I’ve finally caught up with The Returned, which has not just maintained the quality of the first episode, but consistently improved across the series, growing in confidence, becoming ever stranger, madder, sadder. It’s the most exciting thing I’ve watched on television for a very long time: it’s Lynch without the hysteria; it’s Lost without the sensationalist cliffhangers. When a show is this good, eight episodes is not enough, and I’m glad there’s a second series on the way.
There’s a habit in these long-running ensemble shows – and increasingly in big-budget films, too – of ‘concluding’ with threads left untied – or introducing tantalising new story strands. Sequels and follow-ups have therefore become implicit. The gradual switch from ‘series’ to ‘season’ is an ingenious use of weasel words; season implies annual regularity, and makes the show a fixture, part of an ongoing narrative, integrated into the cycle of the year. New instalments are seen as part of a continuum; rather than stand-alone, self-contained sequences. This has clear drawbacks: I loved Lost, but the final conclusion to the show was incredibly weak. It felt increasingly apparent, as the show expanded, that they had started without knowing how it would end, and that each successive series was created to generate the next, rather than conclude the previous. With such a weight of expectation piled onto the final episodes, it was always going to fall short. The conclusion of Lost was less than the sum of its many, flawed, dazzling parts.
With a little courage, I think The Returned could probably have finished at the end of the first series, even with so many questions still unanswered. It would have been bold, but the last sight of the flooded town would have made the metaphor of the draining dam all the more apparent… but we have expectations of closed narratives, and there’s too much still unsaid. And when it is so incredibly well-made, a second series will be very welcome. Now it’s just a matter of waiting until November next year – and what’s 18 months for the best thing on television?
In the meantime, I’ll console myself with the breathtaking Mogwai soundtrack. I reckon it’s their best work since Come On Die Young. You can listen to some of the songs here, but you’d better get the real thing, just to be on the safe side.