This review contains spoilers.
In previous weeks, The Returned’s pre-credits scenes have shocked us with gore. There was Julie, stabbed repeatedly in the abdomen. There was Mme Payet, a cluster of cats lapping at her open wounds. There was little Victor, blood from his gun-shot wound dripping into a puddle of his piss. Most recently, there was Serge, nuzzling hungrily into Julie’s shredded stomach… Guts and murder and violence paved the entryways of these stories. Episode seven’s flashback was bloody, yes, but its intention wasn’t to shock, and its focus wasn’t Adèle’s self-inflicted laceration. Instead, the camera narrowed in on daughter Chloe’s panicked face, privileging the emotional fallout over the visceral jolt. That choice was repeated throughout this relationship-focused instalment, which was quieter, more mature, and a great deal more satisfying than last week’s erratic entry.
Skipping ahead to its closing moments, Julie and Laure’s silent discovery that they were mystically trapped in the town was similarly understated, and so much more effective than a dialogue-driven scene might have been. Around the cursed dam they drove, through the same tunnel again and again, only to arrive back, helpless, wordless, where they’d started. I hesitate to invoke the ‘L’ word as it’s become hollow through overuse, but swap Victor for a backwards-talking dwarf, and that scene would have been pure Lynch.
When did the invisible gates come down in the town? (The arrival of a new location-based mystery invites another ‘L’ word TV comparison. Polar bears and black smoke monsters next, anyone?) We saw the power station workers up sticks last week, but none of the regular cast has gone in or out under our watch since the series began. The last person we saw cross the town border was Lucy, whose arrival one year earlier kick-started a not insignificant portion of the weirdness. Greeting that horde of returnees up at the Lake Pub this week, Lucy, like Madame Costa, seemed to understand exactly what was going on. Being psychic evidently has its advantages.
We’d been prepped for Julie and Laure’s predicament by Serge and Toni’s circular forest trek, another understated plot-line that focused on the brothers’ relationship instead of Serge’s schlocky and sporadic double life as a serial killer. That final extreme wide shot of Toni, just a head bobbing alone in a vast nature was a perfect depiction of how impotent these characters are in the face of the mysteries that surround them, and well-matched by the same of Julie and Laure’s car, stopped on top of the enormous dam that appears to have such hold over all of their fates.
Another emotionally insightful moment came from Julie’s confession to Laure that she hoped she was one of the dead as it would explain why she feels so incapable of living. The audience has no reason to believe Julie is a revenant (her scars are still very much there, unlike miraculously healed-Lucy’s), but the idea that her depression would cause her to suspect she was a zombie rings powerfully true to anyone who’s experienced the illness’ empty isolation.
That kind of insight into depression and suicide (both emerging as recurring themes in the series) is a tell that The Returned’s chief interest isn’t in zombies, or serial killers, or water-filled coffins, or faltering electricity, which is why more and more of those diverting mysteries are falling by the wayside as the series progresses.
The Returned’s makers told us when it began that they weren’t interested in using zombies as another allegory for consumerism or otherness, and they were telling the truth. Their dead represent exactly that; real-life death, if you’ll excuse the poor choice of words. This is a drama, at its essence, about how we all cope with death. It’s both as simple and as deeply complex as that.
Take Simon’s visit to the priest this week. His question wasn’t to do with what his return meant theistically, or what the rules and precedents were for his new-found immortality. He wanted the answer to a terrestrial question: why did he kill himself? Was it in character? Now lucid, he couldn’t remember what drove him to take his life, just as those who, in recovery from a period of depression, can’t rethink themselves into the numb determination to die that state can inspire.
In less moribund news, alongside Pierre’s preparations for the rapture (why a subterranean surgery, Pierre, you weirdo?), The Helping Hand was the backdrop to a series of rapprochements for the Seguret family. Twin sisters, Léna and Camille were finally united. Now that Serge has been unexpectedly pulled away from brother Toni though, the permanence of that sororal reunion is once more in question. Is that the last we’ve seen of Serge? Perhaps life is as a precarious business for the dead as it is the living, something proved by Audrey’s mother’s miscarriage.
Even episode seven’s briefer exchanges had something down-to-earth to say about mortality. Madame Costa remarking to Claire that her daughters’ prettiness was a shame as it wouldn’t last doesn’t have to apply to the tumbling advent of apocalypse, nor to Camille’s physical deterioration. It can simply be about time passing, and things not lasting. It doesn’t get much less supernatural than that.
Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode, Lucy, here.
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