The Returned series 1 finale review: The Horde

Review Louisa Mellor 28 Jul 2013 - 22:00

The Returned’s first series concludes with a slow, emotional episode that leaves a number of mysteries unsolved…

This review contains spoilers.

1.8 The Horde

Ask The Returned to explain what the last eight weeks have been about - the water, the electricity, that group of people, how and what and when and above all, why - and it’ll give you a big Gallic shrug of indifference, roll a fag, and dismiss resolution as a bourgeois invention. “Je m’ennuie de vos questions” says The Returned, “Revenez l’année prochaine, si vous voulez en savoir plus”.

Come back next year to find out more we will, because resolution or not, The Returned remains the most handsome, intriguing, poised bit of telly we’ve seen in a long while.

Taken as a whole, its winding story of the living being confronted by the dead in a setting with more atmosphere than Russ Abbott’s favourite party, was a joy. Granted, the specific variety of joy it left you with was that felt when a loved pet finally twitches its last pained convulsion at the vet’s, a wave of lead-limbed emotion that you know deep down is for the best although it’ll take a cup of tea and a bit of a cry for it all to sink in. Still, joy is the word.

Episode eight gave us a huddle of circular references to episode one. First, we revisited bouncing-curls Camille in her blue duffle coat from just seven days ago, only to see a slow-moving train of other revenants follow behind. Did each of these walking corpses go on to enact their own emotional homecomings while we were looking the other way? Not by the looks of it. They’ve been shuffling around the woods for a week, only rallying now under their telepathic, clairvoyant leader, Lucy.

This lot, presumably, is fulfilling Madame Costa’s bad-fairy-at-the-Christening curse from thirty-five years earlier. “They’re going to get their revenge one day, the dead”, she told Victor’s mother in the flashback to the old dam bursting. So far, that revenge has involved putting the willies up the local wildlife, ransacking the American diner and now coming to claim their own from amongst the integrated gaggle at the Helping Hand. Oh, and entirely flooding the new town, as if any of us could forget that final, stunning diluvian image.

More circularity came with poor, dead - for now at least - Toni’s suicide attempt on the dam, mirroring Mr Costa’s exit strategy in episode one, and Simon’s butterfly-cameo glass-breaking police cell escape (what’s that old saying? People in glass jails shouldn’t imprison zombies?). Butterflies, such as those seen on Camille’s earring studs this week, are emerging as a symbol of the dead in The Returned. There are probably chrysalis/metamorphosis readings aplenty to be extracted from that.

Pierre’s equal opportunities halfway house (where, judging by his ‘they’re more scared of us than we are of them’ philosophy, he seemed to be labouring under the misapprehension that they weren’t preparing to fight dead folk, but spiders) was the setting for an emotional showdown. At Capitaine Thomas’ insistence, off went Madame Costa, Victor and Camille to join the marauding dead in the most fraught, drawn-out instance of playground team-picking ever staged. Was anybody else waiting for Lucy to belt out I Dreamed A Dream underneath that stagey, atmospheric spotlight?

The surviving townsfolk are now cleaved into two groups (les Sharks et les Jets) with the mothers, ersatz and biological, Julie and Claire, choosing to accompany their decomposing charges and leave the living behind.

Like so much of The Returned’s first series, the stand-off and ensuing fight was all about atmosphere, and not about didactic storytelling. Who survived, what happened to the police, why the dead left without the now-pregnant Adèle (or Serge, for that matter)… none of that was explained. Instead we were given tension, emotional realism and strong imagery. Victor and Julie running towards each other from opposite sides of the glass, and those metal shutters slamming down on The Helping Hand were telling images of division and barriers, just as the early episodes were preoccupied with repeating the motif of reflections and doubles.

“You said they wouldn’t hurt us”, a bystander accused Pierre this week. They may not have taken the traditional genre path to it, but the dead did hurt the living. The pain exacted was figurative. Instead of eating their faces off, the dead took the living's loved ones away.

Not that a spot of face-eating wasn’t out of the question, judging by the state of this new lot. After eight episodes, The Returned finally toed the zombie line with scenes that wouldn’t have looked out of place in The Walking Dead. First came the herd of shuffling dead emerging out of the mist, then Thomas and colleague coming upon that walker drinking from the toilet in the destroyed pub. The town had been ransacked, Camille was picking at her decaying face, quotes from Revelations had been daubed on the walls…

Were this episode one, the audience would have sunk immediately into an ‘Oh. This again’ mind set. By leaving the apocalypse stuff until the very end though, The Returned reminds us just how wide a detour it’s taken from predictable zombie fare. The series has continually swerved away from the expected - even its siege finale was moody and bloodless rather than action-filled. It may have left us alternately bemused and buzzing with frustration over the last eight weeks, but ‘Oh. This again’? Not even once.

Perhaps our surest route to sanity between now and series two is to forget the answers it hasn’t given us, and be thankful for everything else it has.

Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode, Adèle, here.

Please, if you can, buy our charity horror stories ebook, Den Of Eek!, raising money for Geeks Vs Cancer. Details here.

Disqus - noscript

Brilliant show I think people don't give it a chance because of the subtitles but once you start watching it its hard not to sit waiting on a Sunday evening for it to begin. Loved your episode reviews from day 1. Don't know how we are going to wait til next year for season 2!!! :(

Loveloveloved it! Fantastic television. Just enough was revealed in order for it to be satisfying while keeping lots still vague and mysterious. Already can't wait for series 2 next year!

Lucy is La fit.

I loved it. Realised from the start there was never going to be a rational story line or a tidy ending, once I accepted that and just went with it I enjoyed it all the more. I thought the final episode was very good and made sense for a second series. Did anyone notice the mark on Camille's face had gone when she joined the dead?

Normally I'd be really annoyed at getting basically nothing explained in the end, but for some reason that hasn't spoilt my enjoyment at all this time. Can't quite explain why.

Brilliant series, can't wait for next year!

As others have said, despite the lack of resolution of all the strands, this did seem a very fitting ending. This has been my favourite series of the year so far. Also, I've gone from being petrified of Victor to wanting to adopt him although Toni might not agree...

Well if it had not been for the continuity dude at the end telling us there was to be a series 2 I would have been left with the " Well what was all that about?" feeling and thinking I had wasted the last 8 weeks but now that I know there is a second series, I can't wait, just one puzzlement why was the name of the pub The Lake Pub sign, written in English?

The same reason you see eateries in the UK called Le Café or even Pret a Manger. ;o)

As predicted last week, I am somewhat annoyed & frustrated at the final episode. I knew they wouldn't resolve ALL the issues and questions, but with a massive Gallic shrug they didn't answer ANY of them.
I agree it's brilliantly acted and hauntingly shot. There were many amazing moments this week, just like every week. That said, I don't want to be waiting till series 5 to find out the significance of the wound on Lena's back, what pulled Serge under the water and why Victor's repeated returns over the years are different to everyone else who has just returned the once.
I don't expect everything to be wrapped up nicely, after all, where would series 2 go? But I don't want 5 years of the writers stringing us along and painting themselves into a corner where they can't resolve everything that's happened.
It was engrossing TV though.

My wife is fluent in French and lived over the water for a long time so has given a fairly definitive answer on this:

Just as Frenchly (is that a real word?) named things look stylish to us, Englishly (?) named things are equally exotic to our neighbours.

As we have adopted certain words from the French lexicon (Deja vu, a la carte, tour de force etc) the French pick up some of our words and insert them into everyday usage (weekend, Walkman, hardware etc).

Of course, unlike English, the French language has a governing body to regulate it (Academie Francaise) - many of these words are unauthorised by the Academie and are therefore frowned upon but certain phrases just become very popular - Pub is one of them so the villagers would know 'The Lake' to be the exotic English words and 'Pub' would be a word they already used - much like how we might see the word Café.

I thought there was enough resolution in this last episode. Most of the characters reached the end of some kind of arc in this episode, making bold life/death decisions. And, as suggested in earlier episodes, the dead had returned to take revenge for what happened 30 years ago. In this episode, they took revenge. That's was enough resolution for me. It certainly felt like the season's arc had come to a close.

What few unanswered questions I can think of can either be worked out (like the water in the coffin. We know the level of dam water was mysteriously getting lower and this was why. Can we expect to see thousands of Revenants in season 2?) or they are questions better off left unanswered. The supernatural works best when it's unexplained. After all, The Returned is clearly mimicking Twin Peaks with it's Lake Pub and Diner, it's small town society and surreal happenings. That was a show that gave little explanation and was brilliant for it. Yep. I think it's safe to say I'll be back next year or so for round two without a doubt.

I expected more answers but weirdly I didn't want or need answers. It was strangely calm and ethereal and I like to maintain that feeling without having the series to come to an abrupt conclusion. Without question, a simply terrific show. Bring on series 2.

Brilliant! I finally figured out how best to appreciate this series. I watched it at half speed playback whilst listening to Portishead's CD, ( let's face it, that's what Mogwai were trying for). It all made perfect sense, what it was all about. It was an Art School project video. My Critique as such would be;- "Very well done, looked great, but could we have had a little more of Simon's penis." As for the idea of the second series......... Been there, seen it, and for me, I shan't be one of 'Les Revenants'. Adieux to Yeu and Yeu and Yeu.

It was still there, but whether it was healing or covered by make up is anyone's guess.

So - you don't want to see the next series of Returned but you do want to see more of Simon's penis?

I'll leave you to it then!

Really enjoyed this series but I am not getting roped into another lost where I am strung along for how ever many series it was and then the answers provided are just garbage. If it gets good reviews when it's completely finished I'll blinkbox it.

A tasty entrée before the main course of Rick and the team.

I always love it when the ignorant put their ignorance on display for us. It's so quaint.

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