The central characters of the first season of The Returned, an addictive and deeply unnerving French television drama available on Netflix, are identical twins, Camille and Léna. When we first meet Camille, she walks briskly up the road to her parents’ house in a polished town in the high Alps. Léna, meanwhile, is doing shots at the town’s rather youthful bar, the Lake Pub, named for the massive hydroelectric dam down below.
Léna drinks and drinks some more, apparently chasing a demon. Ravenous, Camille devours a sandwich. What’s to account for the intensity of their behavior? Four years earlier, at the end of a school field trip that Léna should also have attended, Camille was killed when the tour bus went over a cliff as it returned to town.
Soon, we are to realize, Camille isn’t alone among the confused and hungry dead who have just returned to walk among the living. A retired schoolteacher, Mr. Costa, has hidden his wife, who died in 1978, in the kitchen. She stuffs herself with spaghetti. Simon, who died on his wedding day, desperately searches for Adèle, his fiancée. Victor, a seven-year-old boy, lurks near a bus stop. He attaches himself to a woman with distant eyes. Indeed, the living here are as lonely as the orphan dead. And the dead feel their betrayal and exile as powerfully as do the living. “I lost my sister too,” insists Camille, when their father reminds her of Léna’s emotional wounds. Compounding the viewer’s discomfort: the script suggests that to execute the lie that allowed Léna to stay home on the day of the accident, the sisters had switched identities. Who exactly is living and who is dead?