Halt: If you haven’t watched Season 1 of The Returned, it’s streaming on Netflix and is only 8 episodes; get on it! And if you watched Season 1 of A&E’s version, here’s a guide to who’s who in the French series, as well as a Season 1 catchup.
No international TV series really reaches big-time status in the U.S. without getting a (typically ill-fated) American remake. The Returned (titled Les Revenants in France, airing with subtitles here on SundanceTV) got its own American version on A&E last year, and while it was by no means terrible, it failed to conjure the original’s haunting atmosphere and Alpine-set predestination of horror. And despite The Returned dealing with the resurrected dead who appear healthy and normal and don’t want to eat anyone’s flesh, it most certainly is a horror series.
For those keeping count, The Returned started off as a movie in France (They Came Back), became a book, and then a TV show (Les Revenants), which was remade into two American series: one loosely based on it (The Returned, U.S. edition), and one so loosely based it almost doesn’t warrant a real comparison (Resurrection). Still, none have yet touched Les Revenants’ visual heights and emotional depths, with a simmering soundtrack by Mogwai that augments its foggy uncertainties.
In Season 1, The Returned (by which I strictly mean Les Revenants from here on out) introduced a young girl, Camille (Yara Pilartz), who was killed in a bus crash several years before. She came home, shocking her family and the town, and appeared to be the first of many formerly dead citizens coming back and looking to reconnect with their old lives. The season drew out the question of whether or not these returned peoples were good, evil, or something else. They aren’t ghosts (Adèle, played by Clotilde Hesme, ends up getting pregnant after sleeping with her formerly dead fiancé, Pierre Perrier’s Simon), but they also don’t seem to know what they are, or why they are back.
The first season’s finale ended with a deluge of water and supernatural events, including the disappearance of a great number of police officers attacking the safe house Helping Hand, where many of the returned were holed up. In that aftermath, there was a divide, as a huge number of “Le Horde” separated themselves from the living, with a few (like Camille’s mother Claire, played by Anne Consigny, and Céline Sallette’s Julie) choosing life among the dead on the other side of the flooded town.
It was a strange and confusing way to end what had otherwise been a very thoughtful, surprisingly realistic, and slow-burning season, and how the show planned to continue was its biggest lingering question. But while Season 2 takes a little while to get going, it does reasonably find a way to incorporate that mythology, and even expands upon it to deliver far more frightful teases than Season 1, in a more overt manner.
But Season 2 also feels far more scattered, which impacts its emotional strengths. In the first season, each episode focused on a new returned person, enriching the story and building to its final fever pitch. Season 2 also introduces new returned figures, but the additions leave little time for a focus on Season 1 favorites. Lena (Jenna Thiam) is mostly reduced to storming around in a huff, angry at her father Jérôme (Frédéric Pierrot), who has been developing conspiracy theories. Pierre (Jean-Francois Sivadier) is running Helping Hand now as a cult with mixed motivations, and many of the new returned are having trouble adjusting across the newly-formed lake. But the major focus of the first few episodes is Adèle’s half-zombie baby, who she at first rejects, fearing his powers and the part he may play in these dark happenings.
Where the new season shines, though, is in the gathering of its mysteries. A new specialist, Berg (Laurent Lucas), is brought in to investigate the flood, but seems open to exploring some of the town’s more supernatural aspects (with the dead now in hiding, the living are also divided among those who believe people have returned and those who do not). But on the other side of town, more and more people are returning, and they seem more like traditional zombies than the first batch did. Standing starkly still or piling into rooms, silently staring into nothing (or worse, at you), it feels like they are gathering for something. And there is no escape — those trying to leave their enclosure are often surrounded and beaten and made to stay.
It’s clear that some lines have been drawn among the returned, even though the rules are not the same for everyone. And while young Victor (Swann Nambotin) remains one of the darkest figures among the dead, Serge’s (Guillaume Gouix) newly-returned father Milan (Michaël Abiteboul) has been cryptically postured as the most brutal figures of the town’s past, and a new threat to both the living and the returned. In these ways, the series feels like it’s marching towards a war, although it’s not clear what the factions will ultimately be.
Though The Returned’s new season isn’t as instantly engaging and mesmerizing as its first, it has found ways to still ground its story in the realm of heightened reality, making it that much more frightening. Though we don’t know what the returned are back for or looking to do yet, most of the show’s brutality comes from the living, or the pasts of those who are back. There is violence and chaos, but mostly, The Returned is as incredibly quiet and languidly-paced as ever. Still, Season 2 feels in many ways like a reset, even for the show’s lead characters. The events of the Season 1 finale and everything since has changed them, often significantly, and though it takes a little while for fans to orient to this altered world, the events in it portend another complex season full of mystery and terror.
Rating: ★★★★ Très génial — Bonne télévision
The Returned Season 2 premieres on SundanceTV Saturday, October 31st at 10 p.m.