The Returned ‘Camille’ – Series 1, episode 1

Samuel Breen
The Returned episode 1 Jean Claude Lother 00190 300x199 The Returned Camille   Series 1, episode 1

(Channel 4)

The opening episode of The Returned was found embattled by its own subtlety. Its most interesting features required prizing from a direction hellbent on raising suspicion.

Following a coach of school children careering off road and crashing down a mountainside the 38 deceased are returning to town. The clue for this one is in the title. Indeed we’re hit with the first problem of translation with Les Revenants being perfectly translatable as The Revenants a literary term for creatures returning from beyond the grave to terrorise the living.

An intelligent zombie if you will. There are a couple more betrayals in the subtitles, moments where the richer language is simplified for more generic turns: c’est dégueulasse that one of the twins can stay at home, becomes, “It’s unfair.”  So there’s some tighter hand holding at work.

Otherwise the minimal dialogue makes for great viewing with character backgrounds crafted in concise moments. A personal favourite is the broken father Jérôme, a sad, sarcastic, and despondent man driven to apathy following the loss of one of his daughters. I loved his tardiness to the meeting, his clunky movement of the chair, and his frankness at the ugliness of the proposed monument. Maybe I found a companionship in his critical gaze. Through the episode we are walked through how various lives have been affected following the deaths. It’s a dangerous game to play tacitly feeding the audience in such a creative anti-folkloric way. But it garners a momentum and leaves plenty of talking points, so I’m not complaining.

There’s a simple metaphor running through the show in terms of life and energy. C’est la vie qui est la plus forte, “Life always prevails,” is the optimistic message from the newly expecting mother, moments before there is a blackout. A power shortage in a town I presume to be economically supported by a hydroelectric dam. It’s a poetic line in both languages, weighted as such to highlight the humour, disguised as much to promote the tension. Equally, in dealing with the paranormal the show is able to entertain some subtle gags. Other than Jérôme’s wit the scientists note the falling of a computer reading before the old man plunges to his death. It’s funny even through it is hidden underneath the uncertainty of the computer reading.

The impact the deaths have on the lives of the town is interesting but sadly resorts to cliché; the bride Adèle admiring herself in a mirror four years after the death of her groom, her new partner a fireman (a protector, etc.). The twins whose red heads make a giant nod to The Parent Trap are more interesting. I can’t help but think that the precocious bordering on obnoxious Lindsey Lohan is the butt of the joke here, and I enjoyed the reveal of one breaking down, the other screaming, then the delayed explanation that they’re twins.

What the show did well was take these narratives and reveal how the characters rationalise their life experiences, a trait I recognise to be quite French. The doctor Pierre and the divorced (I’m presuming, again) wife Claire finding spirituality and prayer which is contrasted with Jérôme, the ex-husband now treating their spirituality as a cause of more strain for his broken heart. How exciting to see character development so early on in a show that has been so unsparing with dialogue. Equally the old man torches his home to provide the revenant with an ultimate death, a sequence that plays out under a cloud of dementia and hypochondria. His resulting death plunge a sweet representation of what the world can drive us to. In such succinct morsels we are given philosophies and spiritualities making for a pretty classy opening episode.

Beyond the revenants there are two other creatures. One is “Victor” who provoked the coach to drive off road, and appears to be manipulating the medic Julie. The name Victorius Stelenes given to the reanimated butterfly suggesting Victor is of a higher order to the other revenants. He’s creepy even if he currently appears to have no greater power than manipulation. The other curious character is a wild one who stabs the barmaid to death in an underpass, his knife driving straight into her gut. Brutal butchery but to what end?

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