Reflections on “Les Revenants” (The Returned) Season 1

This is the French drama that is taking the world by storm. Based on a 2004 French film by the name of They Came Back (which has a pretty average rating at IMDB), somebody somewhere clearly thought this would make an intriguing series with all the flexibility that television permits but feature films do not. I haven’t seen the film and I doubt I will until the series finishes in however many years that takes.

Anyway, this is the series that everybody and his dog seems to be watching. I understand that our American cousins have recently been introduced to this so if you are watching and want nothing spoilt, look away now. Go and read some of my book reviews or something.

Seven years ago, there was a horrific accident. A coach full of children on a day trip out of the (unnamed) mountain town swerves on the mountainside, careers across the road, goes through the crash barrier and plummets over the side. In the modern day, Camille (the redhead girl on whom we focus ahead of the crash) wakes up on the mountainside just as the sun is going down. Visibly confused and not understanding how she got there or where anybody is, she gets up and starts the walk home. Her parents (who have split up with the mother now in a relationship with a man called Pierre) have never really got over the tragedy and their one remaining daughter – Lena – has gone a bit off the rails (due to a horrendous regret about what happened the day her sister died). When Camille makes it home, her mother is shocked and immediately calls her father. Everybody is surprised, not least of all “twin” sister Lena who is now seven years Camille’s elder. The one who does not seem surprised is the mother’s new boyfriend.

A man called Simon turns up in an apartment block, knocking on the door of a Doctor, and he is looking for Adele. The woman across the hall looks surprised, “Non Monsieur! Adele hasn’t lived here for years!” Simon, we eventually learn, died on his wedding day and his ex fiancĂ©e is about to marry again, to a Gendarme named Tomas who recognises Simon and begins a vendetta to frame him for a series of crimes (mentioned below). We are at first told that Simon was in a tragic road accident but we later learn that he took his own life. Tomas eventually shoots Simon dead but as we have learnt, people will not stay dead: Simon comes back to life on the mortuary table.

The Doctor (Julie) who does live in the apartment is a rather haunted figure who lives alone. Later, we learn she is a lesbian who has an on-off relationship with one of the town’s Gendarme’s. They became estranged some six years before after Julie was attacked by a man who had attacked several women – brutally stabbing them in the stomach and leaving them to die (only, obviously, Julie survived). The same night of Camille’s return, a strange boy follows her home from work. He does not speak (at least, not for several episodes) but he has a freaky unblinking stare that could send a shiver up the spine of anybody. He won’t tell her his name so she simply calls him Victor.

The man who attacked Julie disappeared about the same time – the same night actually – but now he is back and he attacks barmaid Lucy in the same underpass, leaving her to die. He disappeared six years before because his brother realised what he was up to and killed him, burying his body in the woods. Despite this apparently successful new attack, Lucy survives and over the course of the next few episodes undergoes a miraculous recovery after which it is obvious she has become a representative of these returned people.

These are not the only returned but they are the core characters. The most mysterious is not one of the Returned, it is Pierre. He knows exactly who “Victor” is. He knows, because he was in the house the day his family was shot dead. In fact, Pierre warned “Victor” to keep quiet; unfortunately though his partner in the crime realised what was happening and killed the boy.

It is “Victor” that really binds it all together. We don’t know who or what he is or why he has returned. Julie has a lucid dream in which she is being attacked again. It all feels very real but when we phase out of the lucid dream, Victor is crouching above her, holding the knife… trying to stop Julie stabbing herself. Did he cause the hallucination? He might have done. Some of his actions are ambiguous. He causes a young girl to harm herself when playing on a trampoline, for example.

So these are the people that make up our weird tale. As weird as these people are, they are not as weird as the events. The town is at the foot of a dam and the water level in the reservoir is dropping inexplicably. There are no leaks, there is no drought and it could not possibly be evaporating away so quickly. A local environmental team dredges the lake to find hundreds of dead wild animals.

Toward the end of the season, The Returned start to develop strange scars on their bodies and it seems as though they are decomposing. This is most noticeable in Simon and Camille but – oddly – Lena (who is not one of the Returned), has a nasty scar on her back that gets worse and worse. What these are and why they have them is not explained.

The weirdest revelation comes at the end of episode 7. Julie is now reconciled with her ex-girlfriend and the pair decide to flee town to get away from the weirdness. Only… they can’t. We witness them drive out of town, get on the main road, cross the dam, into the tunnel… and they emerge back at the other end of town. It is in the final episode where we learn that a great many people died when the old damn burst and flooded. It seems (but it is not confirmed) that the victims of these floods have also returned. With a large population of people now following Lucy (or what Lucy has become), the living of the town barricade themselves into the community to resist Lucy’s demands to hand over all of the Returned. Tomas and the other Gendarmes stay outside to defend the Helping Hand. There is a brief firefight and then silence.

They wake up the following morning to see their town flooded and no sign of the Gendarmes. So ends season One.

Oh and it is worth watching if only for the beautifully haunting music produced by Mogwai (main theme below)

Questions, questions and Hopes for Season 2

At the forefront of my mind is the nature of both Pierre and Lucy. Pierre is at first glance untrustworthy, but I suspect that there is far more to his story than meets the eye. We think he has ulterior motives for assembling the Helping Hand community he creates on top of the hill, a community where he encourages the Returned to live until this strange situation plays out (but it seems he is secretly planning for the apocalypse). He was involved in the murder of “Victor’s” family and he was seemingly unsurprised to see Camille alive and well. Yet, he resists Lucy’s demands to hand over those Returned who do not want to go with her group. Pierre is determined to protect the townsfolk. Truth is, we do not know whom here is the good guy and whom is the bad guy. Lucy is ethereal and serenely beautiful… but is that angelic nature deceptive? If she is the villain of the piece, did Pierre then have good cause to kill “Victor’s” family? If so, why did he attempt to help the boy survive?

The pair – Lucy and Pierre – are a mass of contradictions, She is sexually driven, almost the epitome of a medieval succubus; at face value she may be descending into a wild state of sex, drugs and alcohol but she appears to know exactly what she is doing, Is her angelic exterior part of that? We know nothing of her past before she is stabbed in episode 1 and she hadn’t been in the town long. Pierre seems at once menacing and we trust him no less than when Victor confronts him and reminds him of the day he died. Yet, he quickly attempts to become a father figure (initially under the guise of a psychotherapist) for the Returned, and eventually the whole town. He is a deeply religious man who seems to genuinely care at times about those around him. There never seems to be anything sinister about his Helping Hand community despite our early concerns.

The biggest question is of course why they have even come back – what purpose it serves but I suspect we will not get a clear answer to this for a very long time, perhaps not even in Season 2. Why some and not others? Why was Camille the only person who died in the coach crash to return?

I hope we get some answers, or enough to keep us satisfied. I like the drip-feeding pace of the revelations. Lost seemed unwilling and unable to do this leading many fans to get frustrated at the convoluted mess of a plot thread. I hope against all hope that Les Revenants does not fall into this trap.

3 responses to “Reflections on “Les Revenants” (The Returned) Season 1”

  1. The bus crash was 4 years ago. Julie was attacked by Serge 7 years ago (when his brother killed him). And, I’m pretty sure that she is a nurse.

  2. Julie wasn’t having a lucid dream, she was hallucinating. Lucid dreams are when you are aware that you are dreaming. She thought she was in reality. Louis/Victor made several people hallucinate during the show (Julie, Pierre, Toni…) Julie also wasn’t holding a knife – she was holding a pair of scissors.

    Camille might not have been the only one in the bus to “return”.

    Julie and company weren’t the only ones unable to leave town. Serge and Toni were also going in circles when they were trying to flee town. Neither of them was able to leave.

    How did you know that the divers were environmentalists?

    1. I seem to remember somebody mentioning an environment team.

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