The opening of “Esther” might be the shortest cold open of The Returned’s second season, but also one of the most haunting. Taking place a decade ago, we watch as Serge kills a woman named Esther in the same tunnel where he often killed people leaving the local bar. We’ve experienced this scene often enough so that it’s not so shocking anymore and the same could be said for Serge, who seemed to have gotten to the point where the killing is routine rather than exciting. So it’s not the murder that surprises at the beginning of “Esther,” but the inclusion of Victor watching, trying his best to stop Esther from walking into the tunnel and inevitably stumbling into her murder.
This entire second season of The Returned seems to have revolved around Victor and the question of his exact purpose in this small town. Is he an angel, or demon? A harbinger of doom, or a pillar of hope? Could he be this town’s destruction, or its savior? With the opening moments of “Esther,” it is clear that there is something special about Victor, as there is some hinting that, before the returned actually returned, Victor was there trying to stop his dreams from coming true.
Victor’s position in this town is even more unclear by the end of the episode, when we find out his presumed father isn’t his father at all. He was adopted, seemingly coming out of nowhere—once again a child in the dark, looking for someone to accept him. Once again this season, the answers lead to more questions, the most important ones relating to where he came from. Why was he the first to arrive in this town, and who exactly are his parents, if he has any at all? Thirty-five years ago, the townspeople believed Victor to be the one causing all the bad things that happened to them. This may not be accurate, but the evidence is mounting against him—at least it’s clear that he knows about the awful things, without any way of being able to stop them.
Victor’s arrival at his new guardian’s house plays into the bigger theme of “Esther,” which centers on finding home and returning to those you love the most. Jerome finally reunited with his family in the homes of the returned, planning to take them with him and defying the unspoken boundaries that have been created. All Jerome wants to do is return with his family, but the shadowed returned that wait outside their makeshift home have come to put a stop to this. The Seguerets have been brought back together by this anomaly that brought their loved ones back to life, and now that same anomaly stands between them and their being a true family at home once again.
We see similar issues with Sandrine, who realizes the horrible mistake she made giving her daughter Audrey to the Helping Hand. They have now chained Audrey to a wall, and are torturing her for answers. Once again, the town has turned to taking out their fear and frustrations on the children of the town. Milan does his best to explain that Audrey is not who Sandrine believes her to be. She make look like her daughter and she may sound like her daughter, but she’s certainly not her daughter. This is irrelevant to Sandrine though, as she forces her way to Audrey, using everything in her power to reunite her home once again.
This reuniting of home seems to be everyone’s hope as we near the end of the second season. Adele is now having visions of Thomas, and demands to see his dead body to prove that he hasn’t already become one of the returned. Lucy also learns that after being attacked in the tunnel, she had also been pregnant—a fact she was not aware of until Ophelie lets it slip. This loss of her child makes it clear why she would want Victor so badly—it’s another attempt to reunite a family that has been taken away from her.
The first season of The Returned concluded with the town together, holing up against what seemed to be an onslaught of the returned. Now near the end of the second season, these two sides are too blurred to be so black and white anymore. The only sides that can be trusted are family and friends, at least the ones that can be fully relied on, as the world is flipped on its head around them. Once again, the town is preparing for a battle that seems to be looming in the distance, but this time the lines aren’t so easily drawn.
Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.