From the start, there were questions about whether or not A&E’s remake of the French series Les Revenants would continue to be a shot-for-shot remake, or whether it would create its own mythology. The Returned‘s first season finale, “Peter,” answered that question, but little else.
One of the things that made the original French series so compelling was its rapid pace. It was easy to binge (too easy, really), and even its gorgeous, creeptastic title sequence to the sounds of Mogwai couldn’t be skipped. But then the final few episodes — the finale in particular — really went full-tilt with its commitment to supernatural horror that left viewers scratching their heads. How did we get here?
A&E’s The Returned answered more of those questions as it went along, and took its time, staying as close to real world as possible. Yes, the dead have returned (at least, some of them), but how does one deal with that emotionally, and as a community? Like the excellent zombie series In the Flesh, The Returned explored — on a much smaller scale — the depth of questions about how a small town would cope with the returned of loved ones years later. It was never necessarily appointment television, but there was always a mysterious pull to want to explore more of its world, which (to A&E’s credit) it made its own.
In The Returned‘s most prominent stories, the returned themselves were greeted with complicated acceptance. But by the time the finale rolled around, all of them had revealed themselves to be much darker than even they knew themselves capable of being. Are they part of the town’s evil, or a warning sign? Or both?
Which brings us to “Peter.” Victor has taken off with a new fairy, it would seem, to another town, which leaves Julie in the clear. Will the dead follow him there? He seems to be the most powerful of the bunch; is he also their leader? It seemed for awhile that Helen might have had that role, and maybe still does, but it was clear in “Peter” that her main objective is to fight the inherent evil in the town, which must be destroyed (and is working against her). The final moments with Simon put his place in all of this in question: was he running to stop Helen, or to save Rowan and Chloe from an eventuality he innately knew had to happen?
The most curious development was Camille’s. We saw in earlier episodes that Lena was basically given Camille’s deadly puncture wound until she forgave her sister and came to terms with her. Without realizing it, had Camille actually caused it to happen? In “Peter,” when she sleeps with Ben, she kills him accidentally. Did she somehow take his life force? This is the opposite of what happened with Rowan and Simon, where Lucy reveals Rowan that (despite having just married Tommy) she’s going to have Simon’s zombie baby.
Some of the most compelling things about The Returned, though, were the quiet portrayals of grief and confusion, which was something the show did very well throughout the season. These bigger arcs, though — especially the side stories with Lucy’s new powers, Adam’s return, the possibility that Nikki is now a returned (if her fall killed her, although she didn’t heal right away like Lucy did), Peter’s lies about being dead, and Helen’s desire to blow up the dam — all felt like launching points. To be satisfying, finales have to wrap some things up, and “Peter” didn’t wrap up a dam(n) thing.
If you hadn’t known “Peter” was the season finale, there were certainly no clues within it to make you think this was the end. Les Revenants ended with a mighty crescendo which, though completely crazy, was at least a conclusion. If it is renewed, exploring this new mythology will certainly be something to return to. But if The Returned doesn’t get renewed for a second season, its legacy will be that of a show with big ideas that ultimately had nowhere to go.