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The Returned: "Simon"

“There’s an explanation for everything”—Pierre, “Simon”

“Simon” isn’t the knockout that “Camille” is—but the afterglow rarely compares to what comes before it. There’s a clear dividing line separating the events of these two episodes, a landmark as telling as an impact crater or multiple stab wounds. As the dead have miraculously returned to life, the world the characters once knew no longer exists. There is only “before” and “after,” and “Simon” is steeped in “after.” Because of this, it doesn’t give off the same intoxicating high as the premiere—but it’s still some damn good, engrossing television. A universal truth—the dead shall remain—has been shattered, but the shock is wearing off. In its place, “Simon” captures the sights and sounds of an accepted reality slowly beginning to fray.

But that’s nothing to the two men of religion hanging at the edges of the episode, characters who don’t need answers about what’s happening because they have faith. Pierre and Father Jean-François live lives steeped in divine mystery; they seek to help people interpret the joys and tragedies of existence, without providing anything too definitive. Pierre tells Camille that there’s an explanation for what’s happened to her, only going so far to describe it as something “fantastic.” Though he does allude to the one other resurrection he’s sure of—the original zombie who’s not a zombie, Jesus Christ. Speaking on behalf of the cloth, Father Jean-François tries to bring Adele closer to understanding why she’s hearing Simon again—and that again is a qualification The Returned chooses to leave vague for its own, non-spiritual purposes. These two don’t just serve the members of congregations and support groups. They’re also serving the narrative that’s whirring to life within the series.

Acting on the advice of Jean-François, Adele tells Simon “I won’t ask you to leave anymore.” There’s a lot of talk in “Simon” about how wonderful, how miraculous it is that Simon, Camille, et al. are back, and without knowing the full extent of what’s happening, Jean-François recommends that the living extend a welcome to their lost loved ones. It feeds into the episode’s motif of entrances and exits, all these swinging and sliding doors that put Simon in touch with Adele or let Camille back into the outside world. But for all the positives these doorways are letting into the characters’ lives, there’s danger on the other side of the threshold, too. Two wolves at the door—one literal, one figurative, both previously dead—cause trouble for Toni, the bar-tending brother of Lucy’s revived assailant. Looking at these developments from Pierre’s perspective, it seems like one resurrection is a miracle—but multiple resurrections is something more portentous.

There’s an explanation for everything in The Returned—but there’s a connection, too. This town’s not that big, and a lot of the characters have crossed paths before: In the case of Simon and Lena, those connections illuminate the fact that these rejuvenations are not isolated incidents. That’s key, because with the exception of Mrs. Costa and Simon, none of The Returned have crossed paths yet. They’re all under the impression that they’re alone in this (a really poignant layer to the isolation Camille’s feeling), and that keeps the mystery vibrant for another week. Because while we’re puzzling over what became of Simon and whether or not Lucy technically “survived” her attack, the characters themselves are caught up in the search for answers. The mysteries of The Returned are internal as well as external, and that keeps things interesting as the show settles into its groove.

Circling back to Camille: There’s a special sadness to what she’s going through, so it’s natural that she’d be the first of the revenants to ask about what’s happened to her. It’s a thrilling spin on typical themes of teenage alienation: On top of the emotional roller coaster of being a 15-year-old girl, she’s dealing with the facts 

  1. that she died, 
  2. that 40 of her classmates died, 
  3. and her twin sister kept on living.

She trashes Lena’s room because it’s a monument to everything they didn’t get to do together: All of these mistakes, all of these memories, all of these moments that were supposed to be made in tandem. There’s a duality at play here that further ties The Returned to Twin Peaks and Lost: Camille and Lena, the side-by-side grave markers, Julie and Lucy—plus the ultimate duality, life and death.

In Western zombie mythos, the fear of the walking dead is rooted not in their implausibility, but in their numbers. The mindless destruction is made all the more horrifying by the sheer volume of destroyers. For now, the living of The Returned have little reason to fear the people who’ve come back. Because as far as they know, The Returned are not a collective. They are simply Camille, Simon, Victor, Mrs. Costa, and Toni’s brother—separated by short distances, connected by a strange twist of fate. The men who believe such things can happen know there’s some purpose for these homecomings—they’re just not sharing it with us yet. “Simon” doesn’t knock the wind out of the viewer like “Camille” does (at least not until Julie exposes her abdomen), but both episodes add up for a great opening to an intriguing story.

Any legitimate chill this week comes from intimation. “What can happen to me?” Camille rhetorically asks her mother and Pierre. “I’m already dead.” It’s lines like this that’ll keep us hanging on until next week.

Stray observations:

  • Has anyone been able to make out what Camille’s alligator shirt says? It cracks me up that a piece of clothing with such a strong main visual (the alligator) would go totally overboard on its type treatment.
  • Further Twin Peaks echoes: The town’s American Diner, where there’s always music (heavy on the tremolo) and intrigue in the air.
  • Fantastic use of Mogwai’s fantastic soundtrack: The beat Simon teaches Lena to play on the drums syncs up with the cue that plays when she sees Adele’s Polaroid snapshot on the wall. (I believe it’s track 14, “Wizard Motor,” but I’m still learning to identify the album’s individual themes.)
  • What’s happening to the reservoir? It hasn’t stopped draining. One hard-hatted engineers asks the other to warn him if it continues. Prediction: It continues.
  • This week’s zombie that’s not a zombie: In light of Toni’s revived sibling, let’s highlight Robert “Rob Zombie” Cummings, who’s brought a similarly undying representation of pure evil back to life through his updated Halloween films. Did you read Zombie’s ringing endorsement of silent cinema, recently published on The A.V. Club? You should—there’s some interesting thoughts in there that can be applied to The Returned

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