Everyone's families are a mess.

By Ariana Bacle
October 31, 2015 at 07:54 PM EDT
Sundance TV
  • TV Show

When people hear that The Returned is about a group of people who’ve returned to live among the living after their deaths, they usually respond by assuming the French drama is about zombies. They’re wrong. Despite it being anything from a run-of-the-mill zombie-centric drama, it is a horror though — a subtle, emotional, heartbreaking horror, but a horror. And that is hugely apparent in the first episode of its second season.

Last season ended with the so-called horde trying to take back all its undead members. Camille (and her living mother, Claire), Victor (and his living caretaker, Julie), and Simon all go, but the horde’s not satisfied: They’re missing Adèle’s unborn child, who the dead Simon happens to be the father of. Grey’s Anatomys characters aren’t the only ones in the world of television having sex with the dead, apparently.

The new season picks up six months after this event, which happened the night a flood wrecked the whole town. Adèle and Chloé — along with a small group of other locals, including the Helping Hand crew — are still there, and Adèle is still pregnant. But she doesn’t want to be. Each scene of the pregnant Adèle plays like a European version of Rosemary’s Baby, except unlike in Rosemary’s Baby, Adèle has long known that something is definitely not right with her baby.

For example, the few times we see Adèle’s bare stomach, the baby is trying to punch its way out. Something else strange: Adèle assumed she was six months pregnant, as that was when she had sex with Simon, but a doctor tells her the fetus looks more like it’s eight months old.

She spends most of the episode in a dim hospital, where the staff is insisting they need to force a delivery as soon as possible. Adèle, weak and afraid, tells Father Jean-François she wants to go home, she doesn’t want the baby — and then admits that Simon is the father, and that she’s tried to abort this baby several times. One of those times was earlier in this episode, assumedly: She’s rushed to the hospital after falling down the stairs, which her own daughter thinks she did on purpose. Her horrified, teary-eyed look following Jean-François’ pronouncement that the baby is fine doesn’t help her case that the fall was accidental.

Despite her efforts, Adèle is stuck with the baby — and stuck in the town. The ambulance tried to take her to a hospital on the other side of the valley, as theirs is closed except for the emergency department, but something wouldn’t let them. The same thing happens later in the episode when cops are trying to take a new bus victim named Audrey home. The car inexplicably starts turning toward a dirt road and then goes farther and farther down this road as the driving cop grapples with the fact that his car just developed a mind of its own.

This seems like a strategy for the horde to get the dearly departed back on their side, which is strange because in both instances, the driver fails to get to that other side. Both the ambulance and the police car either stop themselves or the driver stops them — it’s not clear which one. But if the car is indeed possessed by the horde, why would they give the drivers the control to stop?

NEXT: The horde gets a new member

Once the car does stop, a scared Audrey jumps out and runs deep into the woods (because that is definitely less scary than being in a car with an officer trying to take you home to your family). Then something strange, even for The Returned, happens: Audrey points her flashlight toward a bald human-creature that looks straight out of a Ryan Murphy show. This creature — because I don’t know what else to call it at this point — doesn’t appear again throughout the episode, and the one glimpse we get of it doesn’t provide much to go off of.

This isn’t just strange because of it’s appearance, though. Even as a supernatural drama of sorts, The Returned usually manages to maintain a high level of visual realism — but this creature doesn’t look like something you’d see anywhere. Is this The Returned taking a step toward the more fantastical? Or is this a human, just one with some atypical looks?

We don’t get to find out, because Lucy approaches Audrey and orders her to come with her on a journey to the horde’s side, a dark suburb filled with quiet streets and nice houses. There, Lucy introduces Audrey to Claire and Camille, who then take her in and wrestle with whether or not to tell her what is happening to her. And if you weren’t clear on whether Audrey is dead or alive, it becomes obvious when she tells them how hungry she is (one of the returned’s main tells is that they’re always hungry — they have a lot of years spent without food to make up for, after all).

Once Audrey finds out that Claire and Camille are keeping something from her, she promptly freaks out and starts screaming. They encourage her to shush, as the horde is attracted to noise. Or maybe they just want to investigate when there’s noise? Either way, they start congregating around the house as soon as Audrey starts being loud. Talk about neighborhood creeps.

Simon’s also hanging out in Dead Suburbia after doing some investigating in the real world, where he found out that Adèle is in the hospital and the baby is on his way. He reports back to Lucy with the news, and they share a kiss after she expresses her joy that they’re all going to be reunited. Lucy’s never seemed quite with it — don’t forget that she was first introduced as someone who claimed to communicate with the dead, but only during sex — but this is a whole new level of madness. It’s not your baby, Lucy! Not one bit! (…right?)

Back at the hospital, Adèle is fretting about her potential demon-child, and Toni is getting treated after Berg — a new guy who’s in town to investigate the dam — accidentally hits him with his car. Trick’s on the doctors though, because Toni’s dead after shooting himself in the stomach in last season’s finale. Berg hit him just as he was returning.

NEXT: No one believes that Toni’s already dead

He wakes up on the gurney and insists on seeing his brother, who, from the looks of a dead stag with its insides eaten out, is back on the killing wagon. Léna thinks they should tell the staff that he’s dead, but Pierre butts in and says no, it’ll put him in danger. That’s when probably the scariest moment of the entire episode happens: Léna’s father shows up looking more disheveled than ever. He has some unwieldy hair going on, his eyes are blank. It appears Claire and Camille missing has completely destroyed him.

It doesn’t help that the police don’t believe him that Toni and Camille died and then came back. An officer takes him into questioning once he arrives at the hospital to check on Toni, and without Pierre there to guide him, he tells the officer everything. This doesn’t matter, though, because the officer clearly just thinks Jérôme is crazy from grief. He’s not entirely wrong — but Jérôme isn’t wrong about Toni and Camille, either.

On the topic of missing children, this brings us to Victor, who Julie lovingly accompanied to the other side. He doesn’t show up until the very end of the episode, when we see him scribbling drawings of people and asking Julie if she’ll always be with him. She finally promises yes, then goes downstairs to find a visitor. The visitor is Victor’s mom.

In an episode filled with surprises, this is perhaps the most intriguing one: Julie’s had an intense connection with Victor ever since they found one another, but it seems impossible for them to continue their mother-son relationship when his actual mother is present. What do you do though when you join the dead to be with someone who doesn’t need you anymore? Surely they won’t let Julie cross back over willy-nilly.

It was a long wait for this season — about two years. The first season finale left viewers with a hell of a cliffhanger, but not necessarily one that needed a resolution right this second. And that’s good, because this premiere didn’t give any resolutions. The Returned succeeds partly because of its mystery, and it’s very likely that this mystery is more interesting than the reality of whatever is actually going in. Promises of answers, or answers themselves, would run the risk of spoiling the show’s horror elements, which rely on the audience knowing about as little as the characters do.

With that said, I could theorize why everything is happening and what I think is going to happen. But that doesn’t seem right, at least not at this point in the show — The Returned pushes viewers to accept that you can’t know everything, that some things are truly unexplainable, no matter how disturbing they might be. Trying to figure out the reasons behind these occurrences seems contrary to that, and also useless: I honestly don’t have the faintest idea why the returned returned. And as long as the show continues to stay its horrifying, sad, beautiful self, that is completely okay.  

Les Revenants (The Returned) Sundance series
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  • 10/31/13
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