The Returned: 102 “Simon” Review
By Adam James Cuthbert
“The Returned is a brilliant transfiguration of the murder-mystery: instead of dying, the victims all come alive, turning the TV convention on its head, which is far more disturbing and compelling. A busload of schoolchildren goes off a cliff; four years later, the kids begin to come home. Not as zombies, but as the children they were.”
Those are the words of A.A. Gill from his review (The Sunday Times Culture, 16th June 2013) – and it addresses a factor in The Returned I’d failed to highlight myself. We’re so accustomed to the word ‘undead’ conjuring images of animated, decomposing, mindless corpses – particularly in action-packed outings, against an apocalyptic backdrop – that we’ve overlooked subtleties. What’s potentially scarier than the undead themselves, or any threat they might pose, is the underlying sense of the unknown and uncanny within the undead: that we’ve faced with an unnatural/preternatural phenomenon that revolutionises our understanding, changes our lives – for good or ill. The mystery is rooted, not in investigating the cause of death, but the nature of their revival. The Returned, it must be said, has so far brilliantly capitalised on potential for psychological horror. It’s much more chilling to watch Camille examine her reflection in the bathroom mirror, subtly perturbed by her very existence, than it is to watch a village be besieged by zombies.
The episode commences with a flashback to ten years ago, unfolding Simon’s backstory. He served as the bassist in a band. He and Adele were young lovers, Adele pregnant with Simon’s child. Tragically, on their wedding day, Simon was killed (under what circumstances, it is not disclosed) – a day that has continued to haunt Adele. In the present, Adele is due to be married to the Chief of Police, Thomas, Thomas already acting like a stepfather to Adele and Simon’s daughter. It’s a scenario that raises interesting storytelling possibilities, should Simon ever meet his daughter. After all, he never watched her grow-up. How would Simon respond? How would his daughter respond, if she ever learnt this man was her father, alive? Would Thomas ever be provoked to attempt to isolate Simon from his family, claiming the daughter already has a father?
Again, we see the influence of a religious perspective on someone’s life, albeit one inarguably wholesome. In this case, Adele, who is encouraged by the amicable priest. “It’s very important to be at peace with our ghosts,” he says. Adele subsequently believes Simon to be a ghost, a figment of her imagination, manifest as the product of wedding-day anxieties. Her newfound belief instils her with happiness, overcoming her initially distraught demeanour. Strangely, Simon doesn’t say anything at all during their meeting. Although, it’s perhaps worth speculating whether or not Simon would risk any lasting chance of happiness in his love’s life by refuting/challenging her claims.
Lena is substantially developed throughout the episode. Her behaviour gives rise to an ambivalent response. She’s intended to be sympathetic, but her refusal to see things from Camille’s perspective, stating her sister “died”, is somewhat too cold-hearted. Her defining trait is her fear of her sister – the fear of the unknown/unnatural directly before her, faced with the seemingly impossible. When Camille seeks comfort from her sister, revealing she’s terrified of herself, Lena recoils in terror. It’s implied she was hit by Jerome as a child, or that’s there a history of violence, possibly unfair punishment, in her past, evoking sympathy for the character. She appears to have reconsidered her attitude towards Camille by the end, warming towards her sister’s plight, after learning Simon, who taught her to play the drums a decade ago, has also been resurrected, indicating signs of maturity within the character.
I’ve found myself drawn towards Julie’s character – although I can’t place why. My feeling is she may have been a (would-be) mother, explaining why she forms a maternal attachment towards Victor, and breaks down in tears after promising she’ll care for him. I’m intrigued, certainly, by the nature of the marks on her belly: perhaps she was survived an assault (from the killer)? Victor, meanwhile, remains enigmatic. He doesn’t answer any of Julie’s questions. He appears to leap from the window, and scare Julie, on a whim. Whether he’s the devil-child, an immortal supernatural/superhuman being, or something else entirely, we can only wait and see.
A wolf, killed by the pub owner Toni, is resurrected without any explanation, in a similar fashion as Camille and Simon – it even changes location, from being suspended on a hook. This would suggest that Camille and Simon are not clones – their bodies were, somehow, physically teleported from within their coffins (Pierre mentions he saw Camille’s body lying in its coffin), restored as they were, and they subsequently awoke at the place of their death (Camille in the mountains).
Finally, I think it’s a nice touch that the sundry unrelated characters are connected, in their small ways (Lena and Simon in the photograph together; Julie inhabiting Adele’s former flat). It provides the series with a sense of shared history, tightening the community as a whole.