The Returned series 1 finale review: The Horde

The Returned’s first series concludes with a slow, emotional episode that leaves a number of mysteries unsolved…

This review contains spoilers.

1.8 The Horde

Ask The Returned to explain what the last eight weeks have been about – the water, the electricity, that group of people, how and what and when and above all, why – and it’ll give you a big Gallic shrug of indifference, roll a fag, and dismiss resolution as a bourgeois invention. “Je m’ennuie de vos questions” says The Returned, “Revenez l’année prochaine, si vous voulez en savoir plus”.

Come back next year to find out more we will, because resolution or not, The Returned remains the most handsome, intriguing, poised bit of telly we’ve seen in a long while.

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Taken as a whole, its winding story of the living being confronted by the dead in a setting with more atmosphere than Russ Abbott’s favourite party, was a joy. Granted, the specific variety of joy it left you with was that felt when a loved pet finally twitches its last pained convulsion at the vet’s, a wave of lead-limbed emotion that you know deep down is for the best although it’ll take a cup of tea and a bit of a cry for it all to sink in. Still, joy is the word.

Episode eight gave us a huddle of circular references to episode one. First, we revisited bouncing-curls Camille in her blue duffle coat from just seven days ago, only to see a slow-moving train of other revenants follow behind. Did each of these walking corpses go on to enact their own emotional homecomings while we were looking the other way? Not by the looks of it. They’ve been shuffling around the woods for a week, only rallying now under their telepathic, clairvoyant leader, Lucy.

This lot, presumably, is fulfilling Madame Costa’s bad-fairy-at-the-Christening curse from thirty-five years earlier. “They’re going to get their revenge one day, the dead”, she told Victor’s mother in the flashback to the old dam bursting. So far, that revenge has involved putting the willies up the local wildlife, ransacking the American diner and now coming to claim their own from amongst the integrated gaggle at the Helping Hand. Oh, and entirely flooding the new town, as if any of us could forget that final, stunning diluvian image.

More circularity came with poor, dead – for now at least – Toni’s suicide attempt on the dam, mirroring Mr Costa’s exit strategy in episode one, and Simon’s butterfly-cameo glass-breaking police cell escape (what’s that old saying? People in glass jails shouldn’t imprison zombies?). Butterflies, such as those seen on Camille’s earring studs this week, are emerging as a symbol of the dead in The Returned. There are probably chrysalis/metamorphosis readings aplenty to be extracted from that.

Pierre’s equal opportunities halfway house (where, judging by his ‘they’re more scared of us than we are of them’ philosophy, he seemed to be labouring under the misapprehension that they weren’t preparing to fight dead folk, but spiders) was the setting for an emotional showdown. At Capitaine Thomas’ insistence, off went Madame Costa, Victor and Camille to join the marauding dead in the most fraught, drawn-out instance of playground team-picking ever staged. Was anybody else waiting for Lucy to belt out I Dreamed A Dream underneath that stagey, atmospheric spotlight?

The surviving townsfolk are now cleaved into two groups (les Sharks et les Jets) with the mothers, ersatz and biological, Julie and Claire, choosing to accompany their decomposing charges and leave the living behind.

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Like so much of The Returned’s first series, the stand-off and ensuing fight was all about atmosphere, and not about didactic storytelling. Who survived, what happened to the police, why the dead left without the now-pregnant Adèle (or Serge, for that matter)… none of that was explained. Instead we were given tension, emotional realism and strong imagery. Victor and Julie running towards each other from opposite sides of the glass, and those metal shutters slamming down on The Helping Hand were telling images of division and barriers, just as the early episodes were preoccupied with repeating the motif of reflections and doubles.

“You said they wouldn’t hurt us”, a bystander accused Pierre this week. They may not have taken the traditional genre path to it, but the dead did hurt the living. The pain exacted was figurative. Instead of eating their faces off, the dead took the living’s loved ones away.

Not that a spot of face-eating wasn’t out of the question, judging by the state of this new lot. After eight episodes, The Returned finally toed the zombie line with scenes that wouldn’t have looked out of place in The Walking Dead. First came the herd of shuffling dead emerging out of the mist, then Thomas and colleague coming upon that walker drinking from the toilet in the destroyed pub. The town had been ransacked, Camille was picking at her decaying face, quotes from Revelations had been daubed on the walls…

Were this episode one, the audience would have sunk immediately into an ‘Oh. This again’ mind set. By leaving the apocalypse stuff until the very end though, The Returned reminds us just how wide a detour it’s taken from predictable zombie fare. The series has continually swerved away from the expected – even its siege finale was moody and bloodless rather than action-filled. It may have left us alternately bemused and buzzing with frustration over the last eight weeks, but ‘Oh. This again’? Not even once.

Perhaps our surest route to sanity between now and series two is to forget the answers it hasn’t given us, and be thankful for everything else it has.

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

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