The Returned episode 2 review: Simon

French supernatural drama The Returned ups the police procedural aspect this week, but is no less engaging for it...

This review contains spoilers.

1.2 Simon

Last week’s Camille introduced the Returned as – underpass stabbing aside – innocents. We met fourteen-year-old Camille dwarfed by the imposing dam, looking more child than teenager in her duffle coat and bouncing curls. Bewildered and naïve, we were encouraged to empathise with and pity her, but not to be afraid of her.

This week’s episode unseated our confidence in Camille and Simon’s benevolence. Both committed acts of violence – Camille to her twin sister’s bedroom, Simon to the diner waiter – but neither acknowledged it, nor expressed any regret after the fact. Did they even remember?

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The Returned’s lack of physical deterioration led us to believe they were less zombies and more miraculous PTSD sufferers, but this violence paints them as a more traditional threat. Add to that their insatiable hunger, and perhaps we’ve been mistaken in calling this an anti-zombie drama. Who knows, Camille, Simon and co. may yet discover a taste for something that finally does sate their appetite. (About that, as the series aired in France last year, tons of people – including the show’s Wikipedia page – do know. If that’s you, be a dear and keep it to yourself.)

Obviously a wrong ‘un before his death seven years ago is Serge, brother to The Lake Pub owner Toni, who was suspected of committing his brother’s crimes during the now-reopened investigation into ‘Le Cannibale’. Serge and Toni (who’d evidently taken décor inspiration from Serial Killer Monthly’s homes and garden supplement – Butchers Hooks and Wolf Corpses: 10 Ways to Pep Up Your Pad!) are the reason for The Returned’s swing into police procedural this week.

The arrival of gory crime scene photographs and police reports felt something of a let-down after last week’s opener had set the stage for something much less generic. God knows we spend enough time on TV inside interrogation rooms, so my hope is that the cop stuff won’t dominate future episodes. That said, the introduction of police chief Thomas as Adèle’s fiancé ties the procedural elements into The Returned’s personal drama neatly.

The show’s makers know that gorgeous lighting and a creepy locale does not a series make, and that weaving in a sensationalist crime thread will keep the audience coming back. If this poised drama continues to deliver on its early promise, then both strings of mystery – the existential and the criminal – will be played harmoniously.

Episode two expanded the world of the town, including the aforementioned police station and death cabin, Adèle’s library, and, more thematically relevant, the church. Resurrection stories can’t avoid dealing with religion, and as yet, The Returned has been nuanced in its treatment of the theme. The weakest link in the BBC’s otherwise very good In the Flesh was its clichéd fire and brimstone preacher, so with a crucifix here, and a sarcastic reference to Jesus there, The Returned is playing that note with sensible care so far.

Still storming the title of most unsettling kid on TV since that run of baby-in-a-suit Triple Velvet ads is young Victor. The eldritch kinder has a new trick to add to his repertoire of enigmatically eating biscuits and smiling at Julie like a god amused by a mite: he can also fall off first floor windowsills without injury. Victor staged the window ledge act after hearing about Mr Costa’s bungee-less dam jump. Was it just a random display of powers, or a mimickry of Julie’s patient’s fall? Moreover, do the rest of the Returned share his invulnerability? 

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Judging from her abdominal scars, it looks as though Julie was a past victim of Le Cannibale, but one who survived. That’s one option at least. The other is that she’s somehow one of them.

Speaking of departed arsonist Mr Costa, we now know why his wife’s body wasn’t found in the remains of their home. Mme Costa escaped to the local diner, where she witnessed Simon pummelling that barman. Did a moment of recognition pass between the pair, or was that just the look of a woman whose chip-eating had been interrupted by a scene from a Tarantino film?

From his suit, to the American diner setting, surf guitar, and attack, Simon’s diner visit had touches of the Pulp Fiction director all over it. In the same way, the flashback and Léna’s polaroid discovery was reminiscent of Lost, and Camille’s tap trouble of a thousand J-horror movies (what with the dam level dropping, there’s definitely something in the water in that town). It’s little surprise to find movie nods here and there in a show so clearly influenced by quality TV and cinema. The set dressers at least must be cinephiles, judging from the number of vintage film posters on character walls. Perhaps that’s The Returned’s talent; it’s the David Bowie of TV drama, a tasteful thief helping itself to cinematic elegance and photographic style.

As proved by the over-use of interrogation marks in the above paragraphs, episode two of The Returned left us with question after question. The acid test for any show that sets out that much mystery is how badly its audience wants to find the answers. Me? I’m dying to know. 

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

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