The Returned understands the intoxicating allure of the easy explanation. It would have to, given the way it treats conclusions and answers like narrative pollutants. In this world, as in our own, such explanations can calm the mind, but they can also boil the blood: When the dam burst for the first time, the frightened, mourning villagers sought to make sense of the seemingly random disaster. Surely there was a cause to be found; certainly there was blame to be laid. But because nature is mysterious and structural engineering depends too much on math, science, and multi-year training programs at institutes of higher learning, the situation turned from “what to blame” to “who to blame.”
Contemplating the loss of her husband, the woman Julie meets in “Virgil” points the finger at herself. If she hadn’t been sick that day, if he hadn’t gone to mass to pray for her, he’d still be alive. Others in the town were more generous (so to speak) with their condemnations. They pinned the whole thing on little Louis Lewanski.
“Virgil” is a chillingly effective, mystery-uncovering affair, the new depths it plumbs symbolized by the geologists’ scheme to investigate the sinkhole from another angle. They don’t find the figure that showed up on the night-vision camera last week, but they do find a lot of bones. My God, so many bones—carpeting the floor of the cave in a way that suggests that whatever that creature is, it might not be working alone.
And this episode knows from working alone: Its namesake is a lone wolf in life and in death, singled out for his criminal activity in a flashback, and then cast out from the family home when he returns in the present day. Virgil is a rebel, but not so much that he can commit fully to the wardrobe and the accoutrements of the lifestyle. He goes for a varsity jacket instead of one that’s made completely of leather; his ride of choice is a moped, not a Harley. He’s Diet Rebel, with a whiff of Edward Cullen that makes him an ideal romantic interest for Camille. He’s dangerous enough to give Claire pause, but her daughter can see how he sparkles in the sunlight.
The solitary lifestyle fits Virgil, and it appears to have taught him a lot about being a revenant, but being alone or abandoned is The Returned’s greatest fear this week. (The second greatest fear: The people who returned but had no one waiting for them, whose mute stillness and growing number is put to unnerving use in “Virgil.”) That’s understandable, coming from the residents of such a jinxed town, where so many have already been left alone due to circumstances beyond their control. But it’s a hot topic in “Virgil” by virtue of how frequently it’s expressed:
There’s also Julie being told that she seems quite lonely, but the fear of isolation’s ultimate expression is held until the final scene of the episode. Milan wakes up (on what we soon find, in a spectacular cutaway, is the raft) and tells Lucy that he never abandoned her. Sure, he got drunk on power, locked people in his crawlspace, and had a hand in Lucy’s death—but at least he didn’t abandon her. What kind of monster does she think Milan is?
While everyone’s doing their best to not be alone, the mystery of the returned is pulling people together. Jerome and Berg get to play Mulder and Scully this week, as Berg gets a load of Jerome’s at-home conspiracy board, and they both catch an eyeful of Victor’s most portentous artwork to date. Hidden behind a wardrobe in the Lewanski boys’ bedroom, there’s a Crayola rendition of every significant Returned death: The bus accident, several of Serge’s stabbings, and Victor’s own death are all included. Victor’s drawings, Jerome’s charts, and the mementos of Julie’s new friend form a triumverate of pictorial clues, evidence of connections within this small community, but little else.
Mimicking real-life conspiracy theorizing, overlaps in these disparate clues provide apparent clarity to the chaos stirred up by The Returned. Jerome had a hunch about Victor; Julie learns that Victor was accused of being the devil. Startling drawings of Victor’s are revealed; we’ve previously seen Victor’s mother telling her son not to draw. And there’s a thread of Milan running through it all, the self-appointed champion of the survivors praised for his bravery and wherewithal in the wake of the flood, though we see in flashback that kidnapping a teenager and making your sons witness that teenager’s execution is what stood for “bravery and wherewithal” in those troubled times. It previously seemed like Lucy, Milan, and the baby were going to be the key players in whatever conclusion this season is building to—but what if Victor’s role is larger than any of them?
But to even start thinking along those lines is to get swept up in the type of mania that led to Victor’s death, the simple solution to a complicated puzzle that unites a group of people, only to make a pariah of one of their own. Because the exciting thing about “Virgil,” the part that sets up a promising second half for season two, is that the episode raises more questions than it answers. So Victor’s drawings predicted the future: Where does this second sight come from, and what’s to come of the drawings he’s still making? The blood stain on the Lewanskis’ floor was left by Victor’s father, who was hospitalized right around the time of the second flood: What’s he been up to for the last 35 years, and is he still alive? The returned can sense when someone is trying to hide something from them: Is this related to the superpowered hijinks Victor pulled in the first season, and is this what we saw in that stand-off between Simon and the people he’s told are his parents? And what the hell does “We joined the circle. We found the way through” mean?
It means that any definitive explanation is still several episodes away—and if one exists at all, it won’t come easily. Easy answers are for suckers, or for neighbors who turn a little kid into a scapegoat. The Returned is better than that, and so is “Virgil.”
- Seriously, The Returned is finding some inventive, terrifying ways of displaying the housing crisis among the living dead.