The Leftovers S1-Ep10 Review: The Abandoned Ruin of a Dead Civilization
"The Prodigal Son" left many questions unanswered, which may lead to some grumbling comparisons to Damon Lindelof's Lost. But unlike Lost, the mysteries in The Leftovers are very much beside the point. We watch it for the characters, the relationships, and for its thematic content; and while the finale, and the season as a whole, wasn't perfect by any means, it delivered on the metaphysical angst the characters have been grappling with all season and managed to end on a somewhat hopeful note while still remaining true to its despairing roots.
This episode offered a kind of bait-and-switch regarding the cynicism we've come to know and love. At first, it seemed that the finale would find all the characters resolving their respective plotlines in the bleakest manner possible, but then the writers pulled the rug out from under us. First, Kevin offered an answer to the central question of the show: why are they still here? Kevin thinks he's being punished because he wanted to be "free" of his family. We know that this isn't likely to be true, because Jill and Tommy didn't have any ill motivations that might have necessitated punishment, as far as we know. But between his heartbreaking speech and his rapidly declining level of sanity, it seemed that he was, as Nora put it, "beyond repair." Speaking of Nora, she was faced with the uncanny valley doppelgangers of her departed family, and it seemed that her reaction would follow through with the assertion from "Cairo": that Nora is not okay, that no one can be okay. She claims to be "beyond repair," and then muses, "maybe we all are." She calls the post-Departure world "the abandoned ruin of a dead civilization," which might be the best line of the entire season. And it was hard to believe that she could be incorrect in that assessment, as we watched the entire town descend into furious chaos in the wake of the GR's latest, horrifyingly insensitive stunt. As the houses burned, it seemed that maybe Kevin was on the right track about the Departure; wherever the Departed might be, the leftovers are in some sort of hell.
But then, the tone shifts slightly. Kevin is able to rescue his daughter from the "hellfire," with the help of Laurie, who by calling out her daughter's name is setting down the road to redemption. Saving Jill's life seems to repair their relationship somewhat, which might have been unrealistically neat and tidy from a psychological perspective, but works on a thematic level. Nora thinks she's beyond repair, but then finds new hope in Holy Wayne's abandoned child. And then, most significantly in my opinion, the episode harkens back to the pilot and shows the feral dog becoming docile and loving. Those dogs have been stand-ins for the central characters all season; their insanity and primal violence was meant to be a more honest representation of the internal reactions of their humans. So if the dog is not defective beyond repair, then neither is Nora, or Kevin, or Jill, and so on. This ending subverted expectations, not only as a result of its relative hopefulness, but also because it rendered the Guilty Remnant unlikely (and sort of accidental) saviors. No one could argue that the GR isn't cruel, and Meg seems primed to become nearly as villainous as Patti, but in their evilness they may have actually managed to help the town move on. Closure was the entire point of the dolls in the first place, and although I'm sure they didn't plan to gain closure by burning the bodies in a violent act of arson, seeing the bodies of their loved ones burn must have been cathartic in a very twisted sense. The GR claims that their goal is to prevent people from forgetting, and although their methods are deplorable, they may actually be on the right track. The characters have been defined this season by what they don't say and what they don't let themselves feel about the Departure. Confronting those feelings is likely healthier than forgetting about them. Nora was the best illustration of this; she was understandably horrified to see her family, and she thought her reaction meant that she would never move on. But, she admitted that it wouldn't be right to forget them, and that she didn't want to. And ultimately, that awful but cathartic experience may have helped her move on and find hope in the end.
My one major complaint, with both this episode and the season as a whole, is Holy Wayne. It's been the least developed plot thread by far; his cult is not nearly as compelling as the GR, which is reflected in his screen time. Wayne as a person is not fully developed, Christine is two-dimensional, and I still feel like we barely know Tommy, even though he's technically part of the central family. But what irks me the most is the show's waffling about whether Wayne's powers are real or not. Ambiguity can be a powerful tool, and this show uses it to great effect most of the time, but Wayne's "powers" are so disingenuous, it would be completely cheesy if they were in any way real. The moments that he's been revealed as a fraud, discovering the other pregnant girl, all the times Tommy is right about Wayne not calling Christine, and, most recently, when Wayne himself admits he might be a fraud, all of these moments ring much more true than the ones in which his "powers" seem real. Because if they are real, then what does that mean exactly? That he's a creep, a con man, and a sociopath with a racist fetish who takes advantage of underage girls, but he also happens to be some kind of Messiah figure, or at least a Joseph? The show is at its best when it depicts people grafting meaning onto meaningless things, and Wayne would be a perfect candidate to develop that theme.