Published on December 7th, 2015 | by Michael1
The Returned Season Two Finale
I recently re-watched some early episodes of The Returned and one thing that immediately caught my attention was how normal it all looked in comparison with the second season. Far more of it was filmed in natural daylight, there are more references to real films and bands, music is played in bedrooms and at the Lake Pub. Watching it again having seen the second season, it’s like reality itself has been draining out of this mysterious mountain town in the six months since Camille turned up in the family kitchen.
I mention this because as we approach the final episode of The Returned it is prudent to point out that creator Fabrice Gobert has always been more interested in the feel of the programme than the narrative, that rollicking stories will always take second place to the psychological effects of having dead loved ones return. Though The Returned is actually based on a film, They Came Back, I think Gobert hadn’t thought much beyond the original concept and then thought ‘what would be the ramifications of this happening?’. That’s not to say that there haven’t been some great story moments in the series. Two episode endings stand out in particular- Lena’s discovery of the horde in the forest in season one and the dead gendarmes tied to trees in season two. The end of the first series was criticised for not providing any answers, only further mysteries. How does the finale, called ‘The Returned’, stack up? Well, if you want nice, neat explanations you’re probably watching the wrong programme. What you might get though is a sense of closure.
There are myriad unanswered questions left here but after watching you might find that they’re not as important as you supposed. I guess THE big mystery is solved – why did the dead come back at all? You’ll not be surprised to find that it was Victor what done it. Shortly after his murder 35 years ago, he had reappeared to his adoptive father Mr Lewanski and lived in his house in secret for decades. When Mr Lewanski had a heart attack and hit his head, a distraught Victor tried to bring him back (unaware that he was merely comatose). Instead, he brought back everyone else. Yep, it all started because a child had a tantrum of sorts.
Off the top of my head, these are some of the questions I had going into this episode – Who or what is Lucy Clarsen? Who or what is Victor, and how long has he been dead? Did Simon really kill himself? Why does Victor think Julie is his fairy? How did the Gendarmes get wiped out, apparently with their own guns? None of these questions are conclusively answered. What does seem clear is that Lucy, whoever she is, acts as a sort of Pied Piper figure. She was seen arriving into the town shortly before the dam burst 35 years ago, coming in on the bus as she was seen to be doing in the first season, when she arrived shortly before the dead first appeared. So does Lucy know when things are going down in the town and she rolls up to help? Throughout this second season her motives have seemed sinister when she has been shown commanding the horde. But it now seems that Lucy isn’t an undead, at least not as we know them. She might be something else entirely. One of the major themes of this episode was failure of leadership. Lucy lost the horde last week. Milan tells his old protégé Pierre that he failed to find peace with his suicide cult. Pierre himself faces humiliation when Audrey is found eating Sandrine’s corpse – none of his followers feel safe and leave him to his own devices. Instead it is the ultimate reluctant leader, Victor, who must step up to the plate.
Before Victor can do his thing though there’s a lot to be done. First off, Camille notices a reappearance of those nasty wounds that spring up on the undead (and Lena). She tells Jerome that despite her choice last week she’ll eventually have to join the dead rather than stay with her family. She hopes he’ll understand, because Claire and Lena won’t. Things are brought to a head when Frederic shoots and kills Camille, thankfully the little fucker is himself plugged by Claire. Camille is revived by a distraught Virgil (who looked as surprised as anyone when his attempts to help worked) and the rest of the Seguret clan finally understand that she needs to go, though Lena still tries to talk her out of it. The three of them finally get the hell out of Dodge with little Chloe in tow, and there’s a lovely moment when Chloe lays in Lena’s lap and Lena instinctively starts to comfort her as they drive away from town. It’s difficult to remember that Lena isn’t actually used to being a big sister, she’s used to being a twin. As he looks at the empty seat in the car, Camille’s spirit appears, smiling benignly. What I wouldn’t have given for one establishing shot of the lot of them way out of town though, rather than just a bit further down the road. I don’t need TV to spell things out for me but a brief glimpse of them living it up in Paris or whatever would have done me the world of good. But The Returned just isn’t like that.
So Chloe is with the Segurets and in a way it feels very natural that she should be – for all their faults Jerome and Claire have seemed like stable parents these last few weeks and she could do far worse than Lena for an older sister. But what of her own family? Well, this is where it gets weird. The search for the wee baby Nathan gets a little side-tracked this week with Adele suffering from serious exhaustion. She and Simon stumble across a cave and try to explore, but get separated. Then a very wrinkled returnee (looking like the creature glimpsed in the cave weeks ago) guides Adele into the darkness. When she reappears, she is wearing her wedding dress and is reunited with Simon in his suit. They look up into the sky, joyful smiles on their faces. I guess we’re meant to assume that Adele died and has now been reunited with Simon but honestly it’s hard to tell.
Finally, there’s a lot of reconciliation made among the members of the horde, most of it in silence. A now pacified Milan (who hasn’t done anything abhorrent since his continual drowning – a grim version of a baptism and conversion perhaps?) joins his wife and son Toni. Madame Costa joins her husband, himself now a returnee. Camille holds hands with the love of her afterlife, Virgil. The one noticeable absentee is Serge, who chooses to remain behind and die of the mysterious wounds, probably in penance for all his crimes. Fittingly, he chooses to do so in that dreaded underpass. One criticism I would have of these last two episodes is that there is not nearly enough Serge and Toni. I said before that The Returned isn’t particularly story based but Serge and Toni have both had excellent character arcs so it’s been a shame to see them curtailed at the end. Also, as far as narrative choices go, I’m not sure I agree with killing Toni off anyway. He was virtually unchanged as a returnee and bar his incarceration at the Helping Hand he’s done little this season that he couldn’t have done anyway. He would have also had his own crisis of conscience when leaving town, as the Segurets did. But hey, I’m not a showrunner.
Poor Victor, he only really cares about one person, Julie, but he’s the one he can’t really help at all. Victor’s pre-ordained role in all of this is to lead the dead back from whence they came but it means abandoning Julie, and he continues to be tortured by his visions of her – the ones where she dies, and the ones where she is on the beach with a boy who isn’t him. But we’ve seen the visions change, from her suicide, to her murder. Now Victor sees another version of the beach scene, this time he’s the boy. Etienne, who seems to have a foot in both worlds being a returnee without his memories but with the ability to understand what is going on, tells Victor that ‘you can change things’. Julie jumps into the sinkhole before Victor can stop her. He has other things on his mind too, specifically the wee baby Nathan. He whispers a some salient points to Lucy, few of which were audible and fewer still were translated but the phrase ‘…like me…’ was subtitled for our benefit. My theory then is that Victor is, like the wee baby Nathan, a product of both the living and the dead, hence his array of strange powers. He wants Lucy to ensure that Nathan doesn’t become a danger. This might be borne out by the eventual ‘fate’ of Victor and Julie, of which more later. After Julie jumped in, we come back to the scene and the rest of the returned have disappeared and the sinkhole has filled with water. Clearly the dead have gone back and done so willingly but what has actually happened? It might be facile to say they became the water in the sinkhole but the idea has some merit – Camille’s grave, when dug up in season one by Frederic and Lucho, was filled with water. Death and water have had a strong correlation in this series, from the lake draining when the dead returned in the first season to the dam burst that claimed so many lives 35 years ago. On the other hand, there were some very disturbing sound effects when Victor tried to revive his Papa and brought the dead back, including sirens and screaming. Hopefully these sounds just represent what happened when those individuals died but maybe Victor dragged them all back from Hell. I like the water theory best.
At any rate, Julie appears back topside, soaking wet but otherwise unharmed. Then the scene shifts to that beach. Julie is sat while Victor plays in the water (with friends!) and then Ophelie joins them with ice creams for everyone, yay! It’s all suspiciously idyllic and indeed, the shrill cry of a baby punctures the air as Victor looks on in fear…
In the final scene, Lucy is shown dropping the wee baby Nathan off with an unknown couple in an unknown location. The returned have gone and most of the living characters have had some sort of ending but Gobert has hinted at the possibility of another series, though stating it would be very different. Indeed, it seems that most if not all of the major characters from the first two seasons would be absent. The wee baby Nathan clearly has a big part to play in something or other, but what? Did Victor create the vision on the beach and the presence of another powerful kid threatens it? Or is he just generally scared that someone like Nathan is still out there?
There are so many questions left but it’s the joy of watching a foreign series, steeped in a tradition that maybe you’re not familiar with, that you don’t know what is likely to be answered and what was always intended to be left unsaid. I think it’s important to think of The Returned as a mood piece rather than a narrative driven drama. I unashamedly love it, but I do think that maybe if it was in English I might have found it stilted and annoying rather than lyrical and majestic. It’s hard to say, but I think the language barrier (and the undeniable pleasure one gets from listening to French) added a great deal to the overall atmosphere which is a huge part of the show’s appeal. The Auld Alliance is very much alive and well because huge props must go to the Scottish Mogwai and the career best work they’ve done on the soundtrack, some of the best I’ve heard on TV.
‘The Returned’ left me in a very melancholy mood and there are many moments throughout the two seasons that I won’t soon forget. A lot of the early reaction to the finale centred on Julie and Victor with people saying they were fighting back the tears but for me it was and always has been about Camille, the oblivious little girl who so guilelessly wandered back home three years ago, setting of an emotional H Bomb as she did so. Her scenes with Lena in particular will stay with me for a long time.