As The Returned returns for Season 2, we look back at the first season – and tell you what you need to know to catch up.
It feels like a long time since The Returned first chilled spines up and down the UK – and with good reason. The show arrived on our screens all the way back in 2013, a haunting spell that lasted just eight episodes, before fading into the ether, replaced by thousands of other TV series. But as Fabrice Gobert’s French drama returns on Friday 16th October on More4, it’s telling just how much of a chill still remains.
Based on the 2004 film of the same name (Les Revenants), Gobert’s series follows a sleepy French village where the deceased begin coming back to life. But make no mistake: this is no fast-paced thriller or bloody horror. This is something else entirely. The Returned belongs to a select club of modern shows that treat their fantasy and horror premises as a springboard for something else – it makes a smart companion piece to BBC’s In the Flesh, which used the undead as a metaphor for prejudice against homosexuals. Here, our zombies aren’t brain-munching beasts to be splattered, AMC-stye. These walking dead have their own feelings and desires. It’s working out what they are that’s the problem.
Gobert’s story keeps the motives of the dead mysterious throughout – but if it resists offering answers, it doesn’t shy away from asking questions. After all, it’s not just one body strolling the streets; it’s a veritable horde.
There’s Camille (Yara Pilartz), who walks back into her family’s house after dying in a schoolbus crash four years ago – a shocking opening sequence that sets the stage nicely for the show’s blend of delicate direction and disturbing darkness. There’s handsome Simon (the tall drink of water that is Pierre Perrier), who’s still pining for his almost-wife Adele (Clotilde Hesme). There’s Serge, a serial killer who stalks the town once more, bumping up local pub waitress Lucy, who has her own bizarre connection to the departed.
Each member of the group has their own unique story, which carries with it a different insight into human grief. Camille (played with trembling tragedy by the excellent Pilartz) finds herself reunited with her twin sister, Lena – but, in a subtle touch, the two are no longer the same age, leaving her out of step with the kids she tries to assimilate with. Adele, meanwhile, finds herself back in love with her former flame, unsure whether he’s real or not – an issue that becomes particularly pregnant, given that she’s currently shacked up with the local chief of police (and has raised a child from her old relationship with him).
The most memorable one of the bunch, though, is Victor, a small boy who is taken in by a kind-hearted resident, despite the fact that he looks every inch the terrifying child you’d expect to find in a scary tale. Played by Swann Nambotin with an unblinking stare, he’s pale, he’s quiet and he’s utterly petrifying.
As the various plotlines unfold, the series manages to maintain its drip-feed of fear and melancholy without breaking its spell – an incredible achievement (compared to many high-concept shows that lose steam halfway) that is helped in no small part by the soundtrack. Composed by Mogwai before the show was even written, the score lingers in the air like a fog, all looping pianos and wooden sticks; a metronome counting down the minutes until life runs out. DoP Patrick Blossier, meanwhile, shoots everything at dusk, giving the stunning village of Annecy an unnatural, otherworldly look. It’s a mood pooem as much as a piece of television, a mix of Twin Peaks and Let the Right One In, at once both beautiful and creepy.
It’s the central conceit, though, that allows each of the show’s elements to enchant: by treating the supernatural as something real, the dead become humans rather than monsters, while the humans – paralysed in their mourning and terror – come across like the stiffs. One scene sees Camille attempt to reassure a couple by pretending to talk to their passed-away child. The result? They believe there’s an afterlife and kill themselves to get there. The Returned is a show where corpses can have good intentions, but where life, even if the problem of death seems solved, is never that simple. Clever, gripping and fascinatingly open-ended, it’s been two years since audiences parted ways with The Returned, but it’s impossible to have moved on.
Season 2 of The Returned starts on Friday 16th October at 9pm on More4. Season 1 is available to catch up with for free on All 4 and on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.
Season 1 of The Returned: 6 things we want to know (spoilers)
What is up with Victor?
We discover that Victor has the ability to make others see visions of dead people – something that confirms his status as Properly Creepy Child. More worryingly, though, he was also the one who caused the schoolbus crash, appearing in the middle of the road and causing the vehicle to swerve. What was he doing there? And did it have a wider purpose?
What’s up with Adele’s baby?
What do you do when your ex-fiance returns from the dead? Get knocked up by him, of course – something that leaves the hordes of the undead at the end of the series clamouring for her baby to join them. What, exactly, will the child be like? Whatever the answer, you can be it’d get on well with Victor.
Why is there water everywhere?
Throughout the series, water has been connected with the dead – Camille’s coffin, when her family dig it up, is found to be full of the wet stuff, while the town’s dam has been threatening to burst for ages. The show’s finale sees most of the living holed up in Pierre’s Helping Hand shelter (where he’s stockpiled up supplies to survive the apocalypse), only to discover, the morning after, that the village has been flooded and the police protecting the shelter – not to mention the zombies – have all disappeared.
Who, or what, is Lucy?
The barmaid who is killed by serial killer Serge, Lucy returns herself (naturally), ending up as something of a leader in the undead circles. But she’s already singled herself out as someone with secrets: when sleeping with people, she can connect with the other side – a neat play on Le Petit Mort – so who, or what, is she?
What do the scars mean?
While Camille tries to assimilate into the local teen community, her twin, Lena, finds she has a range of weird scars on her body – the same kind of scars that have been appearing on zombies. Lena, meanwhile, runs away, ending up in the woods where finds a strange gathering around a fire. What does it all mean? Apart from us not being able to sleep at night, obviously.
What will happen next?
Season 1 ends with a stand-off between the dead and the living, with Camille and Victor demanded to depart the village with the horde. Camille’s mum and Julie (Victor’s de facto guardian) agree to let them go, only on the condition that they accompany them. But to where do they go? And to what ends? Whatever the answer, at least there’ll be more pretty music to listen to.