Episode 10: "The Prodigal Son Returns"

Note: As with all TV recaps, there are spoilers below for those who did not watch the episode. If you’re only looking for a content advisory, I’ll tell you: this HBO show, were it a movie, would be rated R for language, violence, sexual content, and thematic material, but it changes from week to week. The first commentary carried a Caveat Spectator, so you can check that out.

Earlier this summer, we ran a review by Jack Cuidon of Snowpiercer, in which he pointed out that most movies dealing with the apocalypse ask a simple question: “Are we worth saving?” In other words: when the end is near, does humanity deserve to keep existing?

It's a question that's been asked since the earliest days of man, one that seems implicit in the stories as far back as Noah's. It's asked again with Sodom and Gomorrah, and it crops up over and over. If mankind is wicked, why keep them around?

The line between apocalyptic and dystopian in part is drawn by the answer to that question. Hunger Games is dystopian, and seems to imply, in the end, that it would serve humans right if they got wiped out. A story like The Road (and perhaps against its author’s will) implies that it is the small acts of human kindness that make us worth preserving; the fact that we’re capable of loving and caring for one another means we deserve to go on as a species, even after the social order has been wiped out. Even after the rules and structures that keep the barbarians at the gates from entering have disappeared.

Even after the barbarians that reside in us have taken over.

The season finale of The Leftovers wanders tenuously down this line betwen apocalyptic ...

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Watch This Way
How we watch matters at least as much as what we watch. TV and movies are more than entertainment: they teach us how to live and how to love one another, for better or worse. And they both mirror and shape our culture.
Alissa Wilkinson
Alissa Wilkinson is Christianity Today's chief film critic and assistant professor of English and humanities at The King's College in New York City. She lives in Brooklyn.
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