This year for my Halloween costume I wore one of those garbage bags that looks like a Jack o'lantern, and stuffed it with the remainder of my clean clothing (tank tops, dress socks, etc.). I spent the whole night inside my three-story townhouse doing a Ouija board all alone while some teenagers egged my garage door for an hour straight. As I listened to the rhythmic pelting, I realized the hooligans were morse-coding extremely hurtful remarks. To make matters worse, the only spirit I was able to summon just asked me really specific questions about the "Affordable Care Act," which I was not equipped to answer, and the horehound candy I made shattered all four of my wisdom teeth. It was a real Bummer-O-Ween, that is, until I watched the first episode of Sundance Channel’s "The Returned," an excellent supernatural import from France that began its eight-episode run this very evening.
An adaptation of the 2004 film They Came Back (or Les Revenants for the French of tongue), this Fabrice Gobert-helmed pilot concerned itself with doing just two things, and doing them thoroughly: establishing how life in this town continued after the deaths of members of its community, and allowing the show's characters plenty of time to accept the central phenomenon. Where I come from, people DON’T return from beyond the grave, and this show does a convincing job of illustrating the rich stewpot of emotions that would occur if a dead person inexplicably came back into your life.
That Jerome (Frederic Pierrot) and his estranged wife Claire (Anne Consigny) were all, "This can’t be happening, but gosh I did miss our little baby girl smoke-smoke-smoke," was a very human response. Who hasn’t imagined a dead loved one just kind of doing normal things like fixing a ham sammie in the kitchen, and then been completely devastated by the split-second apparition in our mind’s eye? You’re happy for the same memories that mess with your heart. That’s the "terrifying and amazing" sensation The Returned lives in.
Story-wise there’s a lot to explore here. From Camille’s (Yara Pilartz) point of view, she’s rightly defensive about her family’s wariness. It’s not her fault she died in a bus crash that went on to ruin the lives of both her parents and her "close" sibling Lena (a magnificent Jenna Thiam). From her family’s point of view, they’re learning how to mitigate the painful associations they have with her memory. Her death understandably made a lasting impression on Jerome, Claire, and Lena, but where are they supposed to put their feelings now that she’s undone the source of hurt? For Lena especially—as we learned in the kind of reveal this show seems quite confident in pulling off—Camille’s return bears extra importance, as the now-aged identical twin feels renewed guilt over missing the deadly bus trip in order to lose her virginity to Frederic, a known crush of her sister's. Drama much?
Hinting at further angles to make us all curl up in the shower and sob, the wild-eyed Simon (Pierre Perrier) wondered why Adele (Clotilde Hesme) rejected him and moved on to the tune of a new family herself, while the pie-eyed Victor (Swann Nambotin) acted as the wordless, living question mark that is this supernatural happening (while, in a clever dovetail, also acting as the physical reason the bus went over the cliff in the first place). Every other character had an association with the deceased, and thus dramatically responded to that, while Victor's puppy-dog relationship with Julie (Celine Sallette) was a reminder of all the straight-up initial mystery that remained in the background. WHY IS THIS ALL HAPPENING? Also, as no story is complete without a villain, a mysterious serial killer seems to have returned with the normies. Not to mention what’s going on with the decreasing lake level. Wow, all this in just the first hour? Sign me up!
It helps that this world feels like a horror movie, but without any jump scares. Rain is pouring, there are slow-tracking shots down dimly lit hallways, a wordless child appears from the shadows—but there’s largely no threat to cap off the suspense. That’s not the game being played here. If anything, the "monster" lurking in the closet waiting to attack these characters is the concept of unexplainable emotional pain. Mogwai’s excellent soundtrack builds tension not to cause anguish, but to enhance the feeling of "What is happening and why?" Gobert lets us exist in that moment of suspense until we accept the feeling of extended mystery as a tonal norm, just as life itself can be one giant, unsolvable riddle.
So with about as strong a pilot as any television show can pull off, The Returned looks to be the kind of program you hope for as a viewer: one that asks big questions while entertaining you in a familiar, yet groundbreaking sort of way.
Thanks for reading, bye!
– Who’s your favorite character?
– What was your favorite scene?
– What’s going on between Jerome and Lucy?
– Where did Mr. Costa’s wife go?
– What’s going on with the water level?
– Did you like the debut of The Returned?
AIRED ON 12/17/2012
Season 1 : Episode 8