Warning: contains spoilers for The Returned series one (and though mostly speculative, potentially for series two as well).
If you’ve watched The Returned series one and haven’t yet visited this website, you’re urged to do so forthwith. Now’s a good time.
Welcome back. If you’re anything like us, you’ve just spent the last hour mouse-clicking your way through the town, tentatively making your way through the underpass of doom, past Adèle’s library, through the forest, all the way to the sparkling waters of the dam. You may have clicked like a maniac to get away from Victor clip-clopping slowly towards the screen. You may have jumped when that glass reformed itself in the American Diner. You may even have spilled a bit of your Horlicks when Serge hit you with that shovel.
If your schoolboy French never really got past the “Où est la discothèque?” stage though, you may not have picked up on much of the extra content lying around the town, containing clues as to what the phoque is going on with that dam and those dead folk. That’s where we come in.
We’ve translated the salient bits of the extra content (a newspaper article from the day the original dam burst in 1977, pages from Serge’s diary, a love letter to Lucy, Julie’s psychiatrist’s report) to see what light they shed on The Returned’s continuing mysteries…
From the love letter to Lucy from Alcide (the policeman who watched over Lucy during her coma)
“There’s a lot of work to do in the town at the moment. The people are behaving strangely. Only yesterday, a woman asked me where Marcellin Chemists was. That shop hasn’t been around for more than twenty-five years. My grandparents used to own it.”
“My grandfather was always telling so many stories. He used to say that anything could happen in this town, because the inhabitants will believe anything. He told me about a fire that ravaged through part of the forest, and they never found out how it started. The flames caused the animals to throw themselves into the lake. Like suicide. After that, people used to say that the devil lived there and had ordered the beasts to go and die in the lake as a warning. People used to tell these nonsensical stories until they ended up believing that these events really happened, that a malevolent force really caused the animals to drown themselves. Isn’t that crazy? I feel like we’re going through another period like the one my grandfather described.”
“My grandfather said that the water running through the veins of this town sends people crazy.”
“In your presence, I feel things that I’d forgotten since I was a child. You’re going to think this is weird Lucy, but it’s as if you’ve opened a chamber into a period of my life where everything was simpler, gentler. Images, smells, sounds have all resurfaced and reassure me, whisper to me, that everything’s going to be okay […] When I was touching you, I was intoxicated by the contact, I felt as if I could feel the presence of my grandfather, as if simply touching you had made him appear in the room with us.”
“I heard his voice resonate inside my head and repeat, in the same voice that used to reassure me and terrify me at the same time, “Alcide, it doesn’t matter what you do, here there is no God or Church where you can be pardoned, if you feel the insidious tongue of sin licking your neck, the lake awaits you, it will be the chrysalis that will turn you from a caterpillar into a butterfly.”
Our verdict: this unnamed village evidently has a bit of a reputation for supernatural goings-on, and a populace predisposed to episodes of weirdness. Is the devil behind it all?
From selected pages of Serge’s diary, from his youth
“After [going hunting], I took Toni to the lake. I wanted him to taste the water, too. I told him ‘taste it Toni, you’ll see’. He drank but he said he didn’t see anything. It wasn’t the same for him as it is for me.”
“Mum said it was time to talk to Him. I was wearing my hood up and mum was angry. She asked if I wanted to keep secrets from Him. I said no. She said that I had to uncover my face to speak to Him. […] I thought it was great that He can’t see me when I wear my hood up. I thought I’d found a way to hide my bad thoughts from Him. If He can’t see me, then I can’t burn in hell.”
“I went to the swimming pool where the girls Toni goes to school with go swimming. I put up my hood so He didn’t see me. I found a window I could look through. The girls didn’t see me. I saw them get undressed and put on their swimming costumes. Mum doesn’t want me to talk to them. Mum says I don’t behave well around girls. Mum says I scare them. She says that if He sees how I look at girls, I’ll be punished. I like looking at them. It’s not my fault. But the window isn’t in the right place. It’s at exactly the height of the girls’ stomachs. I can’t see their face. I can’t see their legs. I only see their stomachs. It’s like that every time, just stomachs. I like looking at them. But it makes me think lots of bad thoughts.”
“I dropped a deer into the lake water. I didn’t mean to. It was on my shoulders and I bent over to drink and it fell in. It wasn’t my fault. It moved. Its feet moved. I was sure I’d killed it but it moved in the water. I took it out of the water. I took my knife. I killed it again. I opened up its stomach. I wanted to be sure it was dead. I saw everything that came out. I saw how warm it was. I put some water on it. I don’t know why, it just occurred to me, like a bad thought. I was hungry. I went home.”
“[Watching a black and white film with his mother while Toni was asleep] I didn’t understand all of the story but there were two guys after a woman I found very beautiful. I didn’t hear any of the film whenever she was there. I can see all of her. I can see her hair. Her mouth. Her eyes. Her legs. But I only see her stomach. I didn’t have any choice. It’s not my fault. I see her stomach. And she’s dancing. And she lifts up a black glove and it takes ages for her to take it off her arm. She slides the glove off and I see her stomach. And I want to talk to this woman but mum doesn’t want me to. I want to take her to the lake and touch her stomach under the water. But Mum will shout “You’re going to burn in hell, Serge”. So I watch the film and I look at her stomach and I don’t know what I’m thinking anymore because everything stops in my head and I’m hot and then I can feel a pain between my legs and I open my eyes and I see mum’s clenched hand on my trousers where my bad thoughts come from. And mum is furious. She says ‘See Serge, you don’t respect women. You don’t know how to behave. You have bad thoughts in your head. You’re going to tell Him everything. He’s going to wash out your head. And if He asks me to, I’ll wash you in the lake, like when you were little and I had to wash away your sins.”
Our verdict: it seems serial killer Serge was the product of a Carrie-alike, abusive religious upbringing. Was it that though, or being cleansed of his sins in the deer-reviving lake waters that kickstarted his Norman Bates-ish behaviour? Nature or er, a lack of nurture?
From a letter dated November 2005 from Julie’s psychiatrist, Dr Brennac, to Dr Arnaud
“She was found in a critical state, but made a ‘miraculous’ recovery from her injuries”. Julie “has to understand why she was saved”. “She refuses to accept the simple luck in what she refers to as, with no small amount of cynicism, “her half-assed encounter with death”. I suggested that she meet with a Rabbi with whom I’d previously had a stimulating conversation about the non-definitive character of death in Judaism. The patient was extremely reluctant to follow my suggestion. She sees nothing religious about her “resurrection”.”
“Julie has no precise memory of the attack. She told me that she relives a fantasy version in her dreams in which she mentions the presence of “a little boy without a face”. But this vision is probably due to the medical consequences of the attack that prevent Julie from having children in future.”
Our verdict: Could Julie be another revenant? We dismissed her suspicion she wasn’t alive as a metaphor for depression, but perhaps her ‘miraculous’ recovery gives her more in common with Lucy than first thought. Was a faceless Victor appearing in her dreams before she met him? We wouldn’t put it past the little imp.
From the newspaper front page reporting on the original dam breaking in 1977
“Back from the dead. That’s what the survivors of the catastrophe look like 72 hours after the dam burst. Ghosts, drawn features, empty stares, wandering amongst the ruins of what, not that long ago, was their village. Their faces all bear the same expression. Stupefaction, horror, incredulity.”
“They walk hesitatingly, unsteady on their feet. With every step, their boots are stuck in the mud and they have to use their last ounce of strength to stumble over the debris strewn on the ground, making some places completely inaccessible.”
“God has abandoned us” weeps one woman we met. “He’s watching from above while his children beg for mercy”. We were told that a church service was taking place when the 70-metre wave came crashing down. None of the worshippers there survived. The house of God did not offer them any protection”
“The demon tongue came to carry them all away”.
“A man was seen near the dam just before the catastrophe. He fled. “It was the watchman, says Mayor Costa. He had heard the first crack and wanted to warn the village. Unfortunately, it was too late.”
“People here like to interpret what they see,” explains Mayor Costa. “I could present them with the proof [of what caused it] on a platter but it wouldn’t change a thing. Ghosts are alive and well in the area.”
“A group of individuals has not been accounted for. They were near the lake when it happened, “As if they were on a pilgrimage”, we’re told. There is no trace of them. The water carried everything away. Trees, cars, buildings, cattle, even a few kilometres of the railway track was torn up. We asked about the group of people who have disappeared. “Weirdos” says an old lady “They’d started following a man who promised them a better life.” A shepherd whose herd was completely decimated puts it more aggressively, “They brought this disaster to the village! They were always talking about purifying the land, that a flood would come to wash away its inhabitants’ sins! If you ask me, they prayed for this catastrophe to happen to us. So what if they didn’t survive? Good riddance.”
“On the half-submerged carcass of a car, we saw a butterfly. It spreads its bright wings, in contrast to the faint colours of the desolation around it. It flaps them. Then it takes off. It came to remind us that life will return here. But not right away.”
Our verdict: There’s plenty to get to grips with here, not least the news that a splinter group of Rapture-welcoming villagers whose bodies were never accounted for had formed before the dam burst. Who was the man around whom they gathered? He sounds something like our Pierre, which would put the ex-crim firmly on the other side of the dividing line between life and death. The butterfly motif returns, too, we note.
Over to you then. Informed, half-baked, or entirely illogical theories all welcome…