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A little background for those who might have stumbled on this review and aren’t familiar with SundanceTV’s exceptional French series The Returned. This isn’t the ABC show from a year ago (that would be Resurrection, and it has nothing to do with this one), and it isn’t the misguided American remake of the series that failed last year on A&E (the less said of that one, the better). Rather, I’m referring to the much-lauded French drama that premiered on SundanceTV back in 2013. The series tells the story of a small French village stunned by the realization that several dead former residents have returned to the land of the living with no knowledge of what happened to them. The series boast strong writing, great pacing, and several excellent young actors (take note, Walking Dead). And, best yet, the first season is only eight episodes long and available on Netflix. So, if you haven’t watched it yet, give it a chance. And if you have, wow- what a strangely lovely start to the long-awaited second season.
Time jumps are a tricky thing in the world of television. Sometimes they work wonders (the Parks and Recreation season seven time jump was a brilliant choice), while other times they just makes things all the more confusing. In this instance, the confusion created by the immediate six month time jump worked in the show’s favor, adding yet another layer of complexity and general murkiness to the new season. It did take me a few minutes to place the various characters (two years away from a show does tend to dull the memory of specifics a bit), but the episode answered the various logistical questions that arose from the time jump efficiently within the course of the story (who was who, where each person lived, who was still speaking to who, etc.)- while still managing to avoid any real concrete answers to any of the old or new mysteries presented. And, considering that the series (on the whole) has seemed far less concerned with providing answers than with simply letting things play out at their own pace, I wasn’t all that troubled by not knowing why the Returned have isolated themselves in their own little section of the town or why the “living” members of the town remain segregated in their own emergency housing sections.
The mystery surrounding the reappearances deepened even further in “The Child,” with newly returned individuals popping up (another school friend for Camille, while Victor- still the creepiest child on television- gets his mother back), and Adèle set to give birth to Simon’s child, who appears to be not quite right. Questions were raised regarding the intent of those who have returned, with Lucy hinting at great plans for the future (and emerging as a de facto leader for the Returned), and with the seemingly magical ability of the woods to surround vehicles when their passengers have some connection to the Returned (it appears that the Returned still cannot leave the town, while the living can move in and out of the area freely). And that’s not even getting into the now cult-like nature of Pierre’s Helping Hand shelter and the strange beings eating the animals in the woods. The show is already juggling a number of characters and storylines from season one, so it will be interesting to see if these new questions and additional characters enhance the show or cause it to begin crumbling under the weight of all it entails.
“The Child” did a great job of adding new layers to the series, but it also pointed out a few of The Returned‘s flaws. First, the time jump on the series may have only been six months, but for a show that relies on a large number of younger actors, the much longer time off between the filming of season one and season two shows. Little Victor appears significantly older, and even the older Lena (Jenna Thiam) appears to have aged rather significantly in the ensuing two years. But the one element of the series that most troubles me is the appearance of the military in the town. Yes, when a major dam breaks and floods an entire town, national attention and a national guard presence is necessary (not to mention that the bulk of the town’s police force has mysteriously disappeared as well). But after the show successfully navigated the difficult question of how to get an entire town to believe that people are coming back from the dead, the last thing I want to deal with is how to either hide the same from the military or how to convince the military that this is happening. One of the charms of season one was that there were no larger reaching questions regarding the national reach of the reappearances. I would much rather spend time with the characters we know and see how they continue to adjust to this new reality. There’s so much to mine from those stories that I worry the addition of the military question (something that was discussed already in “The Child”) may overwhelm the already delicate narrative.
–Poor Julie. Arguably season one’s most complex character, it looks like things are going to continue going downhill for her. Perhaps Laure can come back some time? After all, if Victor is thinking about her, it might mean she’s going to return…
— As someone who found Simon and Adèle’s story far more interesting when the pair was together rather than apart, I really hope that the mysterious baby reunites them.