The first season of HBO’s The Leftovers, the story of a small town wallowing in the after-effects of a rapture-like event, split the critics when it premiered. The score leveled off to a respectable “Fresh” at 69 percent, but the season finale — “The Return of the Prodigal Son” — received an overwhelmingly positive response. Although, to be clear, the critics who panned The Leftovers in the beginning of the season, did not stick around to write up the finale.
Here’s what the critics thought about the season one finale of The Leftovers. They didn’t always enjoy this show, but it was hard to deny the impression they were left with when the prodigal son returned.
Caution: spoilers within.
Michael M. Grynbaum, New York Times
Fresh: After nearly 10 hours of pain, the series left us with the suggestion that hope and humanity can persevere, even in the cruelest of circumstances.
Fresh: As someone who watched the show from the get-go, there were definitely times when I wasn’t sure that they were on the right track, but this final hour of Season One left me with full confidence in their vision. And desperate for more.
Fresh: The guts of an ending like that! Unlike True Detective, which feinted in the direction of nihilism for a season before washing it off in the cleansing water of spiritual-not-religious bromides, The Leftovers stays true to co-creator Damon Lindelof’s promise that there will be no Answers.
Rotten: The Leftovers wants to be a good show more than it actually is a good show.
Fresh: You know when you break up with someone that you never really loved but kind of enjoyed becoming a terrible version of yourself with? That’s how I felt after watching last night’s season finale of The Leftovers.
Fresh: It feels like a lot of things. And that is really the best way to summarize this episode: It feels like a lot of things. As I said a bit for the last episode, it’s throwing up Rorschach ink blots and waiting to see the reaction on its audience’s faces. So it’s not particularly coherent, and I’m beginning to believe that it’s not really trying to be coherent.
Fresh: “The Prodigal Son Returns” was chilling and cathartic, with many tears shed throughout. Some critics wondered why, given the global crisis at hand, we’d be following those in Mapleton. And if the show was being too microcosmal. And I think this episode’s climax answered that.
Fresh: As the season draws to a close in a remarkably well-paced hour, The Leftovers does what it had promised to do from the very beginning — which is to deny any answers to the lingering questions of the Departure. What’s surprising, then, is that it managed to keep that promise of denial, while still granting some sense of fulfillment and closure to the season at the same time.
Fresh: In the end, the finale delivered what was promised: The premiere of The Leftovers was specifically about the Garvey family, and the finale returned to them and those themes.
Fresh: The one subplot that felt the most like a placeholder for a larger mythology — Holy Wayne and his acolyte baby mamas — was also the weakest part of Season 1, and last night’s finale seemed to collapse that plot back into the Mapleton story pretty definitively.
Fresh: “The Prodigal Son” — especially in its harrowing closing sequence depicting Kevin’s return to Mapleton in the aftermath of the Guilty Remnant’s stunt with the Loved Ones dolls — paid off everything that was genuinely important about this season.
Fresh: “The Prodigal Son Returns” had some of the elements that could make The Leftovers confounding and frustrating… But this show lingers with me the way few TV series do. The last half of the season did a remarkable job paying off setups from the first, like the nature of Kevin’s lost-time episodes.
Rotten: This week, it was back to hallucinations and near-encounters with pretension (Nina Simone’s “Ne Me Quitte Pas” playing while the camera lingers over the vacant eyes of a blood-soaked character who has slit her own throat — to neither artful nor interesting effect). What we’re left with is a true puzzle: How can one of the best shows on TV this year also be one of the worst?
Fresh: Wow, has everyone recovered from their emotional breakdown yet? The Leftovers parted ways in Season 1 more powerfully than a series has done, quite possibly ever.
Check out season-level reviews of The first season of HBO’s The Leftovers here.