Episode eight of The Returned was a gripping sixty minutes, but as a finale to the series it was frustrating and disappointing, leaving a thousand and one questions unanswered and resolving almost none of the show’s many loose threads.
Most of the episodes in the series have opened with flashbacks, and the finale’s revealed a little about the original flooding of the town 35 years ago, and how the town authorities may have been responsible for the resultant deaths. The dead, Mrs Costa said, will get their revenge one day, which is a pretty clunky line.
Back in the present, Julie, Laure and Victor woke up in their car, stranded on the dam, to discover hand prints on the window, from the horde of undead passing in the night. It was a scary idea, and I wish there had been more horror like this throughout the series. The tone in The Returned never fully lived up to the frightening opening episodes.
Julie and Co stumbled upon a suicidal Toni, and after being left alone in the car with Victor, Toni found himself with a gun in his hand, shooting himself in the stomach. A visage of Serge appeared, but considering Serge’s distress and shock later in the episode upon seeing Toni unconscious, you can assume Victor was responsible for Toni’s death. Which is strange, because while the show is portraying Victor as an enigma, there isn’t really any way to spin this scene other than Victor being malicious; a bad guy who kills people.
The four headed to the Helping Hand refuge, where Julie tried but failed to save a dying Toni. Meanwhile, Simon escaped from prison with Lucy and kidnapped Chloe from her mother. Thomas and his police force sped to the refuge to see if Simon was there, but was instead informed by a deputy that the horde of undead where converging on the building.
The episode really kicked into gear at this point, and started feeling like a proper conclusion. In some stunningly shot scenes, everyone gathered inside the refuge while the police took up position outside, shining spotlights into the darkness, as the hundreds of mysterious undead slowly marched on the compound.
The horde was lead by Lucy, although it was never in any way explained why. Maybe she’s just really charismatic. She informed Thomas that Chloe would be handed over in exchange for the returned inside the refuge. Thomas has been an interesting character throughout the show. He keeps switching between villain and hero, in this episode protecting the building from an unknown threat, and yet at the same time ripping Camille and Victor from their loved ones and surrendering them to the undead.
Pierre at this point stood by unmoving, caught off guard by the horde’s dismissal of his olive branch. In contrast, Camille’s father physically fought to defend his daughter, but the police forced Camille out into the darkness with her mother, along with Mrs Costa and Victor, accompanied by Julie. Chloe was handed over to Thomas, but the undead wanted Adele too, for the baby she was carrying, fathered with Simon.
The final scenes of the episode were great, as Thomas refused the horde’s request, and, as the shutters fell inside the compound, an unseen struggle took place outside. And then: morning, and the undead gone, along with the police, and nothing but the now flooded town outside.
Cinematically, it was a strong conclusion, but narratively it left far too many questions unanswered and was very unsatisfying. Upon its original broadcast in France, the ‘reactions of the fans [were] mostly negative,’ (from Premiere.fr, via The Guardian), and I can see that being mirrored in the UK.
My biggest concern with this show is that it is heading for the ludicrous mess that Lost descended into, with stacks of mysteries with either no answers or unsatisfying ones. Think of all the questions completely unaddressed, some from the very first episode:
Why did Camille and friends return? What was going on with the water level in the reservoir? What was Pierre’s involvement in Victor’s death? Why did Lena’s dad hit her in the pub? Where the fuck where all the woodland undead for the show’s duration? Wandering the woods? Also, who the fuck are they? Why is there no contact between the town and the outside world? Why can’t anyone leave the town? Why wasn’t Serge taken by the Horde? Where did he disappear to last week?
It’s difficult to do a satisfying ending that leaves the viewer wanting more but plenty of shows manage it. Immediately jumping to mind – because it returns for a final season in a few weeks – is Breaking Bad, a show which consistently leaves the audience satisfied but still uses cliffhangers to set-up the next season. Lots of shows do the same; the recent Utopia for instance was filled with questions and mysteries and still managed a complete conclusion that simultaneously promised more.
The other main criticism I have is that a lot of the characters aren’t that engaging. Adele is a very weak character, serving mainly as a plot device, Camille’s story got lost in melodrama and while Pierre could have been interesting, hints at a darkness to his character were never explored. Many of the rest are 2D enigmas: Lucy, Mrs Costa, and Victor.
I wouldn’t want those criticisms to completely characterise my view of the show though. I did like it, especially the early episodes. The directing throughout was very pretty, with great use of darkness, and Mogwai’s soundtrack was creepy and did a lot for the atmosphere.
The acting was okay. I think some of the characters got stuck early on, with actors not changing things up enough. Camille’s mother has been permanently shocked, her father a constant ball of repressed emotion. I wouldn’t be too critical though, because both those actors seem capable and I think the bulk of the problem was with the writing, failing to shade a lot of the characters enough.
And that’s really where most of my issues are: with the writing. It’s been a very enjoyable show, with a tense and engaging narrative, but I look forward to the next series – airing late next year – with a cautious optimism, because I’m worried about all those unanswered questions.
- Toni and Serge appeared in the flashback as children, which means that Serge must be at least 40. Looks good for his age.
- Thinking back, it’s crazy that Toni killed his brother. Why not just call the police?
- I don’t understand why Frederick is so in love with Camille – it was Lena he had sex with while Camille was on the school trip.
- Someone in the comments of The Guardian review suggested the final scenes as a metaphor for the Vichy French government handing the Jews over to the Nazis. I spoke in my review of In the Flesh about how zombie fiction has a long history of being used as a metaphor for discrimination, so it seems possible. Certainly an interesting suggestion and raises questions about whether us non-French viewers can pick up on all the show’s nuances.
- One final criticism which I think illustrates the problems with The Returned. There’s some speculation that Lucy has always been a returned – since before she was attacked, and that would explain why she is head of the undead horde. But when she was attacked by Serge, she was in intense pain from being stabbed, while Simon barely flinched when stabbed this episode. So Lucy can’t have been a returned when she showed up in the pub, pre-attack. But wait, I don’t have the confidence in this show to be sure it will follow such logic. They could easily make Lucy a returned since before the attack and just ignore the stab question like they’ve done with so many others. My point is that because of poor writing, you can’t trust the internal logic in this show, and that makes it hard to engage with. And if the show does follow the above logic, and Lucy was a normal person before being attacked, why is she suddenly in charge of the horde upon waking from a coma? Why is she a mysterious super-being who seemingly knows so much? Questions without answers and poor logic. I really worry for series two.
The Returned Reviews: Episode One, Episode Two, Episode Three, Episode Four, …………………………..Episode Five, Episode Six, Episode Seven