The Returned, ah, they’re back! The enigmatic French supernatural thriller (or supernatural soap as some have christened it) is back for a second season – three long years after its inconclusive season one finale. However, after such a hiatus are we happy that The Returned have returned or would we rather they had stayed away?
I enjoyed a lot of the mystery of season one, it had a genuine atmosphere of foreboding and creepiness as it went about its business in a non flashy way that is hardly synonymous with a TV genre crowded with other ‘undead’ such as The Walking Dead, The Strain and Z Nation. Indeed, it is the slower burn that sets it apart from many of the US productions, proving that blood, gore and graphic violence aren’t prerequisites when it comes to living with the non-living.
The season two opener re-introduced many of the central characters and reacquainted us with the remote Alpine town and the discovery that, while three years have elapsed for us mortal TV viewers, the story has advanced only six months in the French Alps – there’s the slow burn for you. That said, series director, Fabrice Gobert, has indicated there will be a switch of pace in the coming weeks as he outlined what to expect in Haute-Savoie.
“The first decision was to go back to the story six months after the end of the first season. It took a little while for us to be fully convinced,” explained Gobert. “Gradually, we found the way to resume the thread of the story through the character of Berg (Laurent Lucas), the engineer who arrives in the first episode and who’s trying to figure out what happened. Coming from outside the community, he carries out his investigation. But we soon sense that he, too, has things to hide. He’s a sort of guide who poses the same questions as the viewer. Compared to the first season, we had to be careful not to leave the mysteries open for too long. We wanted to clearly re-establish the tensions by redefining the relationships between the various characters.”
There has always been something incongruous about The Returned; the characters, dialogue and storyline are strong enough to stand on their own without any support, it could easily be pruned back to the bare bones and still be a riveting drama. Equally, the soundtrack, by Scots post-punk outfit band Mogwai, and the atmospheric, pitch-perfect cinematography are also able to tell a story in their own right. It was Gobert’s marriage of the two that made the debut season so exceptional, and arguably the most stylish small screen drama of the year.
It will be interesting to see how the next seven weeks play out. Production on this second season was delayed by disagreements over the script and storyline and Gobert’s admission that loose ends will be closed off much sooner could lead to a far more ‘soapy’ mid-market drama. Nevertheless, he does a good job of setting the scene.
“It’s the principle of the supernatural as I see it: entering a universe that is unimaginable in real life, peopled by characters who themselves are confronted with their limits in terms of reality,” Gobert says. “The military commander, played by Laurent Capelluto, embodies that. Throughout the season, we see him reacting to information that grows increasingly strange. He hangs on to a kind of reason, he tries to understand, until he finally snaps.”
Let’s hope that Golbert’s vision is strong enough to carry The Returned without succumbing to second season syndrome.
The Returned is on More4, Fridays at 9pm. See listings for episode details.