a morpho eugenia buttergly, which has cornflower blue wings

Resurrection, and the Returned: “I’m not sure it would be a good thing.”

It’s been a long time since I’ve watched network television, I realized halfway through the premiere episode of Resurrection, which is the newest revived-from-the-dead offering on tv. (Though I’m not bothering to google this, there are several such shows in production at the moment, I am given to understand.) Though I kind of can’t imagine network tv taking on the latent and blatant nihilism and grimdark nature of the zombie show – despite Walking Dead‘s cable ascendancy – I could see the more domestic concern of people in a small town returned years after their deaths working as a sort of Lost-ish mystery show. Who returned Laura Palmer?

Network television can pull off the Gothic melodrama, with even creature-of-the-week procedurals like early seasons of the X-Files bending towards the childhood traumas and interpersonal machinations of the principles. Alas, what I got from Resurrection was a whole mess of anxiety about whether the viewer was even going to buy the premise. The cold open works as an image – this boy in the rice paddies and his collapse in a Chinese town – but once the cut-rate X-Files agents get involved, it all goes downhill. A seriously put upon agent of ICE, which might be the least sexy of all federal agencies, picks up a boy who has been repatriated to the US because obvs he’s an American? Why are we being showed this travel time? Start in China, switch to the small town. Also no, the agent doesn’t just haul off to magical New England town just on the say-so of some rando kid.

The thing that killed me about Resurrection was how arm-wheeling the emotional and social problems are, all of these painful conversations with ICE ICE agent, man of exposition and explication, reiterating over and over how obvious the stakes are. The childhood friend of the resurrected boy now a priest, stuttering through his homily as the boy’s mother ushers him into the pew. The fact that every single person in Stars Hollow appears to be related to the resurrected boy, down to his doc. Also, you are seriously not allowed to put a lynching joke in the mouth of Omar Epps in a show this white, no. After the joke, my husband yelled, “Omar Epps, everybody!” Sorry, that’s a fail.

There was altogether too much hugging, speechifying, and shaming going on in Resurrection for my taste. I do not even get why everyone ragged on resurrected boy’s dad for not believing this miraculous kid was his, even though the boy was unchanged after 20 years and reappeared on the other side of the planet. I get that Americans don’t like skepticism or science, but this is beyond the emotional pale for me. I’m going to need some time, DNA tests notwithstanding, to accept this manifest creature of a family’s grief as something other than its shocking reiteration. Quit mansplaining what I should think, ABC, sheesh. (Also, total waste of a few of my favorite character actors, especially the boy’s parents.)

Which was why the first episode of The Returned, “Camille”, was so damn good. The events occur in a small town in the French Alps, with four or five – its not entirely clear – people returning to their lives after years of the absence of death. Camille dies in a bus accident with 38 other people. Years later, we watch a group therapy group consider the monument to the loss that is to be installed in order to enact their dubious healing. Camille comes home and her mother follows her through the house, shaking, getting her a robe, pulling down the half-considered shrine on her dresser. “Why did you rearrange all my clothes?” the girl asks, and the mother doesn’t answer. A creepy boy keeps being framed through glass. A morpho eugenia butterfly, pinned to a display case, flutters, and then breaks free.

a morpho eugenia butterfly

There is little dialogue in The Returned, more a series of reaction shots and tight Gothic interiors interspersed with tight Gothic landscapes: a reservoir, a row of suburban alpine houses, an underground walkway with flickering lights. None of the relationships are telegraphed in megaphone dialogue, but in subtle nods of the head. Camille’s parents are divorced now, but were not 4 years ago when she died. “Tu fumes?” she asks her dad, as he pinches a shuddering cigarette with his ex-wife beyond the glass of the sliding door, hissing at each other, what are we going to do? What do you even say, years past someone’s death? How awful would their return be, a tearing of all the scar tissue, both personal and societal?

I don’t mean to keep hat-tipping Twin Peaks, even though I do, but there’s something here that reminds me of that. Not in the pin-wheeling grotesquery of Lynch’s middle America,  but in the Gothic dread of the small town, the flickering iteration of civic grief, and the half-careful invocation of the supernatural, like a shrine swept suddenly into a drawer. (Also because the cinematography is gorgeous.) When the priest avows the durability of the human soul and then demurs about the resurrection of the body – “I’m not sure it would be a good thing” – I was all in. I suspect there will be fewer answers in The Returned than there will be in Resurrection, which I count as a good thing. There is no answer to grief.

8 thoughts on “Resurrection, and the Returned: “I’m not sure it would be a good thing.””

  1. The X-Files and Lost were both pretty awesome until you got itchy producers who demanded a reveal. That’s when the X-Files lost its luster for me. Any explanation is too mundane compared to the half-imagined wonders of my imagination. More shows should leave things be, and let them be spooky without tying it all up in a neat little bow. Because in life there are things we don’t know and don’t understand but still must live with. Like missing Malaysian airplanes.

    I think it’s our desperate thirst for knowing that drives us to imagine the possibilities, and like dreams or mostly-forgotten rosy memories, those possibilities are always more engaging than the eventual reality. Except for physics. That shit is straight up cool.

    1. The X Files managed to hold on for a long time though, which is pretty impressive. Lost less so, but that show was a lot more mythology based, because they couldn’t just go off and investigate the Loch Ness monster for a couple episodes. I do like that The Returned doesn’t seem too fussed with the science, treating the return as the obvious metaphor it is. The mother gets a grief counselor, not a medical doctor, to examine her daughter. The old dude gets a shot because he’s having a panic attack, but keeps the nurse from looking at his returned wife.

      You are correct about physics.

  2. This is a great meditation on both these shows. I’d never even heard of The Returned, but now I definitely want to check it out. And it reminded me of something I’d read today, coincidentally, by Yourcenar:

    “The rites of the Day of the Dead are as much about fear as loveā€¦ It is an unadmitted and almost inadmissible fact that even the most beloved dead, after several years or even several months, would, were they to return, be intruders into the existence of the living, whose circumstances have changed. This is decreed not so much by men’s egotism or fickleness as by the exigencies of life itself.”

    Not at all surprised to find your thoughts somewhat coinciding with that awesome lady’s.

    I hope you try her out one day! I think you’d appreciate her Hadrian so much.

    1. Oh, that’s such a wonderful quote! Apparently the French have this grief thing figured out. I really do have to get back to Yourcenar. Last time I tried my library didn’t have Hadrian, but I have since figured out how to work the ILL.

      1. Yeah, unfortunately many of the French have had cause to be familiar with grief- and she loved through the war and was of aristocratic descent (part Belgian, I believe) so there’s a whole other pile centuries to her engagement with loss and grief and nostalgia- part of why Hadrian works so well I think.

        I hope that your library has it this time!

        1. I am pretty sure I meant “lived” through the war instead of loved, but it’s such a fortuitous, truthful mistake that I will leave it. You did some good for once, auto-correct!

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