When The Returned Returns

We’ve got questions. We want answers…

A truly mesmerising exercise of suspense and suspicions, and basically the best show to arrive on UK TV screens in 2013? Or a series with the most startling anti-climax imaginable, given what’d gone before its final episode?

(A brief interjection: if you are currently working your way through this series, and do not want to stumble over any spoilers, Clash advises you to click away now.)

The Channel 4-broadcast, Mogwai-soundtracked The Returned – aka Les Revenants, a Canal+ presentation originally aired in France in late 2012 – has split its audience straight down the middle if Twitter is to be taken as read. Reactions to Sunday’s (July 28th) finale came in two distinct flavours: unabashed admiration for how a necessarily violent climax was considerately framed, and declarations of despondency at leaving so many narrative threads snaking in the wind.

Those at Clash who followed the series from its first episode, ‘Camille’ – every episode is named after a character or characters, Camille being the first of the ‘returned’, previously dead individuals, to arrive back in the show’s small Alpine town setting – have been excitedly chattering about the numerous unanswered questions that will keep us hooked on all things The Returned until series two airs, in 2014. And when The Returned returns, we want answers…

We’ve so many questions, that we thought we’d share them, here. From theories on the setting, to the motives of certain key characters: we’ve been grinding the grey matter but nothing’s truly sticking. A handful of hunches is all we have – and if you want to join the conversation, please do in our comments section or via the Clash Twitter

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Toni. Let’s talk about Toni. The innkeep at The Lake Pub, the sole oasis of no-parents fraternising for the local teens of The Returned’s scenic setting, a shabby pool hall serving fizzy lager in Coke glasses, has been connected to a number of significant plot developments.

He gave Lucy a job when she rolled into town – and it’s Lucy’s stabbing, at the end of episode one, that initiates a tangent that ultimately ties itself in a loose knot come the series’ climax, as she leads a horde of the returned up to where the townspeople have taken a sort of sanctuary at the Helping Hand. So he’s the last person to see her conscious – before she later comes around and becomes some sort of leader for the zombie nation. But, more on her in a moment.

Toni: we want to know why he killed his mum, as that sure isn’t explained properly. We want to know if he was already dead before he arrived, wounded by a self-inflicted (or was it?) gunshot, at the Helping Hand. There’s a sibling rivalry issue surfacing, too: can Toni and his brother Serge both exist in the same space, or dimension? Serge, as one of the returned, reconnects with his brother – but it’s Toni who killed him in the first place, so it’s he who last interacted with Serge, before he died.

The same can be said of twins Camille and Léna – although they were not physically touching when the former died, as twins they seemed to share a psychic bond, and Camille was alerted to Léna’s intimacy with someone she had affections for at the moment she died in a coach crash. The longer Léna, now four years her sister’s senior, shares existence with Camille, the more her own body degrades, as her back begins to blister and split – at the same time as Camille, too, begins to experience (albeit painless in her case) fracturing of her skin.

So, can two people who shared a moment of death both exist in the same reality? Or maybe Léna is dead, too? We see her fall, and Serge find her – and then she awakes at Serge and Toni’s outskirts lodge. Her wound still hurts, so we assume she’s with us, rather than One Of Them.

We’ve questions over Serge, too. Having already seen that a returned can be killed but then come back to ‘life’ again – Simon is seemingly fatally shot by police chief Thomas but is soon enough wandering the corridors of the local hospital, starkers – we’re pretty sure that his disappearance beneath the surface of the local (dammed, but draining) lake isn’t the end for him.

But when Toni sees him again, in the final moments of the final episode, is he really there? Because Toni sees his mother, too – and it’s never made clear if she has returned, or is simply appearing to Toni in visions, perhaps visions prompted by contact with creepy child returnee Victor, who earlier appeared responsible for Toni’s shooting. (Or was that really Serge?)

Yes, we appreciate that Julie physically holds Serge at that same time – but bearing in mind that it’s serial killer Serge who comes so close to murdering Julie in events only seen in Victor-conjured flashbacks, perhaps she, too, is experiencing some sort of vision? Also, she maintains that she is one of the returned herself, although doesn’t go so far as to prove it by dropping herself from her high(ish)-rise apartment window. When the horde, led by Lucy, demands Victor returns to them, he is taken down by his guardian ‘fairy’ Julie – and there is no suggestion that the horde does not accept her into the fold.

And perhaps she really is a guardian for the freaky Victor. As Julie, Victor and Julie’s former partner (and possible future love interest again) Laure sleep in the latter’s police car, having tried and failed to leave town, seeming to circle it without achieving any distance from it, the horde attempts to take Victor. And cannot.

It’s not explained how they failed – but having seen the main returned characters (Simon, Serge, and so on) manage to open doors and smash windows, surely a flimsy car would be little obstacle? So, maybe being in the presence of Julie does provide Victor – or should we now be calling him Louis, as an episode eight flashback informs us – with protection?

Not being able to leave town – a phenomenon experienced, too, by Serge and Toni as they flee their woodland cabin when the police come calling (note, again, that the fleeing characters are a combination of alive and returned – when the dam workers leave town, they seem to make it out okay) – raises the question of whether or not this whole setting is a vision of purgatory. But if that was the case, it implies a Heaven and a Hell, and Serge, for his murdering and penchant for light cannibalism, should surely have gone in a downward direction long ago.

When Simon is shot, and apparently killed, it takes time for him to pop back into an upright state – and it’s here, in the hospital, that he meets the similarly revived Lucy. But when he’s stabbed, strongly, later in the series, his recovery seems fairly instantaneous. Is there a Game Of Thrones Lord Of Light parallel to be made here? Can the returned return a number of times before their bodies begin to properly fall apart, and their behaviour changes – from a normal, relatively passive demeanour to something more furious?

We witness Simon violently hammering on a locked door between himself and ex-fiancé Adèle, mother to the daughter he never knew he had, Chloé. When Thomas comes across a solitary (significantly decayed of appearance) returned in a wrecked Lake Pub, the toilet-drinking stray immediately attacks him. In the next series, will we witness more of this typical zombie-like aggression? And just how many times can a returned come back? We see a previously dead dog snarl its way back to life, only to be shot by Toni – and it doesn’t seem to leap back for a second time. Has Victor come back more than once? He’s there when Camille’s coach crashes, the cause of the vehicle’s swerving from the road – has he been wandering the local surroundings looking for his fairy ever since, or has he, too, been and gone and come back again a few times?

Kill the head, and the body will die?

And the flooding of the town: did everyone leave? We know the electricity was down, but is that enough to get what looks like a settlement with a population of a good few thousand inhabitants to up and leave? There aren’t that many up the hill at the Helping Hand when we see the episode eight reveal. How’d all that water get into Camille’s grave? Just what were all the animals in the lake running, terrified, from? That was never revealed… suggesting there might well be a greater evil than a few undead sorts out there, in the woods.

Thomas, perhaps, has felt it – as soon as he realises that there are others like Simon, he sees them as the enemy. He feels threatened, while Helping Hand manager Pierre welcomed them. But is that because he, too, knows what horrors await the living? He’s stockpiled an arsenal in his basement, and in the finale he’s left alone with Lucy for a brief period. What does she tell him? He looks petrified when he returns to the Helping Hand’s assortment of (apparently) living residents. The only other time we see him like that, truly quaking, is when Victor shows him a flashback to how Pierre was involved in Victor’s murder.

Maybe the dead are looking to take the land of the living by breeding with its natives? We know that Adèle is pregnant, by Simon – series one ends with a close-up of Chloé resting a hand on her mother’s stomach. But could Léna be pregnant, too, by Serge? They have sex together – and it’s unlikely either had protection to hand at the time. The horde wants to take Adèle with them – leading to the face-off (unseen, but heard in detail) with the local police force – but makes no motion to carry away Léna, focusing instead on her sister. And why don’t they take Serge? The last we see him, he’s under the Helping Hand, in an area accessible from the outside – so not via the locked-down main building. He could leave with them… that’s assuming that he’s there at all, and not still at the bottom of the lake.

Costa. Oh, Madame Costa. Just who are you? Why won’t you be straight with anyone? Can you manipulate people as Victor can? We see Julie almost drop from a window, under your gentle persuasion.

Maybe they’re all dead. Maybe it’s all a dog’s dream. Maybe it is some kind of purgatory and Lucy is a sexy angel who has it off with anyone that she needs to manipulate later in the narrative. Maybe Victor and Lucy are the same person, shattered across dimensions – both can see the past through those they come into physical contact with, although Victor can make others see visions, too. What really caused Sandrine’s miscarriage? She doesn’t like Camille, certainly, openly blaming her for the suicide of two parents of a child killed in the same coach accident.

And, is this happening anywhere else in the world? The 2004 film on which The Returned is based (sharing the same name) features some 70 million returned. There’s perhaps a few hundred seen in the TV series. Could this same situation be springing up in other countries?

We’ve no idea. But we can’t wait to find out.

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The above is but a skimming of the many questions we have stirring. So it's over to you. Did you love The Returned? Hate it? Couldn’t read the subtitles on your tiny TV? Based your whole French GCSE oral exam on its finer plot points? Tell us your theories, if you like: we’re on Twitter and Facebook.

Find lots more information on The Returned on the Channel 4 website.

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