The Returned Preview

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The second season of spooky French supernatural hit The Returned has been a long time coming (season one aired in the UK in 2o13, and it debuted in its native France way back in 2012). But finally, tonight it, um… returns, continuing the tale of the Gallic rural town in the mountains where the dead come back to life. Not as zombies; they recall who they are. But there’s still something not quite right about them.

And believe us, it’s worth the wait. The opening episode of the new season very cleverly gives the show a new direction while at the same time delivering exactly what you remember liking so much from the first season. It’s predictably unpredictable while being comfortingly familiar in its discomforting weirdness.

Strangely, Channel 4 have decided to show it on More 4 meaning that only those with Sky will be able to enjoy the episode’s gorgeous, near impressionistic cinematography in HD. But don’t let that put you off if you’re happily Skyless; there’s still loads to enjoy here.

The main difference you’ll notice is that there’s a new central character, who in a way serves as the the kind of TV trope you’d expect in the pilot of a show, not at the start of season two: he’s called Berg and he’s “the outsider looking in”. The “eyes of the audience” as it were. He’s called Berg, and he’s working with the army trying to bring some order back to the town after the dam burst and the place flooded at the end of season one. But the show’s creators have hinted that he may have more of a link with the whole mystery than seems obvious at first. “He is going to bring many things with him and it’s great because it’s also a way of rebooting the story through someone else’s eyes.” says producer Caroline Benjo. “He’s someone who is progressively going to meet all our characters and have a different kind of impact on their lives as well.”

Meantime, the “returnees” have retreated to make their own little society across the floodwaters, which have still not completely receded. Adèle is having continuing nightmares about her pregnancy (by one of the returnees, Simon). And the soldiers think most of the townsfolk are nutters.

 

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As was the case with season one, not an awful lot actually happens plotwise in the opening episode but the self-conscious longueurs are masterpieces in subtle nuance. You almost feel like you’re being expected to read the characters’ thoughts telepathically at times. Never has a show made such prosaic character moments feel so damned significant since Twin Peaks. And it’s a comparison that producer Benjo is happy with.

“Totally. For us, Twin Peaks was the absolute reference. You just know that without David Lynch’s vision it would not have been the same.”

Because, be in no doubt, Benjo thinks that The Returned’s creator, writer and head director Fabrice Gobert, is an auteur in the Lynch mold. She believes that part of The Returned’s international appeal is not so much that it’s a French twist on a familiar genre but because it’s an auteur’s twist on a familiar genre.

“I think that what is important is that it comes from an auteur vibe,” she says. “It’s not the fact that Fabrice is French. It’s that he’s an auteur.”

That’s part of the reason why season two has been so long coming. The French Channel behind The Returned realised how key Gobert was to the show’s success and they were willing to indulge him.

“We just took the time that Fabrice needed to make absolutely sure, not only that it was going to be as good as the first season, but he was really aiming at being even more surprising. He needed time to accomplish that,” says Benjo. “I think we were very lucky to be surrounded by partners that understood the creative process. And who really felt it was worth waiting.

“It was difficult, of course, because the pressure was much stronger. Nobody with season one knew at that time that we were writing it. Now there was all this expectation raised by season one. But we just decided to just keep on going, as much as we could. And trying to be wise and as daring as possible creatively. You need time for that.”

Season one raised many questions that were never answered. The recurrent problem with “mystery” shows such as The Returned is that when the answers do come they’re less interesting than the questions, and the theories the viewers have been concocting themselves. Benjo believes Gobert has avoided this trap. “Season two is bringing a lot of answers, but strangely enough he is treating the answers with as much care, mystery and depth as he did with the questions.”

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You also have to wonder if answers might be more forthcoming if the characters ever actually ever spoke to each other about their predicament, but avoiding that was a deliberate artistic decision.

“It took so long for the first season to be written because for three years and a half we were trying to have the characters talk to each other about the situation,” says Benjo. “And it was not working. It was not working because it always felt very contrived: ‘So, what’s going on? This is so nuts!’ It was just so stupid, you know? The beautiful idea that Fabrice had is that: there is this fact, and there is no doubt about it for the people who are encountering it, because when your daughter returns from the dead you just accept that it is your daughter who has returned from the dead. What is interesting is the fact that they don’t talk to each other. They don’t go, ‘So you’re dead. What’s going on?’ They share the dance. They share the wonder. They share the questions. But they don’t answer them.”

So in short, then, don’t expect to have anything handed to you on a plate. And expect weirdness. But a beautiful kind of weirdness.


 

 

 

 

 

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