Four episodes were provided for review purposes prior to broadcast.
It’s hard for someone who has never experienced the sudden loss of a loved one to truly understand grief.
To those in its throes, it’s all-consuming, an unceasing barrage of waves constantly crashing down, threatening to wash away every sensation – save pain. Grief is always present, a physical burden as well as an emotional one, a pit in the stomach and in the mind, alternately bearable and overwhelming. Immediately after a loss, those waves come fast and ferociously, stymying all effort to break free and take a simple breath. One quite literally feels that they are drowning.
As the days turn to weeks, the weeks turn to months, and the months turn to years, though, those waves arrive less frequently. In the lull between them, mourners can begin to rebuild, to fortify and to, if not recover, at least move forward. No one ever recovers from grief – it’s not a curable condition. The agony of loss is as deeply ingrained in a mourner as the memory of their loved one’s life, always just beneath the surface, a permanent layer of hard skin between them and the rest of the world. Under that shell, though, a heart still beats, and spirit, however anguished, lives on.
Grief’s interminability and inconstancy is intrinsic to A&E’s The Returned. Set in the stationary mountain town of Caldwell, Washington, this eerie and enigmatic series features an array of characters, and indeed a setting, that are living between the waves. Four years prior to the main action of the show, a horrendous (and seemingly inexplicable) bus crash snuffed out the lives of several of the town’s young folk, including teen Camille (India Ennega). Since her death, parents Jack (Mark Pellegrino) and Claire (Tandi Wright) have become estranged, and Camille’s twin sister Lena (Sophie Lowe) has grown up far too quickly. The constant strain of Camille’s loss manifests itself in different ways, but it’s around every corner. Caldwell’s residents, not just Camille’s family, still move in a traumatized daze, shuffling forward simply because there’s no other option.
Then, one day, with as little warning as she left, Camille reappears, lacking all memory of the past four years and not having aged a day. Her impossible return to the land of the living is as baffling as it is blissful for her two parents, again faced with a promising future they’d long since thought lost. Every mourner faces aching questions of “what if” – the characters of The Returned, miraculously, have been given the chance to answer them.
Camille is not alone. Also back from the dead is Simon (Mat Vairo), a guitarist who had died on the eve of his marriage to local waitress Rowan (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who has since become engaged to the town sheriff (Kevin Alejandro). Simon’s impossible reappearance in her life puts Rowan in an unenviable position; she never stopped loving the father of her young daughter (Dakota Guppy), but she’s since fought hard to establish a life without him. The Returned doesn’t offer her, or anyone, easy answers.