Saturday, 2 January 2016

The Returned Episode 2: Simon


As each episode is named after a specific character, for clarity I will be referring to the episode title in italics.

Two episodes in and we have yet to receive any answers to the many questions raised by this intriguing and enigmatic French supernatural drama.

The Returned is set in the small alpine town of Annecy in South-Eastern France.  It focuses on a group of people who have returned from the dead and attempt to reintegrate back into their old lives unaware of their recent demises.  Each episode focuses on a specific character with this episode focusing on Simon (Pierre Perrier,) a young man who upon returning from the dead wants nothing more than to be with his fiancee Adele (Clotilde Hesme) again.

The first episode raises a number of burning question, such as why are the dead returning? How are they returning? Why are only certain people returning? Why do they have no memories of dying? Is it possible for the Returned to die again once they have returned? If you're one of the naive people, like me, who were expecting answers in this episode, then I'm afraid you'll be disappointed.  Instead of giving any answers at all, this episode just raises more questions and introduces new characters. Actually, it does one question.  In the last episode, we saw Mrs De Costa being tied up and left inside a burning house by her husband who could not cope with her return.  In this episode, we see her "alive" and well, thus answering the question about whether it is possible for the dead to die twice and whether they can come back when they have died.  Although, by answering this question, it does then raise the further questions of how Mrs De Costa was able to escape a burning house no worse for wear.  So actually...I'm not sure whether this answered anything: a trend which is very popular with this show.

Whilst the first episode was mainly set-up, this episode did a lot more to advance the narrative and develop characters.  Simon's narrative frames this episode.  It begins with a flashback showing Simon's band playing in the Lake Pub where his fiancee Adele works as a waitress.  A few days after, on the morning of their wedding, Adele is left standing at the altar, whilst police officers tell the reverend about Simon's death.  One interesting thing that we have learnt from the Returned is that the returnees are ravenous upon their returns.  Simon is just the same as we see him go into a diner to buy some food but ends up beating the brusque and rude owner.  Meanwhile, Adele confides in the parish priest Father Jean-Francois about seeing Simon walking around.  He advises her to not push him away, but to embrace him and make her peace.  Again, this engagement with the theme of loss and how the living think about the dead is what makes this series so good.  It is interesting to see how different people react to loss.

From here, the episode moved to focus on Camille (Yara Pillartz) who I have to admit I'm finding one of the more annoying returnees.  Whilst Simon is the strong silent type and Victor is mysterious and creepy, Camille is whiny and petulant.  I understand that upon coming back from the dead she is confused and scared.  Her sister broke down in tears at seeing her and her parents don't know how to act around her, but I think that her character could have been written a little more sympathetically.  In this episode, Camille, sick of being cooped up in her house, sneaks out to go to the Lake Pub to see her old friends Frederick and Lucha.  Whilst Camille peers through the pub window to see if she can see Frederick, Lucha approaches her and asks her whether he wants her to sneak her in.  Shocked, Camille runs off.  When she returns home to her family, she breaks down in tears over how Lucha fails to recognise her.  I understand that it would be very upsetting for one of your childhood friends to not recognise you and I can agree that the sequence was well shot, I can't help but get annoyed at Camille for doing something so reckless as walking around town in broad daylight where anybody could see her.  Although with Camille's narrative, yet another question is raised by Pierre, the local religious man, who tells Camille that she isn't the first person to return.  There have been others.  Do we find out anymore about this? Of course we don't.

So two episodes in and there isn't any sign of any storyarc, apart from the very vague and loose narrative of the town dam losing water, which signifies that the Returned is a character-driven drama. One set of characters that I'm glad to have found out more about in this episode is Julie and Victor. Victor is a mysterious little boy who is inexplicably drawn to hospice nurse Julie.  In the last episode, we see Julie is initially wary of Victor, but soon grows protective of him.  Julie only becomes more protective in this episode.  She continues to fend off her nosy neighbour and whilst she finally does go to the police station to report Victor, she isn't very clear or helpful to the police officers there.  As I said in my last review, Victor and Julie are my favourite characters in this show and this episode is one of the reasons why.  I think that it slowly begins to explain why Victor is drawn towards Julie.  Both of them are outsiders.  As far as we know, Victor is completely alone with no friends or family and Julie is similarly alone.  She lives by herself and is never shown in a social situation or with any casual company.  In these past couple of episodes, her interactions have been limited to Victor, her nosy neighbour, Mr De Costa, whom she looked after before he killed himself, and the police.  In all of these interactions, Julie is the more passive character.  She is uncertain and unsure of herself.  Julie is portrayed as very withdrawn and reserved and this is partly the result of good writing but also of Celine Salette's excellent portrayl of her.  After Julie finds out that nobody is looking for Victor, she begins to become more attached to him.  She buys him new clothes and tucks him in at night.  Julie is one of the more interesting characters and I am very interested in watching her character arc.

Simon also introduces a new character called Serge (Guillaume Goux.)  He is the brother of Toni (Gregory Gadebois,) the landlord of the Lake Pub, and little is revealed about him.  However, it is made abundantly clear that Toni is not the happiest at seeing Serge again when he knocks him over the head with a shovel and locks him out of the house.  Serge is understandably furious at this and his confusion and fear is etched painfully across his face, as he tries to persuade Toni to let him into the house.  After Serge lures Toni outside and demands to know where their mother is, Toni tells him that she is dead and Serge doesn't remember her dying, because he died at the same time.  Serge breaks down upon hearing this, which is another great example of how this show engages with emotion.

The last narrative that Simon focuses on is the barmaid Lucy being brutally attacked upon walking her from work.  In this episode, it is revealed that she was stabbed seventeen times and her abdomen was bitten into- a modus operandi reminiscent of a serial killer who went missing seven years prior.  Whilst, I do love seeing all of the characters interact with each other, I do quite like this shocking event is used to help push the narrative forward.  It adds another layer to the show and keeps it interesting.  You never know what to expect.

So, in summary, this episode did a lot of things.  It introduced new characters, whilst pushing forward other narratives and characters.  The scenery remains gorgeous and the use of music remains strong and it held my interest.  As I said in my review of the last episode, what makes this series so good is how it not only engages with the theme of loss, but also how damn mysterious it is.  It doesn't answer any of the viewer's questions but rather allows them to come to their own conclusions.  In this episode's final five minutes, it shows Julie undressing to shower and revealed that on her stomach she has a number of old scars and cuts, laying down just another mystery for us viewers to speculate over.

What do you think the scars on Julie's stomach are? Where do you think they come from? Let me know in the comments below.


  1. More and more this sounds like a really intriguing show. I'm not sure if I could cope with the amount of questions they leave unanswered! It sounds like they use a very interesting narrative, and the character development sounds quite strong. I'm interested to continue reading your reviews of this show.

    1. Catherine, considering you've never watched the show, I don't really expect you to read these reviews, but meh, up to you my dear.