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'The Returned' Nears Season's End
December 12, 2013  | By Eric Gould  | 2 comments

[Editor's Note: This story reveals details of the eight-part Sundance Channel miniseries.]

As the zombie series The Returned airs its penultimate episode this Thursday night, 9 p.m., ET on Sundance Channel, more of its mystery comes to light. But more importantly, the French import continues its deep, elegiac tone and stands as one of the smartest and most satisfying shows of 2013.

It’s fair game to now reveal, six weeks down the line, that The Returned began with a surprising premise of a few dead residents of a small mountain village one day simply returning to life as if they’d never left.

The twist here is that the undead aren't the usual rotting, flesh-eating zombies. They are, however, ravenous. Camille (Yara Pilartz, top), a fifteen year-old girl who was killed on a school trip with many of her classmates in a bus accident, couldn’t get a sandwich fast enough once she got back home.

The zombies of The Returned are connected to the vengeful corpses in The Walking Dead in title only.  As they try to return to what they assume is their normal life, they have not aged and have no memory of dying or being gone. They live and breathe as they once were.

This, along with the Twin Peaks-style creepiness of the idyllic village perched atop a dam, gives The Returned its uncanny premise of the past returning to live among us.

The real star of The Returned (based on the 2004 film Les Revenants) has been its art direction and mood, which have painterly wide shots and long cello screeds by the Scottish post-rock band Mogwai. Those help make the series a kind of scripted performance art and as close to a literary experience as television can provide. (Swann Nambotin and Jean-François Sivadier, right) As brutal as the nightmare imagery is in American Horror Story, it’s as beautiful and provocative here.

The mood, fashioned by directors Fabrice Gobert and Frédéric Mermoud, has much in common with Sundance’s equally somber 2013 series, Rectify.  For some viewers that might land The Returned in the realm of self-important indie mumblecore. But that’s a mistake and the reward of this eight-part series (renewed for 2014) is languishing in this quiet, twilight world where memories come to life.

The main plot of the series now moves to why Camille and others like Simon (Pierre Perrier), who committed suicide on his wedding day, are returning to life, and how strange events surrounding the dam are related. But its real power has been more about how we should live with regret and loss. The living in The Returned must reconcile their guilt over having emotionally moved on – and their shock at having to confront the pain that lives long after loved ones leave. The discovery of Camille in the kitchen as if nothing had happened by her mother Claire (Anne Consigny) was perhaps one of the most riveting moments of TV in recent memory.

It’s that haunting minute, in its utterly ordinary domestic setting, that gives The Returned its unique brand of the macabre of the everyday.

And the series gives us, by the proxy of its astonished characters, to imagine a second chance where the departed can finally hear all the things we never could say – when we had the time.

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Keith Robin
Maybe that's why they've run a Returned Marathon for the last two weeks.
Kudos to Sundance for airing the series in French and uncensored. I can only imagine was the new Americanized versions of this series will be like!
Dec 14, 2013   |  Reply
Andrea Madden
I wish that Sundance had made this series more accessible.
Dec 12, 2013   |  Reply
Andrea - No question, Sundance underestimated the audience for "The Returned". –EG
Dec 12, 2013
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