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'The Returned' recap: 'The Returned'

Posted on

SundanceTV

The Returned

type:
TV Show
Current Status:
In Season
tvpgr:
TV-MA
seasons:
2
run date:
10/31/13
performer:
Pierre Perrier, Yara Pilartz
broadcaster:
Sundance Channel
genre:
Drama

The Returned has always been about goodbyes — the goodbyes you didn’t get, the goodbyes you said but wish you didn’t have to, the goodbyes you ache at the mere thought of. So it’s fitting that the season 2 finale, which could work beautifully as a series finale if that’s what it comes to, ended with plenty of them.

Out of all of them though, perhaps the most poignant is Camille’s final goodbye to her family. Early in the episode, she points out her decomposing skin to her father as proof that she can’t stay with them, that she needs return to the others. He’s in denial, insisting that they’ll just take her to the hospital once they skip town. Ah, if only a hospital could solve this problem.

The four — plus Chloé, whom Adèle predictably ditched — get in the car and attempt to drive out, but end up running into Frederic. The reunion includes no pleasantries, no hugs. Instead, Frederic shoots Camille (milliseconds later, Claire shoots him in response). Camille dies soon after.

Shortly before Camille died for the first time, Léna had sex for the first time. As she felt the pangs of orgasm from the comfort of her bed, Camille also felt a jolt despite being in a bus probably miles away (and despite, you know, not actually having sex with anyone). Now it’s years later, and as Virgil attempts to revive Camille, Léna has a physical reaction that mirrors Camille’s as she wakes from her unconscious state. When Camille says goodbye to her grieving sister minutes later, she means it when she says they’ll always be together. 

Léna and Camille’s bond is uncharacteristically sentimental for a show as dark as this, but that’s not a bad thing — actually, it’s refreshing to see something a little cheesy in this world. The Returned — despite being a show about dead people coming back to the mortal world — has always been a stunningly realistic portrayal of real-life emotions: the grief, the confusion, the frustration. Léna’s heartbroken reaction to her sister leaving her once again is no exception, and Camille’s insistence that their bond transcends life and death isn’t either.

Some grief counselors say that your relationship with the dead doesn’t stop once the person dies. Sure, you can’t have two-sided conversations or experiences with them anymore, but thinking about them and remembering them and honoring them is a relationship in itself, one that continues to grow even years after the dearly departed depart. It’s a lovely (and helpful) way to frame death, and Camille and Léna’s bond perfectly encapsulates that very idea that death doesn’t have to be — and isn’t — the end. 

Adèle didn’t believe this though. As Simon discovers, she cut her wrists because she “didn’t want to be alone anymore.” Esteban’s parents did the same thing, hoping that they’d be reunited with their late son on the other side. It’s a testament to The Returned’s commitment to its tone that it hasn’t yet reunited Esteban with his dead parents, and that Adèle’s attempted suicide didn’t end with her back with Simon. If those things did happen, The Returned would be making a simplistic, dangerous statement that suicide does work, that it does give the person the very thing they wish for when they end their own life. This show knows that there aren’t solutions as uncomplicated as that, especially to problems as complex as loneliness and grief.

NEXT: Adèle and Simon finally get their wedding[pagebreak]

Adèle does end up getting what she wanted, though it’s not clear how: Simon takes her to the cave where the feral dead live, and the two end up coming out on the open, sunny side dressed in their wedding day outfits. Their ceremony of sorts could signal that Adèle is also dead, but it seems more likely that this is a marriage of life and death just as Nathan is a child born from both life and death. Like Léna and Camille’s relationship, Simon and Adèle’s is not confined to one side. It’s just awful that their relationship continuing apparently means abandoning Chloé — and Nathan.

Alcide successfully kidnapped Nathan just as Lucy wanted, and it turns out that the little guy might be the next Victor. This storyline hasn’t exactly paid off over the season, even when, in the finale’s final moment, Lucy drops him off on an unsuspecting families’ doorstep. He’s someone else’s problem now. 

Victor’s trajectory is much more intriguing, namely his ability to change things: A flashback to Mr. Lewanski falling in the kitchen reveals that Victor brought him back to life, and that he also unintentionally brought a bunch of the other dead back to life that same night. That’s right when Simon and Camille came back, and that night is the one when Victor met Julie. 

Julie and Victor’s relationship is inexplicably strong, so strong that Julie purposely falls into a hole so that she can be with her adopted son forevermore. This is the image that Victor’s been dreaming about for episodes now. Etienne (the dam’s builder and Berg’s father) reminds him that he can change things if he wants, so the next thing we see is the other recurring dream of Julie on a beach. And then, back to the present day, she wakes up near the side of the hole with Victor by her side. He changed things.

At this point, she’s wet, showing that perhaps Victor filled the previously empty hole with water so that when Julie fell, she just fell into a pool. But whatever he did ended in a happy ending (maybe?) for the two: That beach dream he has comes true. The episode ends with Victor near the shore with Julie and the cute nurse, all having a seemingly normal and great time. In true Returned fashion though, this joyous scene ends on a mysterious, potentially ominous note: Victor’s happy expression turns to one of deep concern once he gets out of the water and hears a baby crying. 

After season 1 ended, the idea of never seeing The Returned again seemed unfathomable. The show continued as a powerful meditation on grief and unanswered questions in this second season, but now, the idea of it being over is a little easier to swallow. Mysteries are exhausting, both in life and in fiction. That doesn’t mean watching The Returned this season wasn’t fulfilling and entertaining and thought-provoking — it was all of those things — but it does mean that watching The Returned this season could sometimes be a weirdly (and not always pleasantly) affecting experience that sucked me right into the scarily dark world it created. Television can be an escape or it can be a mirror, and The Returned managed to be both those things, often at the same time. That is a beautiful feat to accomplish, and also a jarring one.

All of this is to say that The Returned ending right here wouldn’t be the worst thing — and that it’d be thematically appropriate: If we’ve learned anything from the show, it’s that there are no tidy conclusions or answers to anything. Even fictional television shows.

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