“That’s how he would have wanted us to remember him.” It’s one of those things people say when someone dies, a platitude at the same time well-meaning and meaningless, meant to provide some comfort to those left behind. The irony is that the deceased don’t have a lot to say in the matter. The lucky ones will have had the chance to create wonderful memories for their families and loved ones. Others, say an addict or a grieving parent, might instead be recalled as a tragic figure to be pitied or gossiped about behind closed doors. We spend our entire lives doing the best we can to give others something to cling to when we’re gone. But what happens when “how he would have wanted us to remember him” isn’t really what you wanted at all?
The walking dead of The Returned are trying to figure this out. Back for round two, these reawakened souls have realized that their resurrection is a chance to try on the faces they never got to wear while they were alive. For Camille, that means shedding the good-girl, straight-As, stay-in-school-and-get-killed-in-a-bus-accident reputation she lived with. Unable to keep her reappearance a secret forever, the Winships start introducing Camille as the girls’ cousin, Alice. With Lena conveniently laid up in the hospital, “Alice” wastes no time taking her sister’s place at the bar, pounding shots and making out with Lena’s occasional boyfriend, Ben. Lucky for her, Lena’s friends are a bunch of nitwits who are so perpetually wasted they don’t realize they’re participating in a macabre version of The Patty Duke Show.
Meanwhile, a new ghost has reappeared in town in the form of Adam, who we learn is the be-hoodied phantom of the Caldwell Murder Tunnel. In life, Adam was a deranged psychopath who enjoyed attacking women and sinking his teeth into their abdomens, a habit he was only able to break after this brother bashed him in the head with a shovel and buried him in the backyard. Now he’s back, and despite the understandable sibling rivalry that erupts when your brother kills you, Adam is a changed man. He’s sorry for his previous crimes and ready to be a better person who doesn’t eat ladies’ stomachs. Okay, yes, he stabbed Lucy the first night he came back, but returning from the dead is traumatic so we’ll let him take a mulligan on that one.
Not everyone’s returned as a better version of themselves, though. Simon, convinced that the wife and kid he left behind are ready to drop everything and run away with him, has basically become a stalker. Poor Rowan, torn between two creeps, decides it’s not worth throwing away the life she built with Tommy and blows Simon off, leading to a violent confrontation that ends with Tommy somewhat hastily putting a bullet in Simon’s chest. Can the dead die? Something tells me we’re going to find out next week.
But the star of the creep circus is still little Victor…or Henry, as he was known in his former life. Victor may have been a sweet child when he was alive, but now he is one pissed off kid with some terrifying new skills. When Peter tries to apologize for his youthful mistakes that led to Victor’s death, the little freak terrorizes him with a vision of Peter about to blow his own brains out. Later, he calmly informs Rowan’s daughter that he’s dead. “Are you an angel?” she asks, and Victor just shakes his head in a way that made me pause my DVR and immediately run out and get a vasectomy. Victor’s unlikely partner in villainy is Helen, who died when the nearby dam burst and flooded Caldwell. The accident happened because corrupt officials cut corners on construction, but in Helen’s mind, the flood was nothing short of biblical. Helen believes the whole ungodly town deserves to be washed away, and to that end, she has a charming first date with an engineer where they discuss charming first date topics like her ex-husband and how a person might go about planting a bomb in the rebuilt dam. I hope it works out for them!
For anyone waiting to find out what sorcery has brought the Returned back to life, get ready for disappointment. The Returned is aggressively unconcerned with the why and how of all this, content merely to show us what is. The sheer impossibility of it is simply not up for debate, and anyone worried about the implications of the Returning is out of luck. Skeptics like Jack and Tommy have given up trying to convince people that something’s not right, that the dead shouldn’t be here. Again and again, they’re told that it doesn’t matter: they are here, and wondering why is futile. Unable to keep Camille locked away at home, Peter decides to trot her out to the support group, so that other grieving parents can share the miracle with the Winships. At first, the group is enraged, demanding to know “Why her? Why not our kid?” It isn’t until Camille concocts a bullshit Christian best-seller on the spot, telling the teary-eyed audience that their children miss them and are waiting for them in heaven, that the adults find any peace. It’s a lie, but it puts an end to the endless stream of whys and what ifs. Stop asking questions. This is how it is, and you better believe whatever you need to believe to deal with it.
So far, the confusion and collateral damage caused by the return of the Returned has been limited to a small circle of immediate friends and family. But the tension between the dead and the living is about to bubble up like the mysterious black water that has taken the place of Camille’s body in her grave. The Returned are back, but they’ve brought trouble with them, and Victor seems to hold the key. As the show heads into the home stretch, here are a few more of the unanswered questions we’re hoping get resolved.
Do the Winships even remember they have another daughter?
I understand that Lena’s completely inexplicable and totally gross wounds are not exactly breakfast table conversation, but Jack and Claire don’t seem to be too concerned about their still-living daughter. In fact, they have no idea that she escaped from the hospital and was taken in by reformed stomach-biter Adam. You’d think maybe someone would have called to say she was gone. Luckily, Adam also turns out to be a backwoods medicine man who helps heal her injuries with a healthy dose of herbal sludge. A romance blossoms, until Lena discovers that Adam also stabbed Lucy, at which point she runs into the woods and gets picked up by some dude driving a logging truck. Things do not look so good for Lena, and all because she skipped school one day to lose her virginity. Let this be a lesson about pre-marital sex, kids.
So now Lucy really does have psychic powers?
After ripping off Jack with the old “I can communicate with your dead kid during sex” con (classic!), Lucy is unceremoniously Murder Tunneled and pronounced dead during emergency surgery. But wait! A few hours later, she is mysteriously Returned. And not only is she walking and talking again, but she’s also plagued by voices in her head that sound like they’ve been taken directly from Wacky Halloween Sound FX Vol. 2. Visited by Jack in the hospital, Lucy appears to slip into a trance and channel a message from Jack’s long-departed alcoholic father. Once again, death has transformed someone into the opposite of who they once were, this time from not-psychic to psychic. Though I kind of hope Lucy is playing the long game and faking it to keep Jack on the line, because that would be a pretty awesome scam.
Is there not, like, a single movie theater or bowling alley in Caldwell?
Young Ben may be dreamy, but bright he is not, and it’s not until his hands are practically up “Alice’s” shirt that he realizes he’s messing around with a dead girl. Ben reacts as any teenager would, namely, by rounding up his friends for a fun-filled night of disinterring Camille’s grave. (Conveniently, one of his pals is the town mortician’s daughter, who delivers a helpful info dump on what happens to the human body after burial.) I realize this is a small mountain town and there’s not a lot to do on weekends, but jeez, kids. Go to the diner or take drugs or something like normal teenagers.
Oh, Julie. Why, Julie, why?
Poor, sad, miserable Julie believes she may have found the root of her depression: she thinks she might actually be dead, which is why she’s been unable to “feel her life.” In fact, the only thing giving Julie the feels these days is Victor, who makes his way back to her place after scaring the shit out of Peter. Her devotion to this kid is really pretty sad. This is a show filled with malevolent children, oozing back wounds and teenage sex, but the most disturbing thing I’ve seen thus far might be the brief scene of Julie playing with Victor while he takes a bath.