Again and again, death tears us apart. That’s part of the reason that religious notions of the afterlife are so alluring: After death, you have an eternity to reconnect with everyone you’ve ever loved, anyone you’ve ever missed. It’s a lovely thought, and a tenant of faith that helps people through some of the deepest troughs of the survivor’s life. But in order to be reunited, we must first depart.
The opposite is also true, and The Returned is all the richer for exploring this notion. This is the story of a community that is bonded by death, the tale of multiple bodies of people who’ve shared the experience of losing someone and find strength in coming together to acknowledge their losses and to move on. “Serge And Toni” is the most segmented episode of the first season because it plays like a compilation of two-handers—including the one in its title—but this sense is all the more pronounced by a lack of major group scenes. There’s the brief sequence in Adele’s classroom, but that’s as close as it gets. There’s nothing like the support-group meeting from the premiere or Mr. Costa’s funeral, and circumstances among the Segurets prevent even a small-scale assembly of characters bonded by death.
But like any other aspect of these people’s lives prior to “Camille,” those bonds have broken down in a fundamental way. Because there now exists an insurmountable barrier between Claire and Sandrine, the expectant mother who works with Pierre at the Helping Hand: Claire’s daughter came back. All the acts of caring Sandrine has performed at the center—duties that include informing Pierre that Victor and Mrs. Costa have gone missing in “Serge And Toni”—can’t return the two mothers to equal footing, and neither can the child she’s carrying. Sandrine is bringing new life into the world; Claire had an old life saunter through her front door several days ago. Both are equally affecting experiences, but the thing these two women once shared is no more.
Death bonds the dead, too. “Serge And Toni” does something I’ve been hoping for since the series’ second episode: It puts The Returned together and has them compare experiences and help one another out—an echo of what their loved ones have done for each other all this time. All the better, the show doesn’t suddenly pivot into Camille Et Simon: Les Detectives Morts. The conversation in Camille’s bedroom and the diner discussion between Mrs. Costa and Victor aren’t concerned with “How?” questions, and the “Why?” barely factors into it, either. They’re all just pleased to know they’re not alone in this thing. “Pleased” isn’t the most accurate description for a conversation where one person says to the other “‘Love is stronger than death’? What a load of bull,” but you get my drift. It’s an indication that something bigger’s at play, something that involves the evaporating reservoir, the animals that drowned themselves in what water remains, and the dead people who are no longer as dead or as isolated as they were before.
The Returned fascinates me in its ability to draw distinctions without being explicit about it. In the first four episodes, that ability is directed toward showing how swiftly and definitively “then” changes to “now,” how events big and small separate the past from the present. “Serge And Toni,” however, draws those distinctions between people—a development with a major chance for pyrotechnics in a town this small. Given the gendarmerie’s surveillance practices, the town is unconsciously separated into factions; between the Segurets and Toni’s family, we already know of two houses that are divided. And now a line that both splits and unites the populace cuts another way entirely, between the living and the formerly dead.
But The Returned are neither quick nor dead. Given new life, they can atone for sins (as Toni appears to be doing by watching over the ailing Lena) or beg forgiveness from those they left behind (which Simon either doesn’t have the forethought or the memory to do in the presence of Adele and Chloe). They are possibly invulnerable, and, if I’m reading tonight’s scene in the Lake Pub correctly, immune to intoxication. (Or the same metabolic swiftness that makes them so hungry all the time just processes it with uncanny swiftness. I’d prefer to maintain the mystery, though.) The Returned also possess startling powers, the kind Victor has now demonstrated twice—though it may not have had its intended effect this time around.
It’s left unclear in “Julie,” but Victor appears to use these powers to show people that they’re capable of fighting back in their most desperate moments. It’s a curious projection, the child cut down in a moment of complete defenselessness granting the living their own second chances. It scares the shit out of both Julie and Pierre, but there’s a horrified glint in Jean-Francois Sivadier’s eyes that hints toward a greater, deeper trauma. Fighting against Serge (he has a name! He has a name!) brought Julie and Victor closer together. Forcing Pierre to relive that fateful robbery could cause the biggest rift between the town’s population yet. Take heed of what Mrs. Costa tells Victor when he asks if The Returned can “hurt other people”: “They don’t need us for that.” Death may have just torn more people apart more than ever before—and that’s a wound on which Lucy’s miraculous healing powers may have no effect.
- The Foley work on this show is so effectively visceral. I jump every time someone (usually Toni) gets hit in the head or stabbed (usually by Toni).
- Maybe I’ll go deeper into this next week, but I really like the work The Returned has done with memory—something that makes it even more spiritually aligned with its Sundance cousin, Rectify. Some things to watch out for in the Seguret house, which is a veritable time capsule: Polaroids lining the hallway, at just about the same height as Camille’s Memento poster. These are in line with Mrs. Costa’s reflection on the portraits that her husband hung onto: “He didn’t forget me.”
- What’s going on with the reservoir: No joking around here this week because HOLY SHIT THERE’S A WHOLE TOWN DOWN THERE.
- This week’s zombie that’s not a zombie: Let’s give it to Camille for this sparkling bit of self-awareness with Simon: “Zombies have to stick together.” Of course, until she starts tearing into living flesh or carrying out the orders of a voodoo priest, I’m not willing to call her a zombie—but nice joke, kiddo.