have punished you like this if you didn't sin. Repent of your wrongdoing, and God will make the evil go away.
Of course, the writer makes it very clear that Job's friends are wrong, and God scolds them for their answers. But most surprisingly, rather than answer Job's own questions, God responds rather cruelly with a soliloquy contrasting his infinite power with Job's human weakness. "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?" God asks Job. The book ends with Job recognizing that he is not on par with God, and therefore, was wrong to demand answers for his suffering.
The Book of Job has long puzzled theologians. The epic poem presumes to tackle the questions of why bad things happen to good people. Though the text offers some answers to these questions, Job is ultimately about another question altogether. "Why did something bad happen to someone good?" becomes "What is a good person to do about it?" Whys ultimately do not matter in Job, just like they don't ultimately matter in The Leftovers. What matters to both stories is how the ordinary characters respond to their lot. Their stakes are real, and what they decide matters greatly in the grand design of the cosmos. After all, God might not be answering questions, but he is certainly lurking about in the background watching the characters' every move.
Is he a jolly, good fellow?
Episode 10, titled "The Prodigal Son Returns," opens where episode eight left off, in the aftermath of Patti's (Ann Dowd) suicide. The first shot reveals Kevin's (Justin Theroux) face reflected in a pool of Patti's blood. The camera then flashes to Patti's opened, lifeless eyes, before revolving away from her body, winding upwards in a way that called back the moment in episode eight when she stood by the clothes of Mapleton's Departed, making final preparations for the GR's most audacious stunt to date.
Kevin mindlessly holds Patti's cigarette bag in his hand, undoubtedly wondering what will happen next. Who is going to believe that Patti killed herself? He, after all, is the one that brought her to this cabin in Cairo — he certainly appears guilty enough. Kevin takes out a cigarette and smokes it just like he did in that same cabin as a young boy, when he would sneak away from summer camp to be by himself.
Kevin is alone. Laurie, Tom, Jill, Papa Garvey, Dean, Nora, Patti — all of them are gone. There is only one person Kevin thinks he can count on: Matt (Christopher Eccleston). The priest shows up prepared with shovels and a change of clothes — has he done this before? — and helps Kevin dispose of Patti's body. Matt has a talk with Kevin and reminds him he's "a good man."
The camera then flashes to the party Kevin threw for his dad in an earlier episode, to the moment when the attendees sang "For he's a jolly good fellow." Is Kevin a good fellow? we thought as Kevin watched his family rejoicing, the same family he didn't seem contented with.
After their mock funeral for Patti, Matt offers Kevin a change of clothes and some fresh water to bathe himself with. Kevin takes the water, and washes his hands and body with it, calling back to the baptisms Matt performed in episode three, for both his wife and his church member's baby. But this time, Matt was not the one performing the rite. He was simply watching it being done before him, much like he watched Kevin just moments before recite a passage of Scripture. Matt is becoming less a pastor who performs sacred duties and more a pastor who encourages people to perform these duties for themselves.
This is further explored in a later scene when Kevin confesses his guilt to Father Matt, who never offers him forgiveness. Granted, he tells Kevin, "It's not your fault," when Kevin intimates that his dissatisfaction with his family somehow had a hand in the Departure. Kevin then recalls finding Tom and Jill distraught at school on October 14, and how happy they were they saw him alive. He was almost embarrassed to tell Matt they were happy — as if it were difficult to believe his own children could have had more faith in him than he had in himself.
It's no secret that Kevin is spiraling out of control. He has difficulty controlling himself during his sleeping states. For that matter, what are his sleeping states? Who is the real Kevin: The one who kidnaps Patti, or the one who unties her the following day? The one who shoots dogs or the one who pets them, as he did at the end of the episode while walking hand in hand with his daughter? Is the real Kevin the one who gets thrown in the same mental institution as his father where he confronts a posthumous Patti, or the one who doesn't buy his father's spiel about the magical significance of the May 1972 issue of National Geographic?
When reading Job, the question we want to ask is, Where is God during all of this suffering? But the real question is, Where is Job during his suffering? Similarly, The Leftovers doesn't ask where God is during Kevin's suffering, but rather, where Kevin is during his own suffering. Will he show up to his own pain? Will he face his own dissatisfaction? Who knows if Kevin believes in God. The point is, he doesn't even seem to believe in himself.
One of the most intense moments of the finale was the fire montage, when Kevin realizes his daughter is trapped in the burning GR house. At the end of episode eight, we saw Jill (Margaret Qualley) show up to GR headquarters asking to move in. Laurie (Amy Brenneman) wasn't happy about it, and continued to persuade her daughter to leave in episode ten. "WHY?" Laurie writes on her pad, wanting to know why her daughter would give up her life for the GR. Jill replies with her own scribbled message for her mother: "TALK." When Laurie refuses, Jill changes into white. "At least you'll be together," writes Meg, and with that, Laurie sends the GR off on their mission.
As Mapleton sleeps, the GR takes the mannequins delivered to them in episode eight, and puts them exactly where the people they are meant to represent disappeared from on October 14. Understandably, this sets off riots in Mapleton. The GR members are seized and beaten, and their homes are set on fire. Kevin finds Laurie as she is being dragged out of the house and he rescues her from her would-be assaulter. As he tries to take her to safety, she refuses to leave and begins to do something she hasn't done for months: talk.
"Ji — " she struggles to get the word out. Her voice sounds hoarse and rough, just as you'd expect from someone who hasn't exercised her vocal cords in a long time. Finally, summoning all of her strength, she grabs Kevin's face and shouts, "JILL!" and points to the house. A few moments earlier, Jill tried to get her mother to talk. And though she may never know it, she actually succeeded. In the face of death, Laurie laid aside her vow of silence, just like Gladys did when she was being stoned. But rather than plead for her own life, which is what Gladys did, Laurie pleaded for her daughter's. Earlier this season, Jill gave her mom a lighter engraved with the words Don't forget me.
Unfortunately, even as Laurie is warming back up to her family, Nora (Carrie Coon) is becoming familiar with them, too. And as we learn in the finale, she thinks she loves Kevin. For a while there, things with the two of them seemed to be moving to a nice place. But when she wakes up to the mannequins of her departed family members, she realizes that she wasn't actually ready to move on. That's because, as she writes in a note to Kevin — which, at first I thought was suicide note! — there isn't really any moving on. Even if you do leave your grief, she says, when you finally return home, you find your family right there where you left them. (Grief is like a dead-end, in other words, which certainly adds a new dimension to the GR's homes, which are located in a cul-de-sac.)
But just when it seems like Kevin — and we — are never to hear from Nora again, she discovers Baby Wayne right where Tom (Chris Zylka) left her on his father's porch and finds a new reason for staying around Mapleton. "Look what I found," a smiling Nora tells Kevin, and we wonder if the new child can replace what she lost. Another thing to remember is, though it seems like Nora, Kevin, Jill, and Baby Wayne are going to be a happy family, Holy Wayne's baby is still … Holy Wayne's baby. There's something slightly ominous about her, even if she is adorable. And given all the references to Antichrist the show has dropped, I'm just a bit concerned that the baby will end up being like her father.
The season one finale of The Leftovers was not what you might have expected. There were no looming cliffhangers, no surprise deaths. There were no crazy plot twists. And, rather happily, long-awaited reunions — like Tom and Laurie — finally came to pass. I, for one, was surprised. For a show that has a reputation for didn't-see-that-coming moments, The Leftovers' finale contained a healthy dose of now-that's-what-I-was-hoping-fors. There were obviously dark moments, and a few surprises, but the general feeling I had once the closing credits started to roll was satisfaction.
Of course, not all loose ends were tied up, and the series left a few open questions for us to think about going into season two.
- Is all of this stuff actually happening? Is Kevin "dreaming" any (or most) of this? That would be a storytelling copout in a way, but it might also help explain some of the bigger questions of the show, like the voices he and his father hear, and his hallucinations (like his dry cleaning).
- What. The heck. With Baby Wayne? Is Holy Wayne somehow special? Does he actually heal people with his hugs? Can he really grant wishes? And speaking of wishes, what do you think Kevin wished for in the bathroom with Wayne? I'm guessing it had to do with being reunited with Tom, which would both explain Wayne's knowing smile and call back to the episode's title.
- What do those dogs represent? And why, after the night of riots, are the vicious dogs now docile and kind?
- Is Dean gone? Like, really gone?
The biggest question, though, has to do with the title of the finale. At the beginning of the episode, a French song played on Christine's headphones, titled Ne me quitte pas, which translates to "Do not leave me." That is certainly a fitting song for The Leftovers. And it's also very appropriate for the finale, which took as its starting point the Gospel parable of the Prodigal Son.
In that story, a man's son demands his inheritance money, then runs away and blows it. After running out of money, he decides to return to his father and beg for grace. (The church van, by the way, that Tom sees belongs to Grace Church.) His father, rather than being angry with him, is elated that his son has returned, and acts as if he never left. "My son was lost, and is found," he says.
The question we have to think about before season two is, who is the prodigal son? The most obvious answer is Tom. He's returned to Mapleton and reunited with his mother. At the same time, though, he and Laurie haven't yet returned to Jill and Kevin, and I'm not sure they plan to. So maybe Tom isn't the son referenced in the title. Maybe the returning son is Kevin. After all, when his father leaves him alone with Patti's horny ghost (is it a ghost?), Kevin becomes scared and cries for his daddy. The Prodigal could also be Jill: she's no longer a GR pledge. And of course, the script gave us another option. "Look what I found," said Nora, Baby Wayne in arms, sounding very much like the father from the Gospel story.
Or maybe, in a meta sense, the Prodigal is the series itself — after all, The Leftovers is returning in a year.
Regardless of who the Prodigal is, the fact remains that there was a sense of return and healing to the finale. It was a very cathartic hour of television. Without erasing every question mark the series has established, The Leftovers found a way of speaking gently to its viewers. Questions of suffering remain, as does the palpable pain every character feels. But it's nice to know that, going into season two, the fractured Garvey family is slightly more whole.