‘The Returned’ Pilot Recap: “Life, It Prevails”

A&E’s new drama ‘The Returned’ is the official American remake of the acclaimed French series ‘Les Revenants’. Unfortunately, its premise is uncomfortably similar to the recent ABC series ‘Resurrection’, which is unrelated but happens to be based on a book also titled ‘The Returned’. Confused yet?

I didn’t watch any of ‘Resurrection’ so I can’t make a direct comparison, but the sense I get is that it was more sentimental religious fantasy while ‘The Returned’ has a darker horror spin. How much that impression holds true remains to be seen.

The American ‘Returned’ is produced by Carlton Cuse and runs immediately after the current season of his ‘Bates Motel’ on A&E. The pilot episode opens with a school bus crash that claims 32 lives. Unfortunately, the visual effects for the sequence are rather weak and start the show off on a bad foot. It gets better, though.

Four years after the accident, one of the victims, a teen girl named Camille, climbs up over the embankment that the bus crashed from, dusts herself off, and walks home. Needless to say, her mother is more than a little dumbfounded to find her dead daughter making a sandwich in the kitchen, looking exactly as she did the day of the crash. Camille herself has no memory of what happened or any idea why she woke up in the woods. She doesn’t know how much time has passed (she apologizes for getting home late) and isn’t aware that her parents have divorced in the meantime. She obliviously goes to her room (which her mother has preserved as a shrine) to change and then decides to take a bath as if everything were totally normal.

The mother, Claire, first calls her ex-husband Jack (Mark Pellegrino from ‘Lost’) to come over immediately. Later, her new boyfriend Peter (Jeremy Sisto) arrives. Claire introduces him as a “friend,” but he’s also the psychologist who runs the support group for parents of the victims. (Seems a little shady to be dating one of them, doesn’t it, doc?) All three are at a loss to comprehend Camille’s return, and none of them want to break the spell by telling her what happened. Camille is a little weirded-out by their reactions to her.

At episode’s end, Claire’s older daughter Lena sneaks into the house late and understandably freaks out when she sees her sister with no warning. To add an interesting twist, we’ll soon learn that Lena isn’t actually older at all. The girls are twins. Lena was also supposed to be on the bus that day, but faked an illness to stay home and give up her virginity to her boyfriend.

All of this is pretty interesting and could probably be enough to carry a drama series on its own. The episode, however, works in some other storylines with horror elements that I have mixed feelings about. A creepy little boy shows up in town and refuses to say a word. (We’ll find out that he stood in the middle of the road four years earlier and caused the bus to crash.) A woman (Michelle Forbes) returns home to her elderly husband and also acts pretty creepy until driving him to commit suicide by jumping off a dam. Mary Elizabeth Winstead has a small part as a girl who believes she’s hallucinating visions of her former boyfriend haunting her, not realizing that he’s really back. Finally, a fake psychic who had claimed to speak to the spirits of the victims is attacked by a masked stranger while walking through the most clichéd spooky tunnel you can imagine. That last part feels like it was lifted from a hacky slasher flick.

A friend of mine who’s a fan of the French show commented that the remake “managed to strip away all that was great about the French original’s atmosphere, mood, unease, creepiness… it’s missing that disturbing score, the understated performances, the psychosexual undertones…” Having never seen the original, I don’t carry that baggage going into this one. I’m interested enough in what I’ve seen so far to watch more, but I could also see this going south pretty quickly if it doesn’t balance its various elements a little better than the pilot episode has. For the time being, I’ve at least provisionally committed to watching another couple episodes to see where this goes.

1 comment

  1. So the twin sister is actually four years older now, since time stood still for Camille? Imagine that, finding your twin sister older and wiser – even though she’s technically the same age as you.

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