Despite all of the dam explosions and returning dead people, The Returned is, at its core, simply about loss. This entire town has been in a continuous state of mourning for 35 years, due to various traumas and deaths. With the returned returning, it gave everyone a chance to get back what they lost and start anew. “The Returned,” the season finale of season two, forces the living to say goodbye to their dead once more, but this time they get the resolution that they’ve so badly craved for years.
“The Returned” shows that this second chance came about due to the extreme pain of loss from Victor, finally giving us the answer as to why everyone returned. When Victor appeared at Mr. Lewansky’s front door, he told his new adopted father to never tell anyone that he was there, which left Victor to draw his visions and overlook the town for thirty-five years. When Lewansky suffered an accident and died, Victor begged for him to not leave him alone, causing the return.
We’ve seen that Victor has some control over the world around him and can predict what is to come, yet as Etienne tells Victor near the end of “The Returned,” he can change things and knowingly or not, he has. When Julie comes to him and kills herself, knowing she can’t live without Victor, he goes into his vision and changes the outcome. Instead of Julie dying, he literally makes both of their dreams come true, by living together as a family and allowing Julie the love that she’s desired for so long, through Victor and with the nurse that she also dreamed of.
It’s not the answers that resonate in “The Returned” however, it’s the emotions. The returned come clean that they must all stay together, since, with each other, they don’t feel pain anymore. There’s true pain as Camille’s family says goodbye, and as Julie realizes she might never see Victor again. When Pierre realizes that his actions at the Helping Hand have only made things worse, you can see in his eyes that he’s been wrong all along, right before he kills himself in front of Milan—who flinches before the shot goes off, even though that’s exactly what he asked Pierre to do three and a half decades ago.
Really for the first time, everyone sort of gets the ending they want in “The Returned.” The returned have gotten together, finally complete for the first time. The living have gotten to say goodbye to those they lost for the first time. Victor and Julie live happily ever after, filled with days on the beach, even though Victor does seem terrified of something off camera in his last shot. Even Adele and Simon split off from the living and the dead to finally be together. Everyone gets what they need—not necessarily what they want—and those who don’t fit into this world that has been created go their own way.
I can imagine that there’s a certain amount of letdown for some, regarding the episode’s quick rush to give answers and conclusions. “The Returned” certainly feels like it could be the final episode of The Returned, but there’s just enough mystery left behind to make that uncertain. As Victor says, the child between Adele and Simon is just like him, which could allow the series to continue without having to worry about Victor actually outgrowing the show.
While The Returned has always sort of been advertised as a horror show, it actually ended up being the exact opposite. The Returned created an emotional terror, one that made every death and revelation significant, unlike the attempted horror of The Walking Dead, The Strain or American Horror Story. The Returned went deep within to realize fears of suffering, loss and love that aren’t typically such an easy thing to have resonate on a weekly TV show. In doing so, The Returned—if it is over—created two phenomenal seasons of emotionally impactful, fascinating and slow-building suspense that paid off beautifully in its final episode.
Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.