The explanation is so simple, it’s shocking. Six months after the flood, Camille wants to know why some of the returned are like her—thinking, feeling, and (eventually) sleeping creatures—while others are like the zonked-out sentries guarding Lucy’s neighborhood hideaway. It’s a question that’s been gnawing at the show subliminally since the beginning of season two, but not one I expected to be answered so soon. Or ever, really.
It’s a powerful notion, and one with a symbolic heft worthy of The Returned. In absentia, Camille, Simon, Audrey, Esteban, and this week’s title character were all kept alive by faith and memory and new lives like Chloe. But the second part of the answer, which comes courtesy of the (still-unnamed?) Mystery Teen, overlooks another possibility: You can wait for someone without hoping they’ll come back. Something about the relationship between Mrs. Costa and her husband made Mr. Costa greet her return not as a miracle, but as an occasion for arson and suicide. It’s possible that Victor came back because Pierre was dreading the day someone exposed his experience with home invasion and murder. Milan’s shadow hangs so heavy over “Morgane” that the combined pins-and-needles anticipation of Lucy, Serge, and Toni could’ve wound up pulling the ginger tyrant out of the ground.
The minimal bearing this theory has on “Morgane” is much more like The Returned’s usual self. It’s a sign of the show’s true aims and priorities: Here’s this big, all encompassing answer for the show’s very premise, but it’s immediately rechanneled in a character-based direction—who was waiting for Mystery Teen?—before the scene shifts from the abandoned pool to Julie’s bedroom. There is an increased focus on the search for answers in The Returned’s second season, but that’s not dictating the show’s trajectory. Not when there are still so many people to meet—living, dead, and living-dead.
A lot of those people appear to have strong ties to the “35 years ago” timeline. This week’s episode opens in that flashback period, as Morgane and Lucy (who aren’t so well acquainted that she remembers his name) wrap up a rendezvous and head back into town. And as so often happens in this place without a name, tragedy follows: As the water levels rise, and frightening noises follow in the duo’s steps, the dam bursts and floods the terrain below. This has all happened before, and it will happen again, and check out the faces overlooking the scene: There’s the Costas, one looking as we know her to look, one appearing much younger than we’ve seen before. There’s Victor and family, three of whom aren’t long for this world. Victor, ever observant, watches as one figure peels away from the row of stunned faces. It’s Milan, and he ominously bids Lucy to follow him. Fade to black, and Lucy’s panicked shouts.
So that gives us and the characters further reason to fear and distrust Milan, frozen in their memories as an unfeeling, unforgiving monster—a bit like the person Pierre has become in the last six months. One of my favorite aspects of The Returned’s first season is the tension it mined between Lena and Camille, identical twins stuck in a nightmare where the former got to grow up, while the latter stayed the same age. Serge and Milan are in a similar situation this year: Son and father are now dead, but before that happened, both lived to adulthood. It’s an intriguing dynamic that infuses their scene in the cabin, where Milan treats Serge like a child, even though he’s probably capable of physically overpowering him. Serge is his own (dead) man now, but he can’t keep himself from falling right back under his father’s control. He removes his boots for him, and follows orders to take Lena out into the clearing against his objections—he is as obedient and terrified as the little boy we see later in the episode, seated at the game board across from un petit Toni.
For those who’ve returned, finding out that the world has moved on without them (even when someone was waiting for them) is a tremendous shock, and “Morgane” sees several of these characters trying to force things back to the way they were. Milan is the most outwardly sinister example, but he’s outmatched by the smiling status quo enforced by Victor’s mother. Reunited with both of her sons, she gets back to the business of reading highly metaphorical bedtime stories and pushing Julie out of the house. In both the way Victor’s mother is styled and the crazy-eyed approach actress Alice Butaud takes to the character, she appears to be a little unhinged. It’s a lot to deal with, this whole “Having your murder ordered, getting murdered, and then coming back to life” thing, but her behavior in the past two episodes suggests that she’s giving Victor what he needed three and a half decades ago, not what he needs now. Though, with Julie wading into the water at the end of “Morgane,” it looks like his most sincere wish—that Julie would stay with him forever—might be coming true.
In the episode’s other major cliffhanger: Adele and Simon’s baby was threatening to swipe the title of Creepiest Child on The Returned from Victor, but it would appear, for now, that the kid is all right. This has been the corner of season two where the show is most comfortable leaning on horror convention, and “Morgane” goes full Rosemary’s Baby whenever Adele is around, keeping little Nathan offscreen while the camera holds tight on Clotilde Hesme’s face (and her Mia Farrow bob). But the suspense sequence later in the episode offers Adele momentary relief, as it follows her down the hallway to find a perfectly healthy, sheep-pajama-wearing baby boy. And now that she’s been able to bring herself to bond with the chid, Simon swoops in to bring Nathan to Lucy. Or maybe he doesn’t—Simon blocking the frame after he drops Chloe at home is another tenterhook “Morgane” leaves us hanging on until next week. (While we wait: Did anyone check to see if the baby has his father’s eyes?)
Simon needs his son to fulfill the type of prophecy that all children of supernatural birth must fulfill, but the destinies on “Morgane”’s mind are smaller-scale affairs. It goes back to the patterns repeating and relationships renewed by the returned and other visitors to the town—like Berg, who found the sinkhole because he was taking the same hike he always takes when he comes back to the valley. There’s a whiff of predestination in the air: When Camille worries aloud that she drove Esteban’s parents to suicide, Mystery Teen wonders if they would’ve taken their own lives regardless of Camille’s bogus clairvoyance.
“Morgane” is a chatty, sudsy episode of The Returned. Consider it the Nighttime Soap of the Living Dead, consisting of big cliffhangers, dramatic gestures, and high-stakes interactions between family members, neighbors, friends and lovers. It’s as rooted in power plays and narratives of succession as Empire, The O.C., or Dallas—and that’s before Claire smacks Camille across the face. The episode even ends with lives hanging in the balance, as Lena gasps for air and Julie goes into the deep. It’s fun to watch The Returned try out some TV conventions, granting them new complexities in the process. Lit by camping lantern, there’s a baroque painterliness to the tableau that reunites the Seguret women; Julie’s walk into the water is early-morning stillness in blues and pinks. The latter is the final image in an episode-long motif in which characters turn their backs on the camera and wander through a wide shot—a stirring visualization of what The Returned does when it answers one of its biggest questions, then keeps moving forward.
- One advantage of watching subtitled episodes of The Returned: The words to “The Mermaid And The Miller” are right there on the screen while Victor’s mom reads them, so it’s a lot simpler to connect the bedtime story to what Julie does next.