The entire series of The Returned is predicated on a mystery: why exactly are the returned returning? In actuality, this isn’t necessarily a question that needs answering. Often, the answers to these types of big TV questions can potentially break the show at hand. As soon as people got answers in Lost, there was disappointment. Imagine how much The Leftovers would change—along with the character motivations—if they found out why they were left behind. In “Morgane,” The Returned answers its big question and instead of spoiling the series, it makes the entire thing so much richer and even more worth a second viewing.
It turns out The Returned come back because people were waiting for them. For the people who don’t come back, it’s because there’s no one hoping they’d return. It is the overwhelming desire to see those lost again that actually brings them back. Not only is this an elegant and heartbreaking way to describe what is happening, it’s also incredibly simple and has been in front of our faces the entire time. When did people start returning? Right when the town dedicated a memorial to those they lost in the bus crash years ago. The combined sorrow aimed at this group seems to have brought them crawling out of where the wreckage once was, reuniting them with their grief-stricken families, for better and for worse.
There’s also a sense in “Morgane” that this town has always been flooded—no pun intended with tragedy—as we start the episode 35 years ago, when the dam broke and washed out the entire town. In the present, the dam has recently broken again seemingly without reason. When it comes to tragedy, often there’s no way to avoid it or to stop it. It comes out of nowhere to side swipe you and break your heart when you least expect it.
What’s most heartbreaking in “Morgane” is the way that both the living and the dead continue to grieve and move on in their lives. Jerome keeps searching for his daughters, while everyone else seems to believe that the dead are dead—despite what they’ve seen to the contrary—and they attempt to go on as they once did.
When the living and dead are forced together, we really get to see this conflict in the different ways of moving forward. Now that Victor’s mother is back, he no longer needs Julie, telling her that she needs him more than Victor needs her now. With someone to watch, Julie’s life had meaning once again, but now she’s forced to struggle by herself once more. Serge also wants to move beyond his murderous past, but can’t overcome Milan’s desires, all of which ends with leaving Lena bleeding out and left for the dead.
And the tragedy on The Returned doesn’t stop there. Adele continues to neglect her newborn baby, afraid of what his birth means, only to accept it finally near the episode’s end. This acceptance also brings Simon around, as the baby is not only a way of embracing Adele and Simon’s past, but also a signifier of moving forward in a way they couldn’t do before Simon returned.
Giving up answers to the big questions on a show like The Returned, where everyone is riddled with questions, was a gigantic gamble that could have derailed the entire series. Instead “Morgane” gives this simple, lovely answer, without focusing too much on the bombshell that has been dropped. This third episode adds a layer of depth to the entire series, while also raising an equally interesting question as to who misses each of these individuals. All of this makes the show even more intricate and fascinating, and gives us more reasons to keep tuning in.
Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.