The season finale of The Leftovers is filled with turning points for the Garvey family and Mapleton as a whole. WatchingTheLeftovers.com connected with director and co-executive producer Mimi Leder to discuss Season 1's final installment. For Leder, "The Prodigal Son Returns" is about delving "deep into the characters' grief and their struggles to somehow try to come out the other end." Below, the director takes us inside specific moments from the episode.
The Cold Open
The first scene of the episode shows Kevin lighting up next to Patti's corpse.
"Damon selected that piece of music, which was a stroke of genius. Nina Simone is saying: 'Don't leave me.' It's a very sad and beautiful song about abandonment." I designed the sequence. I wanted the shot to start on the shard of glass, and have Kevin see his reflection in a pool of blood. Then I chose to do a corkscrew shot from Patti's face into this high angle. I could have done a straight pull-up, but I felt that the corkscrew was more evocative – as a way to unwind this crazy journey which took all these twists and turns."
Kevin reads a Bible passage over Patti's body.
"This scene was very difficult. Even playing dead, Ann Dowd was mesmerizing to watch. The burying of her character was very emotional for all of us. Everyone was moved by Justin [Theroux]'s reading of the passage. He jumped into the deep end without flinching. He was sublime."
Kevin washes himself after Patti's burial.
"I told the actors, 'This is a baptism.' I told Chris Eccleston, 'You are, in your mind, doing the baptism without any words' and I told Justin, 'You are cleansing this past off of you.' It's a renewal. We worked very hard to position him in the light so the water would trickle off his body, and the blood would drip off his arms."
Nora finds the Loved Ones modeled after her family.
"The discovery of those Loved Ones was the most horrific and frightening thing to shoot and Carrie Coon went to the inner depths of her soul to let out that howl, which actually, you can't hear, but you can feel to your toes. When we come back to her, we see her sitting there with her Loved Ones in a beautiful tableau of the nuclear family. I asked her to hold their hands, as she would with her children, and caress them. It was very powerful."
Kevin meets the fatally wounded Holy Wayne, who offers Kevin a wish.
"Paterson Joseph, who plays Holy Wayne, is a brilliant actor. He kept telling me, 'I don't die very well.' And I kept saying, 'I think you can do it well!' It was beautiful. I thought it was a real chance for his character to expose his biggest fears: Am I real or am I a fraud? Our approach to that scene was to tell the truth and to be as simple as possible.
Justin had just come through many scenes of crying. This was a different layer of going to the next level. Here he is, meeting a man who – although Kevin has no idea – has had so much influence on his son's life. And then Wayne dies and Kevin is literally looking into a dead man's eyes, wondering, 'What the hell just happened?'"
Mapleton responds to the Guilty Remnant's stunt.
"The Leftovers is not an action show, so to go all out and play action music just didn't feel right in the context of the story. The incredible, mesmerizing Max Richter music really helped define that sequence and the emotion of it. Kevin, at this point, has come through quite a journey to discover that Mapleton is not the town he left. His family is his only connection to his past life. He wanted to leave them, and now he desperately wants to save them."
Tom Garvey comes across his mother at Memorial Park.
"I had the idea that this scene was set in Memorial Park, where it all began. Laurie looks up at that statue, at that baby – and now we know that there was a baby inside of her the day of the Departure. In the aftermath of the burning down of the cul-de-sac, Laurie walks away from Kevin and Jill. She is completely disillusioned by the last eight months of her life. Was the G.R. a sham? Everything that she was holding onto is now in ash.
I found this little jetty off of the park. I wanted Laurie to walk and look into the ocean, and really see the depths of her life. I said to Chris Zylka, who plays Tommy, 'You've given up the baby, and perhaps this is a place where your mom used to take you.' It's by chance that he went there, but the actors and I felt it was a place where they had been many times before. This was 'their place.'"