The International Emmy for Best Drama Series in 2013 went to the French television show The Returned (Les Revenants). Based on a 2004 film of the same name, The Returned offers emotional realism intertwined with the fantastic and supernatural. A completed upending of the zombie-craze of the past decade, this series is as touching and beautiful as it is unnerving—a truly moody and moving body of work.
Read my review after the jump.
Official Synopsis: The Returned opens in a small mountain community which is rocked to its core when several local people who are presumed dead suddenly re-appear at their homes. Despite having passed away some years earlier, these ghostly characters appear in human form, they have not aged, and they are completely unaware of their own fatality. Determined to reclaim their lives and start over, they slowly come to realize that they are not the only ones to have been brought back from the dead. Their return augers torment for their community when a series of gruesome murders bear a chilling resemblance to the work of a serial killer from the past. This is a homecoming like no other.
Lest I completely alienate the timid, it’s important to note that The Returned bears no resemblance to The Walking Dead. The zombies aren’t decayed, mindless, flesh-eaters, they seem completely normal (except for the fact that they never sleep and are constantly ravenous—for food). This isn’t a world-wide epidemic, but rather a situation unique to this isolated village in the French Alps. But I don’t want you to think that it’s all atmosphere and melancholic beauty; The Returned is intensely creepy and, at moments, shockingly brutal.
Season 1 consists of 8 episodes, each named after a pivotal character.
Episode 1 is named for Camille, a fifteen year old who returns home 4 years after dying in a bus accident—one the killed 39 of her peers. In the time since she died, her parents have separated and her sister has become emotionally closed-off. In addition to the shock it causes her family, some members of the community will come to resent her return when so many remained lost. What makes her so special?
Episode 2 is named for Simon, a young man who died on his wedding day 12 years ago. His fiancé, Adele, who was devastated by his passing, is finally ready to move on with a new partner when Simon unexpectedly returns. Simon also has a daughter, Chloe, who he has never met, as she wasn’t yet born when he died. The resulting love triangle is a gut-wrenching struggle between a Adele’s past and her future. The situation is further complicated when Adele learns the truth about Simon’s passing.
Episode 3 is named for Julie, a nurse who’s life was shattered 7 years ago when she became the victim of extreme violence. As a result of her ordeal, she feels unable to truly live and often wonders if she is, in fact, already dead. Her life takes on new meaning with the arrival of “Victor”, a mysterious (and wickedly creepy) child, approximately 10 years old.
Episode 4 is named for Victor, a mere child who was murdered 35 years ago during a burglary that also left the rest of his family dead. He chooses Julie as a guardian and dubs her his “Blue Angel”. It is this pairing that allows Julie to finally deal with her past as her love for the boy supersedes her fears of human connection. Victor is a pivotal force in The Returned, a character who has the ability to grant visions and influence actions.
Episode 5 is named for Serge and Toni, two brothers who lived with their mother in an isolated cabin outside the village. Serge has returned home after being dead for 7 years. The relationship between the brothers was tragic before, and attempts to reconcile in the present prove nearly impossible. Of those who returned to life, Serge seems the least deserving, and the most dangerous.
Episode 6 is named after Lucy, a recent addition to the village who arrived about a year before the dead returned. Outgoing and attractive, Lucy works as a bartender while offering other services (psychic and sexual) on the side. Lucy is the ambassador between the living and the dead in The Returned, as a victim of violence who nearly pierces the veil herself.
Episode 7 is named after Adele, Simon’s fiancé who was already mentioned above. Her current fiancé Thomas, an untrustworthy and obsessive police officer, is also essential to the plot.
Episode 8 is called The Horde, but I can’t explain this title without spoiling The Return’s epic and mindboggling conclusion.
The Returned is a standout television series reminiscent of Twin Peaks. The fact that that it’s produced overseas (far away from the restrictive FCC) means The Returned is as adult and realistic as any HBO or Showtime offering. And while the story is drenched in the supernatural, it has the same effect as Six Feet Under in that it forces us to examine our relationships with the dead.
And while the conclusion feels appropriate, we are left grappling many questions. What would we do if our loved ones actually did return—not as monsters, but as the people we remember them as? Would we be happy or terrified? Would we want to reconnect? Would they still hold places of importance in our lives? And—what if they left again? Just imagine the pain of losing someone to death twice.
These themes will be further dissected in Season 2, which is currently filming and aims to air this November. The DVD includes a fantastic color booklet filled with essays and insights into this future cult phenomenon. The original soundtrack by the Scottish post-rock group Mogwai is also incredible and worth owning. Fans of Horror and Drama can rejoice in The Returned, a rare television treat with vast appeal and emotional staying power. Don’t miss it.
4.5 out of 5 Skull Heads.
|Also known as||Les Revenants|
|Created by||Fabrice Gobert|
|Theme music composer||Mogwai|