This review contains spoilers.
1.5 Serge et Toni
It’s taken five weeks, but The Returned has finally offered up a scene befitting the zombie label it was tagged with upon arrival: a man nuzzling his face into a bloody abdominal stab wound, attempting to eat the still-warm liver of his victim. We’ve seen gore like it so often in the zombie genre, we’ve developed a kind of immunity. Call it cannibalism fatigue.
What makes this particular act horrifying then, is that it isn’t perpetrated by a zombie. The blood-lapping, organ-tearing is carried out by a living, breathing man (though one who will eventually return from the dead). Serge, for whom this week’s episode is named, was a serial killing cannibal long before he came back to life. From any other series, that three-word description would sound like another kitsch entry in the ‘vampire nuns from Mars’ playbook of schlocky premises, but The Returned achieves the impossible by making a zombie cannibal serial killer plot seem… what’s the word? Classy?
If not classy, then at least engaging on a level far beyond shocks and jump-scares. The tale of the savage killer and the brother who tries to stop him may have vulgar sensationalism written all over it, but here, it’s handled discreetly, even modestly. Serge and Toni’s story is being played with as light a touch as any in The Returned, transforming its pulp potential into tense, captivating drama. Rewatch the scene of Serge attempting to quash his monstrous instincts when dressing Léna’s wound and see if you don’t agree.
Serial killers make up an unrepresentative percentage of the TV population, but The Returned also gives us plenty that you don’t see every day. A church steeple emerging from the waters of a lake, a village submerged like the lost city of Atlantis, a wild boar’s autopsy, and three dozen animals suspended eerily underwater are just a few from this week’s instalment. There really isn’t anything else like it on television.
The animals – one of the mysteries from the opening credits – we’re told, freaked out over some bad juju and committed a kind of mass suicide in the lake. As they’ve stayed dead, we can assume they don’t number amongst the immortal Returned, but are instead an omen of the universe being out of joint, thirty six versions of the horror movie dog that whimpers and scrapes at the door when the monster’s circling the cabin.
On that note, we asked last week whether Chloe was right to call Simon an angel, or whether devil would have been a more apt description. Let’s tot up the evidence so far.
On the devil side is the fact that one of the Revenants appear to care a great deal about the feelings of those around them, preferring to plough their own selfish furrows. When Victor’s relationship with Julie was threatened by her gossipy neighbour, he introduced her to a grisly end. Camille failed to alert anyone to the fact her sister had run away from hospital but hadn’t returned home, and has expressed no concern about her missing twin, choosing instead to continue her seduction of poor, confused Frederic. Simon too, disregards Adèle’s wishes and expects her to bow to his will, necessitating that exorcism-like scene from she and Chloe (complete with billowing Hammer-horror-style white curtains and candle light) at the end of this week’s episode. Between suggesting Julie attempt suicide and encouraging Victor to carry out revenge too, Mme Costa doesn’t exactly come across as a benevolent presence in all this. either. Serge? The only thing on the positive half of his balance sheet is that he hasn’t killed Léna yet.
On the angel side? Not much. Does that mean the Returned came back bad? What’s wonderful is that we’re five hours into the story, and we still don’t know, but instead of feeling frustrated, I’m enthralled.
Alongside the intrigue, another joy in this drama is its attention to detail. When Camille enters her house, she’s twinned by her reflection in the door-adjacent mirror. When Simon, a former musician whom we assume shot himself, arrives in Camille’s room, he stands next to a poster of Kurt Cobain. The reflective shot of Léna sleeping, as seen by Serge through the bedroom window, makes her look as though she’s laying on a bed of leaves, like the doe he shoots later in the episode.
This week gave us something we’ve been waiting for since that coach first slid silently over that mountainside: the Returned in conversation with each other. Camille and Mme Costa both talk about their supernatural status with a touch of humour, the former sardonic, “We zombies have to stick together”, and the latter smilingly amused by it all, replying with a matter-of-fact “Oh-la oui” when Julie asks her if she’s dead. Pairing Mme Costa with Victor, and Camille with Simon allowed us to inch open the aperture little into their shared mystery.
The fascinating result of those meetings is the further separation of Victor from the pack in our eyes. All the revenants are insatiably hungry (and unaffected by alcohol, judging by Camille’s tolerance in the drinking game), at least two are invulnerable (Mme Costa survived the house fire, Victor a first-floor window jump, and as for Simon, my money says he comes back from Thomas’ gun-shot). All but Victor are insomniac (he awoke from a nightmare in the previous episode) and remember nothing about the period immediately before their deaths. Not only does Victor remember exactly how he died, he’s also haunted by his murderer and can project his visions to those around him. Is Victor the only one with a power? Could Léna’s reopened wound be caused by Camille’s? Perhaps there’s some kind of X-Men deal going on with the dead in this town.
With only three episodes of the series remaining, and a newly awoken Returnee in Lucy Clarsen, the mystery is only deepening. Fingers crossed it doesn’t skimp on resolution when the time comes.
Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode, Victor, here.
Please, if you can, buy our charity horror stories ebook, Den Of Eek!, raising money for Geeks Vs Cancer. Details here.