This review contains spoilers.
“Everything is going to be fine”. The dramatic irony fairy was busy in this week’s The Returned, as those ludicrous words were repeated no fewer than three times. Victor heard them from his mother moments before he and his family were killed by burglars, Claire heard them from estranged husband Jérôme minutes before he was taken for questioning in a murder enquiry, and Léna heard them from the nurse as the mysterious wound on her back worsened by the second. Everything’s going to be fine? Mais non, cherie.
This week’s instalment set up many more questions and cliff-hangers than it resolved, as befits the mid-way point in a mystery series. As such, it was perhaps the most plot-heavy, functional episode so far, as the interwoven stories ticked off disclosure and connections rather than continuing to build the beauty and atmosphere of earlier episodes.
That’s certainly no criticism, as the story is as compelling as ever, and you can’t very well fill eight hours of television with sublime lighting and beautiful set pieces like week one’s glass-breaking butterfly and expect people to keep watching. Telly needs intrigue, and The Returned has it in droves.
For proof, just tot up this week’s haul of revelations: Victor is not only the stuff of, but has nightmares, born-again Pierre was one of the burglars who killed Victor and his family, Jérôme was violent towards Léna a year ago, Lucy Clarsen is a special kind of French clairvoyant who contacts your deceased during sex (new to CBS this fall, Jennifer Love-Hewitt is: Ghost Shagger), groom-to-be Simon killed himself, and evidently, so did Mme Payet, or at least that’s what the coroner says. We’re also left with the intriguing prospect of Victor, Madame Costa, and Simon now all living in the same place.
I don’t fancy Pierre’s chances much now that Victor, who has evolved from a walking, not-talking, horror doll into a pitiable wee mite (albeit one you still wouldn’t book a play date with), has realised who he is. Yes, Victor being thrown into Pierre’s path is somewhat convenient, but let’s not forget we’re watching a show about the dead returning to life. Regular notions of realism and contrivance are more or less out of the fenêtre.
As is The Returned’s distanced, Gallic style, much of the above information was inferred rather than confessed. We arrived at Simon’s suicide at least thanks to a drawing by Chloe (how did she know?) and a line from Thomas, who moved this week from being Adèle’s obsessive voyeur to her clumsy but sympathetic protector in the eyes of the audience. Pierre’s role in Victor’s death too, was heavily telegraphed, but not made explicit. Blessedly, The Returned avoids talking down to viewers, letting us feel the ‘aha!’ pleasure of making a connection before it’s firmly established.
Unafraid to let us do some of the work, The Returned also isn’t squeamish about serving us up a platter of primetime corpses and killings. Before the opening credits had rolled on episode four, we’d heard a mother and child shot, seen the blood of a murdered child spill into a puddle of his excreted-through-terror urine, and caught a glimpse of a bloody, cat-mauled cadaver. It was an unflinching few minutes, and set the stage for Léna’s body horror story to follow. (About that, do yourselves a favour and don’t Google ‘keloid’ if you want to eat a meal, or specifically a kebab, ever again.)
What is happening to Léna, and will it start happening to others? An old wound of hers has reopened, which is about as straightforward a metaphor in this context as admissible by EU law.
Other mysteries remain, including that possibly-all-in-Thomas’ mind shot of Simon turning into him whilst having sex with Adèle. The dam is still leaking water into the power station, and the electricity – which seems to react to the emotional states of the Returned – continues to be all wiggy.
Two questions dominated episode four though, the first: how long are the dead going to stay? And the second: are they angels, or devils? A curse, or a miracle?
The remaining four episodes will tell. Meanwhile, we share the same macabre thrill of poor, doomed Victor and his brother, sitting underneath the TV equivalent of a bed sheet with a torch, listening to ghost stories.
Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode, Julie, here
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