Can ‘Les Revenants’ pull off the pay-off?

We’ve re-uped in B’more, cooked blue meth in New Mexico, corridor walked in DC and arrested half the population of Copenhagen in a surprisingly flattering woolly jumper. Now, we have mixed feelings for a band of Alpine zombies competing for attention with a Mogwai soundtrack. Oh, yeah. TV has struck gold again but as we approach ‘Les Revenants’ finale, is it going to go all bat shit crazy like Homeland, frustratingly elusive like Lost, or actually carry off the pay-off like The Wire? Cross les fingers mes amies.

the returnedNice candles. Lovely bespoke bookshelf. Cracking lamp. Stunning views. Must have zombie in a foetal cuddle second from the left. (Furniture courtesy of IKEA; Picture courtesy of Canal Plus)

“Les Revenants” is beautifully shot, wonderfully told and has two episodes before series 1 concludes on Channel 4. It is set in a modern alpine French town of fresh tarmac, neat gardens and gated communities. Its look and feel is surprisingly reassuring to an English audience who didn’t think the French dealt in that English speciality of burby bland, but no fear, they do. (Except bland happens to be in the Alps and the characters speak French, which just sounds, like, way better and always will. Oui, c’est vrai.)

Cultural references are all very ‘Anglo’. Mod jackets, the ‘Lake Pub’, American diners – all tequila, no vin rouge. And of course, there is the little matter of The Returned themselves. The walking, talking, breathing, never sleeping, always eating, often horny, living dead – so obviously real in their depiction but so fantastical in their mere existence – producing screeching false notes in every cold, modern room they occupy.

But what beautiful, screeching false notes they produce. And we’re not just talking about the suitably cryptic Mogwai soundtrack, which is almost a narrator unto itself in “Les Revenants”. The arc of grief, the ability to accept loss and address outstanding sources of pain with the long gone is all performed under neat spot lighting in an IKEA kitchen with a zombie helping themselves to a slice of salami from the fridge. Unblinking disbelief jostles with unthinking acceptance. The tidy, tasteful modernity – an anti-gothic – has its recently laid foundations rocked. Nothing is sure and steady and soon enough the series generates its own momentum. This is what makes “Les Revenants” so satisfying.

There is a seamless link between character and narrative. The plot is generated, yes by some unsolvable mysterious elements, but more importantly and more obviously by the inevitable emotional anarchy caused by, for example, the return of a 15 year old daughter whose since separated parents and twin sister had spent the last three years mourning her death in a coach crash. Grieving parents, jilted fiancées, lovers on the drift, and worryingly attractive, wood chopping, stomach eating serial killers all contend with the one wall crumbling before them which had been universally accepted as Hasseloff resistant.

Disbelief, acceptance, rejection, assimilation, mobilisation – all grow on a bed of confusion, love, loss, grief and bitterness. We have been very patiently guided towards a conclusion, each beat to the arc evenly paced, never requiring an exclamation mark. It is occasionally funny as well, but make no mistake “Les Revenants” is not a knowing dark, comedy horror of blood spattered walls and ironic zingers but a meticulously constructed vehicle for suspense and emotion.

However, as Series 1 draws to a close (Pop Lifer has remained stubbornly oblivious to whether there is a Series 2), “Les Revenants” has reached that inevitable junction. Shit needs to wrap itself up and which way do you go? Reveal the big reveal? Chuck in a curve ball from left field which is disconnected to the emotional build up entirely? (We worry about the dam in this regard). Or equally, and just as frustrating, let the plot slip through the audience’s fingers, leave enough why in the sandwich for a second series and franchise? Answer a question with another question and try to hope that the audience hasn’t noticed.

Homeland and Lost are perhaps two of the biggest victims to the pratfalls behind producing a tidy ending, both generating genuine hostility as the cheap pay-off betrayed the rich build-up. Both “Breaking Bad” and “The Wire” manage to simultaneously resolve and renew both plot and character. In the case of “Breaking Bad” the scale of hazard, both moral and real, is satisfactorily upped a level with every series; with “The Wire” a battle may be messily resolved but the war rages on and the moral injustice remains – neither character nor audience sated.

“Les Revenants” needs narrative, not polemic explanation – for example it has been hinted that this Anglo-American cultural landscape is meant to represent a living dead already in existence – in which case, Monsieur Revenants Writer you can fuck right off with your cultural superiority complex. Above all though, we need a gentle explanation not baseless exploitation, our hand which has been so carefully held up to now, let go in front of a reveal we can really believe in. And if that means a second series, we’re in.

Right now though, we need the older-never-been-dead-yet-sister to get out of the woods, preferably alive….


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