Tag Archives: The Returned

End of Season Report: The Returned

28 Feb

The Returned

I’m about to say something I don’t say particularly often about a season of television.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything remotely like the first season of The Returned. Different aspects of the show do resemble other pieces of culture, but all put together, I can’t put a finger on anything that similar. It took me several episodes before I could even attempt at all to pin down the show’s mood and genre – it was a horror show, then it wasn’t, then it was, then it wasn’t, until, well, very clearly at the end it was.

That being said, I’m not sure how much of a boon its level of uniqueness was, and how much of it was a show that couldn’t decide what it wanted to be, and maybe lost something because of it. I do like the show, and I do think there’s a lot worth watching for, and especially in the first few episodes, I started to really want to dig further and further into the world.

However, as the show went further on, I wasn’t sure whether I liked the direction it was going in – I liked some decisions, not as much others. The final episode that put me back as unsure of how much I like the show as I was after the first episode, as the events of that episode totally reset the calculus for what to expect going forward. The first season finale could be a completely mysterious stand alone ending, but as there seems to be a second season, I have absolutely no idea where exactly this show is going.

Let’s take a step back. The Returned is about a small French town in which dead locals start coming back to life. The primary “returned’ we see are Camille, a teenager who died in a bus crash, Simon, a depressed man who killed himself on his wedding day, Victor, a little boy, and Serge, a serial killer, who was buried alive by his brother after the brother found out what Serge did.

The four come back, and reengage with their former families with varied results. A lot has changed since each of them has gone, and there’s a lot of old wounds reopened. It’s equally difficult for both the returned and those who remained alive the entire time;. It’s certainly not the fault of the the returned that they’re coming back, and that they’re made to feel like they’re now screwing up everybody’s lives which have finally moved past their tragic deaths seems overly cruel. At the same time, the return is difficult to grapple with for the living. On top of simply making peace with the supernatural angle and lack of science behind the dead returning, the living are afraid to get too close, because they don’t know what’s going on or how long it will last. In the case of Simon, his ex-fiance only learns for the first time that he killed himself, changing the entire way she views his death, which she had thought of merely as an awful tragedy rather than him leaving her in the lurch. In Serge’s case, his brother Toni feels horrible for killing him, even knowing what he’d done, and views his return as some sort of payback/chance to make amends.

On top of this emotional reconnection and family drama, there’s plenty psychological trauma, which is tense and thriller-esque but not necessarily straight out horror. Camille tells parents whose children died as part of the same crash that their children are well and looking forward to seeing them in the afterlife, which leads two of the parents to hang themselves, hoping to reunite with their child. A recent addition to the town, Lucy Clarkson, who came out of nowhere and worked at the local bar (the delightfully named Lake Pub – two of the only English words spoken in the series), communications with men’s dead relatives while having sex with them (that that premise doesn’t come off as as goofy as it sounds is a tribute to the sedate and ominous mood of the show – humor is not an element even in the slightest in The Returned). Hundreds of dead animals have turned up, drowned, after running away from something unidentified, but scarier than the possibility of drowning.

And then, well, there’s the straight out horror. Victor, the little boy, has some sort of ability to make people see visions and inflict pain upon themselves – he’s a version of the horror trope of the creepy kid with powers. Most importantly, the final episode ends with the returned, led by Lucy Clarkson, possibly now a returned herself, after being attacked early in the series by the Returned Serge. The power’s gone out in the town, and the townsfolk, along with Camille and Victor, are gathered in the local shelter for those in need. The returned demand that the townspeople hand over  Camille and Victor. The townspeople, disappointingly comply, without a fight, led by police officer Thomas, my least favorite character in the show who I was constantly rooting against. After they’ve handed them over, the townspeople buckle down inside the shelter, while policemen guard on the outside. When they open the door after a tumultuous night, they find the policemen all gone and the town entirely flooded. Season over.

I repeat, I have absolutely no fucking idea what to make of this series. I am pretty sure I prefer the first two dynamics I mentioned to the out and out horror – the ending is creepy as all fuck, but less satisfying to me, though admittedly I’m not a horror junkie. I like the show best when it’s playing on the deeper emotional themes stirred by the returned. I did enjoy the first leap towards darkness – the parents’ hanging themselves gave me exactly the sort of chills which I was looking for here, which was a horrific image rooted in a somewhat understandable reaction. The supernatural mingles with the real, and there’s an affecting punch that really resonates. The horde of dead come to claim their brethren from the living? It’s terrifying but it doesn’t really work with those themes I enjoyed from the early episodes about the powers of time and loss..

I’ll be watching the second season, if only to know where this is going and what’s coming next. Less so directly next, in a cliffhanger fashion, and more in, just what direction is all of this headed in. The Returned was interesting, very original, and very ominous; I just wish it had held back one degree from going full horror, which I would think would have made for more nuanced and ambiguous place for the show to live.

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Fall 2013 Review: The Returned

13 Dec

A returned

The Returned is a French show, which first aired in the fall of 2012, but which recently made its stateside debut on the Sundance Channel, a channel which has already seen strong outings this year from Top Of the Lake and Rectify.

I love shows that are not easily characterized or categorized because that usually means that they are new and interesting and The Returned is both. It may be more clear what direction Returned is heading in after a few more episodes, and there are a few logical general options but I have absolutely no idea which and I’m glad.

Let’s take it from the beginning. Four years ago before the show’s present, a bus full of children embarking on a school trip topples over a cliff on a tricky piece of road, killing everyone on board. Or so it seems.

In the present, all is not well, and the people of the French town in which The Returned takes place are still grappling with the tragic events of four years prior. The parents are meeting in a regular group where they discuss a memorial being built in honor of the dead children. Tensions are still high, and some parents are dealing better than others. Clearly these adult relationships have been shaken up and some broken up by the events. Camille, one of the girls who died in the crash, seems to be the central figure in the show, and her parents have separated, while her twin sister, who feigned illness to get away from the trip is a fun-loving but possibly guilt-ridden 19-year old.

Camille, four years after she died, just picks up and walks into her house, the same age she was when she died, remembering nothing, and her mother is terrified, overjoyed, and above all confused, displaying the entire array of emotions one would expect to if faced with a similar situation. She calls Camille’s father, who naturally doesn’t believe her, until he sees Camille with her own eyes. He leans more toward the scared beyond belief side of the scale with his reaction.

Camille isn’t the only one who comes back; there’s also a young man seeking his girlfriend, who appears to have moved on without him, and there’s a young boy who returns to the apartment in which he believes he lives, leaving the current resident who doesn’t recognize the boy frustrated and confused.  People are returning from not just the bus crash but from earlier deaths as well. An old man is disturbed when his wife returns from the grave; he burns his house down and kills himself in reaction.

There’s a lot bound up here. There’s obviously supernatural and horror elements, as people coming back from the grave pretty much rules out reality or likely science fiction (yes, there’s a way to make this premise science fiction – but this isn’t that).

The story is intriguing on its own without any deeper themes, as it should be to keep the viewer involved. This is a slow, subtle supernatural show. There’s no huge opening event involved comparable to those in the bloated supernatural and sci-fi broadcast network shows like Lost, The Event, Revolution, or Terra Nova. It’s quiet and makes you figure out the questions, which are, to be fair, pretty obvious, rather than asking them extremely loudly. And those big questions are there just as they are in those other shows – namely – why are these people coming back, and since I’m not sure there’s a way to answer that satisfactorily, at least, what does this mean for the town?

There’s also, and this is what separates merely suspenseful shows which can certainly be enjoyable but depend heavily on satisfying answers and conclusions, with shows one tier greater, a deeper personal level to the drama beyond the plot, through strongly written characters, dialogue, and stories. The grappling of the parents with their tragedy reminds me of the all-too real situation faced by the people of Newton, Connecticut. Fissures break under that type of pressure and tragedy.

The big thematic question seemingly dealt with is in The Returned, at least through one episode, is how people respond to the return of something they had thought lost forever, and which they had made, if not peace with, at least some sort of resolution. They had survived by slowly but surely moving on. Early in the episode, during the parents’ support group, one parent makes that exact point; the tragedy is still poignant but things have gotten better – people simply can’t linger in that tragedy at those initial depths forever and live with themselves. Even in this episode everyone deals with the returned people in different ways; happiness, denial, confusion, fear, and any number of emotions in between and combining these.

This combination of mysterious, subtle suspenseful story with fascinating characterization and personal situations is a winning one, one episode in.

Will I watch the next episode? Yes. I’m curious. I’m not sold the show will be amazing yet, but very few shows can that confidently promise that in one episode. I am honestly curious where the show is going and what’s going on, and if a show can make me feel that way after its first episode it’s doing its job.