The Leftovers -- Season 1
#01 "Pilot" #05 "Gladys" #09 "The Garveys At Their Best"
#02 "Penguin One, Us Zero" #06 "Guest" #10 "The Prodigal Son Returns"
#03 "Two Boats and a Helicopter" #07 "Solace for Tired Feet"
#04 "B.J. and the A.C." #08 "Cairo" Season 2 >>

The Prodigal Son Returns

1x10 KevinInACell



Air dateSeptember 7, 2014

Running time57 minutes

Production code4X5710

Written byDamon Lindelof & Tom Perrotta

Directed byMimi Leder

Images (7)

"The Prodigal Son Returns" is the tenth and final episode of Season 1, and overall the tenth produced hour of The Leftovers. It originally aired on September 7, 2014.


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. Also, Holy Wayne grants a final wish, Tom copes with his new reality, and Nora makes a life-changing decision.



Recurring ThemesEdit

  • Animals: The dog Kevin captured in "Solace for Tired Feet" finds him and Jill, and they bring it home.
  • The Bible: The episode’s title references the Parable of the Prodigal Son from Luke 15:11-32. At Matt’s behest, Kevin reads from Job 23:8-17, continuing Matt’s association with Job. An ad for on the side of a building quotes John 14:15.
  • Memories: Kevin has flashes of seeing his family happy at the party in “The Garveys at Their Best.”
  • Dreams: Kevin dreams that Matt has him committed to a psychiatric institution, where he talks to his father and sees Patti.
  • National Geographic: Kevin Senior slides the magazine into Kevin’s cell in his dream. Kevin flips through the magazine and sees the map of Cairo on page 647. This seems to confirm that Kevin took the magazine out of the trash and has looked through it, since he otherwise could not accurately dream about its contents.

Cultural ReferencesEdit

  • In Kevin’s dream, Kevin Senior watches the second season premiere of Perfect Strangers, “Hello Baby” (1986).

Trivia Edit

  • Geoffrey Owens, who plays the “Kind Man” from the Grace Church bus who asks Tom if he needs help, was a college friend of Leftovers author and show co-creator Tom Perrotta.[1] 
  • A sign by the women’s room indicates that Tom and Christine are in Pennsylvania when she abandons the baby.
  • One of the posed Loved Ones is cleaning a gutter, which is what Kevin falsely claimed he was doing when the Departure occurred when he spoke to Young Mother in the Pilot.
  • The departed dad from the opening of the Pilot is seen, in Loved One form, pushing his shopping cart.
  • The writers went through several scenarios of how Kevin would deal with Patti’s death, one of which the writers later used in season two (presumably in “A Matter of Geography”).[1]
  • As Matt drives Kevin home, a report is heard on the car radio about Wayne exchanging fire with ATFEC agents and staging a “daring escape.”
  • In the scene where Patti speaks to Kevin in his dream, director Mimi Leder told Ann Dowd to kiss Kevin at some point in the scene, but did not tell Justin Theroux.[1]
  • Tom Perrotta and Damon Lindelof cite the scene where Kevin meets Wayne in the bathroom as an instance where Lindelof’s “boldness” in storytelling clashed with Perrotta’s more grounded approach, as he feared that the moment was too huge a coincidence. Perrotta now feels that the scene works and he is glad Lindelof won out. In contrast, Lindelof wanted Kevin to actually speak his wish to Wayne (“I want to start over”), but Perrotta insisted that the audience would intuit the wish by the end of the episode without it being spoken.[1]
  • Lucy’s brief role in this episode is her final appearance on the show.
  • When Kevin rescues a woman being beaten in the burning G.R. house, on the dry erase board behind her is a list of “important information,”  ironically featuring phone numbers for “fire department” and “fire department emergency.” 
  • In the script, Laurie’s walk after leaving the wreckage of the G.R. complex was simply along the street. Director Mimi Leder had the idea of moving it to the park, so Laurie could look at the statue and be reminded of her own departed baby.[1] 
  • Leder told Chris Zylka, who plays Tom, that he went to the area by the jetty where he sees Laurie because she had taken Tom there many times, and this was “their place,” explaining the coincidence of them finding each other.[2] 
  • Wayne grants Kevin’s unheard wish, perhaps coincidentally, as his “miracle child” turns up on Kevin’s doorstep. Likewise, the baby also serves to alleviate Nora’s pain, after Wayne’s initial attempt to do so via hug in “Guest” wore off.
  • Lindelof has described sobbing uncontrollably upon reading the final scene of the novel for the first time. He said that he and Perrotta always knew the first season would end with this scene.[1]

Book to Show Edit

  • The Tom and Christine scene adapts material from the book’s final chapter, “I’m Glad You’re Here.” The baby crying in the car because she is hungry, and them pulling into a rest stop to feed her, come directly from the book. The biggest change is that in the book, Tom has been wearing the Barefoot People bullseye since first adopting it as cover, and is increasingly identifying as a Barefoot Person, enjoying the sense of belonging and community whenever he encounters the group in their travels. He gives Christine and the baby bullseyes as well after leaving the home of Wayne’s former benefactors the Falks, presumably as cover, but also as “a team insignia, [...] a mark of tribal belonging.” On the show, Tom and Christine only briefly wore this cover at the end of “B.J. and the A.C.”
  • In the book, Tom and Christine are driving the Falks’ BMW (which was “either borrowed or stolen,” depending how the Falks choose to view it, while the Falks were away). The Falks having kicked them out following Wayne’s guilty plea and the revelation that he got the gender of his “miracle child” wrong, Tom and Christine plan to stop over in Mapleton overnight to visit Tom’s family, then go to Ohio to take Christine home to her family. Their destination is not specified on the show.
  • In the book, Christine is even more overtly distant from the baby than in the show. She gets a shot at the hospital that stops her from lactating, whereas on the show she is breast feeding. In the book, she refuses to touch the baby at all, remaining largely catatonic while letting Tom exclusively take care of the infant. The book focuses on the fact that Christine refuses to name the baby despite it being a week old; it is unclear in the show if the baby has a name.
  • In the book, the rest stop is in Connecticut, whereas on the show it is in Pennsylvania.
  • Tom promising to take care of Christine and the baby is reminiscent of his desire in the book for them to be “a little family.” He tries to convince Christine to stay with his family in Mapleton indefinitely, but she is unresponsive.
  • The show condenses the book’s events in the Tom/Christine scene. In the book, Christine goes to the restroom while Tom feeds the baby and she is gone long enough to worry him, but he finds her back by the car. Tom’s book encounter with a group of Barefoot People is replaced by the encounter with the “Kind Man” on the show. When Christine returns, Tom forces her to hold the baby while he goes to the restroom, and returns to find the baby alone, strapped in its car seat. Tom believes he “spooked” Christine by forcing her to hold the baby, and also assumes that she left with the van of Barefoot kids on their way to the solstice festival in the Poconos. The show simplifies this to Christine taking the baby to the restroom and abandoning it there. 
  • Kevin’s guilt that he lost his family because he wanted to be free of them is reminiscent of Nora’s letter to Kevin in the book: “You could have told me what I already think I know—that the crying and the spilled juice aren’t really that important, that all parents get stressed out and angry and wish for a little peace and quiet. It’s not the same as wishing for the people you love to be gone forever. But what if it is, Kevin? Then what?”
  • Kevin never meets Wayne in the book. In the book, Kevin and Jill are aware that Tom was working for Holy Wayne, and they follow the Wayne scandal in the news, whereas on the show Kevin seems to have no idea who Wayne is.
  • Wayne is alive and well at the end of the book, albeit incarcerated after taking a plea (with the prosecutor recommending twenty years jail, with the possibility of parole in twelve). Wayne saying that he thinks he may be a fraud is a sentiment he never expresses in the books: although as part of his plea statement he admits to being a monster who took advantage of vulnerable kids, he never disavows his powers.
  • Wayne claiming to have the power to grant wishes is an invention of the show.
  • The implication that Wayne is suspected of having ties to Russia is an invention of the show.
  • The G.R.’s plot and the ensuing riot are inventions of the show. The book’s G.R. complex on Gingko Street is still running normally at the end of the novel, as opposed to the show where the G.R. houses have been burned to the ground, with Mapleton’s G.R. chapter seemingly suffering great casualties. 
  • Meg’s note, “We made them remember,” is reminiscent of Patti telling Laurie and Meg, “The world went back to sleep. It’s our duty to wake it up” in the book (referring to the murder/martyring of G.R. members).
  • In the book, although Laurie regularly breaks her vow of silence when speaking to Meg, the first time she breaks it in public is when she says “I’m sorry” to Kevin after giving him the divorce papers. In the show, she has faithfully kept her vow all season, both in public and private, but finally breaks it in this episode to let Kevin know that Jill is trapped inside the burning building.
  • Wayne’s healing of Nora seemingly wearing off is consistent with his description of his powers in the book. In the book, he says he does not fix people permanently. He takes away the pain they have in the moment that he hugs them, but our bodies continually manufacture more pain.
  • This episode essentially wraps up the TV show’s adaptation of the book. While the episode’s final scene is a fairly faithful adaptation of the book’s ending, the various characters’ storylines leading up to that moment are different.
  • Matt only appears twice in the book, and never evolves beyond his obsession with distributing his toxic newsletter. Tom Perrotta said that he initially envisioned Matt as a bigger part of the book. On the show, Matt evolves into a much more compassionate, nuanced character over the course of the season. 
  • Laurie and Meg’s storyline diverges a good deal from the books over the course of the season. In the books, they become far closer than they ever do on the show. At the conclusion of Meg’s training period, on Graduation Day, Patti determines that rather than try to separate them, the two will better serve the G.R. by going to Outpost 17. In the book, the Outposts are suburban houses purchased by the organization as part of the Neighborhood Settlement Program. While life at Outpost 17 initially seems idyllic, they eventually learn the reality of their assignment after one of their housemates is found murdered and the other disappears. Outpost 17 has a “beautiful tradition.” Pairings of G.R. members who become inappropriately close are sent there to live out a comfortable couple of months, but ultimately, one has to murder the other, keeping the G.R. in the public eye as martyrs and Living Reminders (like the Gladys murder in the show). Living at Outpost 17 and fully aware of their ultimate fates, Laurie and Meg become even closer, developing a “powerful sense of intimacy” greater than any bond Laurie ever felt with Kevin. In the book’s final chapter, Laurie finds herself unable to carry out her mission to shoot Meg, and an annoyed Meg ultimately has to do it herself. Laurie is then taken away in a getaway car leaving Mapleton. The last heard of Laurie in the book is: “...she knew nothing about her destination and didn’t really care. Wherever it was, she would go there, and she would wait for the end, her own and everyone else’s. She didn’t think it would be long now.” As in the book, the show’s Meg proves more devoted to the G.R.’s cause than Laurie, but the circumstances are very different. On the show, Meg finishes the season very much alive. 
  • The show contains two subtle references to the Outpost storyline from the book: the Dog Owner’s comment in “Gladys” that the G.R. made an offer on his house, and a note on the dry erase board in this episode, seen when Kevin stops a man from beating a woman in the burning G.R. house. It says, “Prop. taxes on Outposts thru 3rd party?”
  • Tom’s reunion with Laurie is an invention of the show. In the book, he has fully committed to his identity as a Barefoot Person, and after leaving the baby on Kevin’s doorstep, he heads to the Barefoot solstice festival in the Poconos. 
  • Nora is arguably the character whose storyline stays closest to the book throughout the season. Her biggest departure in the show is the encounter with Wayne in “Guest,” which whether through actual supernatural power or merely a placebo affect acts as a “shortcut” to her temporarily feeling better and becoming the more well-adjusted partner in her relationship with Kevin, which is the opposite of the book. In the book, she remains distant, and ultimately comes to realize she is deluding herself into believing that she can be “repaired,” and she abandons Kevin at a restaurant on Valentine’s Day—their first date outside her house—after he tells her about receiving his first call from Tom in months, and she feels “bitterness and envy so strong it was indistinguishable from hatred.” A heartbroken Kevin spends two months after that trying unsuccessfully to contact her to learn what he did wrong; on the show, in contrast, the two never break up in the first season. Nora’s book and show storylines realign when she decides to leave town (on the show triggered by the G.R.’s stunt), and writes Kevin a goodbye note, as she does in the book’s seventeenth chapter, “So Much to Let Go Of.” In the book, Nora dyes her hair blond to help create a new identity, a detail the show leaves out. 
  • The content of Nora’s letter to Kevin is different from the book, where it largely centers on apologizing to Kevin for not being more open, and describing the circumstances of her family’s departure (which the show audience already saw in “The Garveys at Their Best”), but the sentiments overlap in several respects. In both versions of the letter, Nora tells Kevin that he was good to her, that she is beyond repair, and in both she expresses regret that she is writing to him instead of saying it directly. Nora saying in the show that she was pretending as if she hadn’t lost everything is similar to her thoughts in the book while writing the letter that she had been “just kidding herself, mistaking a wish for a change.” Her use of the word “coward” calls to mind a moment in the book after their first encounter at the dance, when Kevin does not call her for several weeks. Nora rides past him on her bike, exchanging an abrupt greeting, and Kevin later dreams of her calling him a coward, whereas Nora independently considers herself a coward for not stopping to speak to him.
  • Nora hand-delivering the note comes from the final chapter, “I’m Glad You’re Here.” In the book, she times the delivery to make sure Kevin will be at his softball game. In the book, the purpose of hand-delivering rather than mailing the letter is to give her some sense of moving forward, as her plan to leave town and start a new identity has entered a phase of paralysis in the past week, with her having trouble confronting the reality. In the book, this is the first time she has ever been to Kevin’s house. 
  • The book’s version of Nora finding the baby is a bit longer, with Nora rhetorically questioning the baby about her parents, and finding a note: “This little girl has no name. Please take good care of her.”
  • While Kevin’s arc over the past few episodes has departed completely from the book (where his chapters at this point mostly revolve around him trying to forget about Nora by focusing on his softball team and hanging out with Aimee), the final scene of the episode is very similar to the ending of the book. In the book, the scene takes place at night, and Kevin is returning from a softball game, saddened to have learned in a text from Jill that Aimee moved out. The book version of the scene takes place between Kevin and Nora (and the baby); the show adds Jill (who in the book is hanging out at the Frosts’ for the first time, having been intercepted on her way to the G.R.) and the dog. The final line of the season, spoken by Nora, is also the final line of the book.


  • "Ne Me Quitte Pas" by Nina Simone (opening montage, Christine's headphones)
  • "Nothing Else Matters" by Apocalyptica (G.R. "blue" montage)
  • "A Blessing" by Max Richter (Kevin reads over Patti's grave)
  • "Andante/Reflection (End Title)" by Max Richter (Kevin's baptism)
  • "Sleepwalk" by Santo & Johnny (music in the diner)
  • "Dream" by Al Green (Kevin and Matt drive home)
  • "November" by Max Richter (Kevin in the burning G.R. house)
  • "Departure (Reflection)" (end credits)

References Edit

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 Audio Commentary
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