This review of HBO’s The Leftovers season finale contains spoilers.
For a show that is supposed to deal with the fallout from the Rapture, or something like it, I always found it strange that The Leftovers centered on a man who didn’t lose anyone. Kevin Garvey wasn’t like Nora Durst; the family he began to resent didn’t simply vanish without a trace leaving him confused and heartbroken. No, Kevin didn’t physically lose anyone on that strange day in October, but he did lose his family because of the disappearance. It just took a lot longer.
Tonight’s finale of The Leftovers finally showed us just why we’ve been following Kevin on this journey. Unlike Nora, who lost everything in an instant, Kevin had to watch his world crumble slowly; the deterioration of his father’s mind, the loss of his wife and son to cults, all while dealing with the cold silence of his daughter as she slipped further and further away from him. Tonight, in tears, Kevin finally admits that he at one point wished his family would be gone, and once his wish was granted he wished he had been more careful with his wishes.
Hopefully he didn’t make the same mistake twice when he stumbled upon a dying Wayne, who with his final breath, asked Kevin to make a wish. Wayne wants to know whether his gifts are real or merely perceived, so in his final moments, he asks Kevin to make a wish, and if he could do the things he claimed, that wish would come true. We don’t know how Wayne ended up there bleeding, and we still don’t know just what he was planning, but by the end of the episode one thing seems clear; Wayne wasn’t faking. I believe Kevin got his wish, and that wish was for a family.
Tonight’s episode had the weight of a truly grand finish for a series that sputtered often. Finally, we witness the town of Mapleton and the Guilty Remnant come to blows in an epic, fire-enhanced showdown. We were served a dream sequence, in which Kevin is locked up with his father, that felt real and terrifying, the best utilization of the device we’ve seen so far. Best of all, the performances, especially that from series breakout star Carrie Coon, were impeccable (as long as you disregard Liv Tyler, who even when not speaking still manages to disappoint).
Nora’s reaction to finding the GR’s tormenting mannequins in her home is such an honest depiction of pure anguish. Her letter to Kevin may even be sadder, detailing the ways in which Nora tried to hide and forget her pain, only to be confronted with it in the harshest possible way. A scene like this, that doesn’t rely on just regurgitating other famous writings like the Bible to seem weighty, shows just how good Damon Lindelof’s writing can be when he’s not taking the easy way out. During the reading of that letter, I was scared that this would be the last we’d be seeing of Nora Durst, easily the show’s most compelling character, but then Nora finds Wayne and Christine’s baby and all the sorrow is gone just like when Wayne hugged her. It all comes back to Kevin’s wish.
After his interaction with Wayne, Kevin heads back to Mapleton to find complete chaos, but in the chaos he’s brought to his ex-wife, who alerts him that their daughter Jill is trapped inside of a burning home. Kevin completes a dazzling rescue, and after, it seems Jill seriously appreciates her father again. While walking away from the scene of the fires, they stumble across the angry dog, the dog that seems to represent Kevin’s spirit, only to find him approachable and calm. The three return to their doorstep to find Nora and the baby, who’s been left there as Tom visits his mother. Looking upon Nora gleefully holding the baby, Kevin’s eyes water with happiness. The family he was fighting so desperately to reclaim had just materialized in a different, but no lesser, way.
As we head to season two, the baby’s significance will surely be revealed. We also will most likely witness the fallout from the brutal backlash against the GR in Mapleton. But will the show aim larger? Will we witness the government corruption that’s only been hinted at? Will Patti’s death come back to haunt Kevin? Will Wayne’s motives become clear and will we finally learn what the hell is so special about Cairo?
I’m not sure I cared much about these answers three weeks ago, but after two strong outings in a row, including a finale that didn’t rely on a huge cliffhanger to pique my interest in season two, I have to say I’m generally excited to see where this show goes and if it can learn from its strengths and weaknesses. The Leftovers hasn’t always been good, but it has been compelling. Kevin Garvey got his wish tonight, season two will show whether he can keep it alive.