In almost every form of zombie material, from Night of the Living Dead to The Walking Dead, some of the most fascinating moments come from that moment where a person is forced to deal with a recently deceased loved one returning from the dead. There’s the fear and horror in the eyes of the person who sees the person thought gone now coming right towards them. The Returned is a series that lives in these moments of uncertainty, the duality of terror and love stretched into a fascinating show.
Now The Returned isn’t technically a show about zombies. Granted, each of the “returned” do seem to have unquenchable hunger and rage issues, but it’s not the mindless shuffling towards the living that one would imagine. Instead, a small town that has been overcome with tragedy a decade ago is startled to find that dead people are returning to life, unaware that they shouldn’t be walking around. In the first episode, “Camille,” we see a young girl who died in a bus accident and the family who has splintered dealing with their reunion. “Simon,” the second episode, gave us the titular character who died on his wedding day and now seems angry at the lost time and what has happened with his love since.
In The Returned’s third episode “Julie,” the show focuses on a character who hasn’t died yet, at least that we know of. Seven years ago after leaving a party dressed as Catwoman, Julie is attacked and brutally stabbed in the underpass that has claimed many victims. Flash forward to the present, where Julie’s abdomen is covered in stab wounds and she’s taking care of the mute boy who helped cause the bus accident a decade ago.
We also see that Julie’s nosy neighbor, Miss Payet, has been murdered as well in her own home. While it may seem that the underpass killer is behind the murder, it is suspicious that the mute boy that Julie’s been watching went to her apartment right before.
Looking for answers in “Julie” is Thomas, the cop who is Adele’s new boyfriend. Through the cameras all through the town, he’s looking for clues as to whom the underpass attacker is, yet ironically the only place his cameras can’t seem to reach is inside the underpass. As Thomas seems to become obsessed with searching for help, he sees that Simon, both a murder suspect and the former fiancé of Adele, is working his way back into her life, even kissing her and being caught by cameras in unlawful places.
Camille, who started off the series looking like she would be the main character, takes the background to let other characters in the neighborhood shine. She’s tired of being stuck at home due to her parent’s fear of her getting caught. As her mother takes her shopping, she adopts a new persona of Alice, Lena’s cousin, who clearly has the family resemblance.
The rivalry between Camille and Lena has become one of the most fascinating aspects to this show filled with questions and intrigue. Camille is trying to get back at her sister for sleeping with a boy she had a crush on right before she died, while Lena is still afraid of her newly revived sister and as we see this episode, is very troubled by something on her back she doesn’t want anyone to see.
The Returned is posing plenty of questions already in its first three episodes, yet there isn’t an urgency to solving them. Who knows if these questions even have answers, but that’s not what this show’s focus is. It’s about the grief this town is still trying to dig its way out of and how this entire community has been hit by awful moments.
This is why The Returned makes so much sense on the Sundance Channel, which also brought us two other great shows—Top of the Lake and Rectify—which focused more on mood and ambience than a quick solution to all questions asked.
Much like Orange is the New Black or Lost, The Returned is taking its time to create a full community, with each character becoming a completely formed person. Already The Returned is a fascinating show that has created a world that is more important than getting answers or solving mysteries. It’s about one community’s search for relief in a town that has had its share of grief, and somehow this emotional struggle is already more absorbing than the search for answers.