'The Returned' recap: 'Simon'
Four years after dying in a bus crash, Camille returned to earth with no memory of the accident. That same day, some other dead people also found their way back among the living: Simon, Victor, and an unnamed woman. At first, it seemed like maybe they all died in the crash too—or maybe just on the same day as Camille. Then it was revealed that the unnamed woman, young with flowing black hair, left behind a now-elderly husband—meaning, unless he married much younger, she had died decades prior. The returned didn’t all die on the same date after all.
Simon, for instance, died six years ago. This episode begins with him performing onstage in a bar while Rowan, his then-fiancée, watches from the audience. They’re getting married the next day, his bandmate announces before going on a break. Rowan and Simon use this break to embrace and receive congratulations from well-wishers until Simon notices a little girl toying away at the band’s drum set. Instead of telling her off, Simon boards the stage once again to show her some drumming basics while Rowan takes a Polaroid picture of the Kodak moment. That little girl is Lena—the same Lena who just went on a walk with Dead Simon in the present day to show him where Rowan now lives.
Simon and Rowan continue their pre-marriage celebration into the morning until Rowan reveals she’s pregnant. She delivers the news with glee, but Simon’s reaction isn’t as easy to read: He buries his head in her chest and says he’s happy about it, but doesn’t have the joyous facial expression to match. This moment ordinarily wouldn’t be so significant—anyone would probably react with indecipherable shock once they find out, surprise, they’re going to be a parent—but because we know Simon’s about to die, it suddenly carries an extra-heavy weight. Did this news push him over the edge?
Flash forward to later that day, and Rowan is sitting in the church waiting for Simon to show up the wedding. She insists that he’s coming, that he’s always late, but then a police officer comes in and cuts her delusions short. We don’t hear what he says, but we do see Rowan collapse in the rose-covered aisle. He, probably, is dead—something that’s going to haunt Rowan for the years to come. That brings us to the present day:
Six years later, Rowan’s engaged to the police officer who assumedly delivered the bad news about Simon. His name is Tommy, and he says things like, “I’ve been trying to get her to marry me since, what, our second date?” He’s charming and, by all appearances, in love.
Rowan, on the other hand, seems to be talking herself into marrying him. She tells the pastor how good Tommy is to her and her daughter, but is very obviously struggling with her lingering feelings about Simon—who, she tells the pastor, she saw the ghost of the night before.
Simon is also struggling in his search for Rowan, who he eventually discovers now works at the library. He appears in the library before Rowan—and she, shockingly, reacts with a newfound calmness. “God, you are so handsome,” she tells Simon, thinking he’s a figment of her imagination. She goes on to tell him how she’ll always have feelings for him but is interrupted when a group of kids storm the library. Simon stays for a few seconds, something that caused me to hope that the kids would point him out and force Rowan to face the fact that he’s real. But after a small amount of time, he “disappears” (a.k.a. walks away).
Walking away wasn’t the smartest move though, because he soon gets stopped by police officers who think he might have something to do with Lucy’s (the sex psychic who was killed in the tunnel last week) murder. They take him to the station, where they discover the man Simon’s claiming to be is dead.
Simon is the second person they’ve questioned about the murder: the first was Tony, a bartender who they believe was guilty for a number of other similar attacks. He claims it wasn’t him though, and Tommy believes him—but Tony still seems to be hiding something. As the police officers show him photos of the many victims, he mumbles that it’s “impossible.” Tommy interrupts him before he can say anything else, but Tony’s shock hints that he knows who the killer is—and that the killer is someone he thought was gone.
If that’s the case, the killer isn’t Simon. Tony served Simon earlier that day, and he would have surely noticed if some serial killer he thought was dead was hanging out at his bar. And the police officers seem to be over that suspicion too—especially Tommy, who accuses Simon of identity theft and orders that he be locked up.
Tommy is, understandably, tripping out. Yeah, he’s accusing Simon of identity theft—but underneath, he’s thinking he’s a) going crazy or b) seeing his almost-wife’s one-time fiancé who is supposed to be dead. Either option isn’t very fun.
So he goes home later and heads up to the attic where it looks like Simon’s old stuff is. He begins sorting through some photographs, smiling at the cute selfies of Rowan, and then finds what he was looking for: a photo of Simon. The same Simon who is now in a jail cell.
NEXT: Camille runs away.
Camille has four years worth of teenage angst to unload, and she gets started right away by tearing apart Lena’s room after finding a photo of Lena and Ben—the guy they were both into four years ago—together. And then, in classic teenager fashion, she runs away to the bar.
While spying on Lena and Ben at the bar, an old classmate walks up and offers a drink. She rejects his offer and starts to cry: This classmate didn’t recognize her. She’s an outsider both in the physical sense—she’s literally on the outside of the bar looking in at her sister—and in a deeper sense. No one recognizes her, because they’ve moved on (and because the dead returning to earth isn’t something that people are accustomed to happening, so no one’s exactly on the look-out for her). It’s heartbreaking for her, someone who just wants to fit in—and who still doesn’t understand what the hell is going on.
Claire eventually finds Camille and brings her back home, where Jack is drinking (as usual). He asks where she’s been, and she responds with a line that’s intended to be poignant but comes off sort of funny: “What’s the worst that can happen? I’m already dead.”
These ridiculous kinds of lines didn’t really stand out in Les Revenants because each scene was so well acted. That’s not always the case with this one, though. Lena and Camille tend to exaggerate their roles as angst-filled teens, whereas the French versions of the characters came off as angst-filled teens, yes, but ones filled with deep sadness and confusion. Those feelings don’t shine through in this version, at least not yet.
But that’s also the problem with having an ensemble cast, especially an ensemble cast in a show dealing with as complicated emotions as this one is: No one characters gets an overwhelming amount of screen time in each episode, leaving them fumbling to define their characters in the little time they have each week. This is something that will hopefully improve over time, but for now, the overemphasis on certain attitudes—Camille’s anger, Lena’s annoyance—gets tiring to watch.
Victor is another character who comes off as sadder, more complicated in the French version. That one was creepy in an almost endearing way while this one looks like a sweet, innocent little boy—and that’s it.
Many actors in The Returned’s cast share physical similarities with the actors in Les Revenants, a decision that, so far, seems misguided: American Victor didn’t need to be brown-haired; he needed to be strange—someone you’d look at and think, “Why would a woman take this weird, probably possessed kid, into her home?” And this one, so far, isn’t. He’s just a tight-lipped, seemingly scared, boy who won’t talk to Julie.
This whole silence thing is getting old, so Julie heads to the police department to see if anyone’s filed a missing persons report for him. They haven’t. No one’s looking for poor Victor.
This discovery is about all that happens in his storyline, but Julie’s the star of a big reveal in the episode’s final moments: She takes off her shirt before getting in the bath, and the camera pans down to her belly to unveil scars—the type of scars we saw earlier in the episode when Tony was at the police station looking at photos of victims. Julie was a victim—and she could be one of the Returned, too.
Again, this episode was near-identical to the second episode of Les Revenants—and again, the mood was nowhere near as eerie, as upsetting as that one. But the story continues to be utterly engrossing, even despite how slow-moving it is: Black water came out of a drain in the beginning of the episode, but wasn’t mentioned again throughout the rest of the water. The elderly man who killed himself last week was mentioned briefly in this episode, but not in a way that provided any more information about his situation.
These mysteries, which will probably take many episodes to explain, are central to The Returned—and their execution is central to how intriguing The Returned is. Despite uneven acting and a not-odd-enough atmosphere, The Returned is doing the smart thing by not straying away from the original in terms of story. This way, it can use the strength of that story to hold it up during its beginning—the rockiest part of any series—while the actors find their footing. By the time The Returned does veer from Les Revenants—which Carlton Cuse promised it would—the show will hopefully be strong enough on its own terms to merit a big narrative change. For now, though, the series comes off as more of a run-of-the-mill drama with some supernatural elements—not a poignant, game-changing one like Les Revenants was.
The Returned (A+E)