“Julie” is the first episode of The Returned that’s not named for or centered on one of The Returned. Or is it? The episode keeps its lips sealed with regard to the outcome of her encounter with Toni’s brother. Maybe she survived, maybe she came back, maybe she had to pay an exorbitant amount of fees when she returned that Catwoman costume to the rental place—“Julie” isn’t into filling in seven years worth of details. And that’s to the The Returned’s advantage.
As the mystery of The Returned seeps forth, “Julie” takes a wider look at the town in which The Returned is set. Camille and Simon feel more like supporting players in other characters’ storylines this week, fitting for an episode that transitions out of the credits to join the living in attendance at Mr. Costa’s funeral. There’s more time spent with Julie, Thomas, and Pierre, each uniquely tied to this little mountain town’s strange streak of bad luck. It seems as if we can see the whole population (and Mrs. Costa, the widower’s widow set off from the wide shot of the funeral as a solitary red dot) in that scene at the cemetery. That’s disproven later in the episode: We can actually see the whole population on the NSA wet dream that Thomas and his gendarmerie cohorts have constructed in their office.
More so than in previous installments, “Julie” casts The Returned as the story of a community recovering from multiple tragedies. Particularly in focus this week: The reign of terror conducted by Toni’s brother. (He still hasn’t been named on screen, which heightens his malevolence while intensifying the gendarmerie’s search for Lucy’s attacker. As far as we know, they’re legitimately seeking a John Doe.) The spree’s impact on the town is told in typically elegant, efficient fashion: Going by the huge bank of monitors at gendarmerie HQ, after the killer ceased killing, the authorities pulled no punches in terms of surveillance. In these technologically advanced times, it’s a common response to calamity. And just in case you were wondering what the producers of The Returned think of such responses, Thomas abuses the hell out of the system in “Julie,” having surreptitiously installed cameras in his own house, the better to monitor his new bride and step-daughter. Of course, this is mirrored by the fact that Simon keeps showing up at the place to stare at Adele through the windows.
The sight of Thomas’ monitor bank is expertly placed: Three episodes into The Returned, the viewer is in a similar position. We’re staring at the town through our own monitors, convincing ourselves that doing so gives us a sense of the place’s geography. There’s no better example of that than the tunnel haunted by Toni’s brother. The show has given us such a sense of the tunnel’s significance that I instantly tensed up when Celine Sallette ambled down those stairs and into that nightmare corridor. Her attack is depicted in a style nearly identical to Lucy’s: The camera appears to placed in the same location to capture her walking toward the edge of the frame while Toni’s brother walks into it.
The stationary camera setup mimics the gendarmerie’s security cameras; ironically, the tunnel is the one place Thomas and his men can’t peer into. For an attempt at getting the town to a Minority Report-style state of predictive police work, it’s sure a shitty system for preventing crime. Since The Returned showed up, there’s been an arson, an assault, and two deaths (one a potential homicide)—not to mention whatever the hell happened between Julie, Toni’s brother, and Victor (or maybe just Julie and Victor?) in the lobby of Julie’s apartment complex. I love how the episode juxtaposes a sequence of Thomas in his situation room with Julie’s search her missing garçon. It’s the show snickering at the notion that these cameras are doing anything to keep the townsfolk safe.
And besides: It’s not as if the cameras can catch everyone’s secrets. As we learn in “Julie,” Thomas’ lieutenant Laure was the titular character’s lover—and she was the last person to see Julie before she was attacked. Then they didn’t see each other for seven years. It’s all part of The Returned’s valiant effort to, as The A.V. Club’s own Myles McNutt recently put it, “be mysterious rather than being about mystery.” Last week’s episode wanted us to believe that there’s an explanation for everything that’s happening here, that someone like Pierre can come along and sooth the populace’s jangled nerves with The Answers. At the end of “Julie,” there’s a sense that those conclusions are still weeks away—if they even exist in the first place. The episode chills by opening a trap door beneath our feet, plunging the viewer deeper into the unknown. How does Toni’s brother suddenly become Victor? Where’s all the water going? Who killed Ms. Payet? Who left that mass of guts and fur decaying in the garbage? What’s Pierre’s angle?
For a show as atmospheric and aesthetically pleasing as it is, The Returned is sure good at keeping its audience twitchy. When Claire closes her medicine cabinet in “Julie,” she doesn’t see a hideous monster in the mirror—she just sees her estranged husband. (Then again, maybe the show’s trying to show us something about Jerome through that choice.) Then, while they’re embracing, she’s startled by a cockroach crawling out of the drain. Just one of the episode’s many illustrations that while we think we’re getting a grasp on The Returned, the show’s just getting started.
- The Returned: Replacing Fatal Attraction as pop culture’s primary source of rabbit-related trauma since 2012. (That was a rabbit that Claire finds in the trashcan, right?)
- Todd VanDerWerff highlighted the mother motif in his pre-air review; there’s a bit of that in “Julie,” but to me, the episode is interested in seeing its characters unexpectedly slotted into a number of new roles. Victor as Julie’s protector, Lena as an older sister, etc. I find Camille and Lena’s relationship to be The Returned’s most consistently inventive and engrossing element. It’s a depiction of siblinghood I haven’t seen anywhere else (well, maybe Flight Of The Navigator), and I have a feeling the scar on Lena’s back will inform that dynamic to new level’s of intrigue.
- What’s happening to the reservoir? It’s still draining.The dam is two years past due for an inspection. And now there’s robots mapping the whole reservoir, in case the security camera’s aren’t enough techno-anxiety for you.
- This week’s zombie that’s not a zombie: British electronic musician Zomby, whose twitchy, flighty 2013 LP, With Love, accompanied the parts of this review that weren’t soundtracked by Mogwai’s Les Revenants. His Twitter feed is also the Internet’s best non-Newswire source for James Franco jokes.