Resurrection: Lessons from the Returned

Note: This piece contains spoilers from the show, Resurrection.

What if someone whom you loved, someone whom you dearly missed, could come back to life? One day, they would just reappear again, not having aged a second and wearing the same clothes as the day that they died. This is the premise of Resurrection, an ABC show that premiered last March and just completed its second season. Jacob, an eight-year-old boy who drowned thirty-two years prior, comes back to life in China, thousands of miles from his hometown of Arcadia, Missouri. Agent Martin Bellamy brings him home to his mother and father, who have grieved for their only child for decades. His parents and loved ones are happy to have him back, but some believe that he’s not really human. As more people return from the dead, this small town begins to learn how to live with the “Returned” and in the process, redefines its understanding of life and death, forgiveness, and tolerance.

Image under fair use
Photo via Wikimedia Commons, used under fair use

Life and Death

When Jacob returns to his family, everyone has to adapt to having him back. At first, his own family is skeptical—”Is this really our Jacob?”—but gradually, they come to accept that this is really him. He looks just like the Jacob that died, has all of the former Jacob’s memories, and remembers his own death. But there are still people in town who claim that he and the other Returned are demons or other supernatural creatures that have returned to Earth to hurt the “living.” It’s true: They are not the same as the people of the town who haven’t died. The Returned have to eat a lot, they can’t sleep normally, they have seen the afterlife, they have mysterious connections to each other, and most interestingly, they can never die again. That last point is what scares people the most. No matter how you kill them, they will always come back to life. The only way that they won’t come back is if they lose the will to live and choose to let go.

The Returned are very much alive, in that they experience most of the same things that other people do, but they are also immortal, which gives them an in-between status. Therefore, the characters have to decide for themselves what it means to be alive or dead.


There are many stories of people who lost loved ones without forgiving them or asking for their forgiveness. For the rest of their lives, they wish that they could have one last moment for closure. Lucille, Jacob’s mother, blames Barbara, her sister-in-law, for her son’s death; he was trying to save her when he died. When Barbara comes back to life, Lucille makes her feel terrible about what happened, which is one of the reasons why Barbara loses her will to live and dies. Lucille regrets what she says, but it’s too late to accept Barbara’s apology and to apologize for her own behavior. Barbara’s husband, Fred, is also angry with his wife because she had an affair before she died the first time. When she comes back, it takes them awhile to forgive each other’s past transgressions, but when Barbara dies a second time, they both have closure. Lastly, when Fred’s brother, Henry, dies and comes back to life, Fred apologizes for the way that he treated Jacob when he returned from the dead. He realizes how lucky he is to get his brother back so quickly, and to say sorry to him when others will never have that chance.


The Returned are a minority and just like many minorities, they are marginalized and treated poorly by those who have misconceptions about them. When Jacob goes to church with his parents, people are uncomfortable with his presence. The pastor (Jacob’s childhood best friend) eventually resigns and starts a smaller church that welcomes everyone.

A group of townspeople—the self-proclaimed “The True Living”—are bent at making life difficult for the Returned and those who accept them. They tag houses that have Returned and try to hurt people at the new church. Because they don’t see the Returned as humans—equal to them—they have no problem harming them. This feeling is at the core of all intolerance and is explored in various scenes, most powerfully in the final episode of the second season. Rachel, one of the Returned, was pregnant at the time of her suicide. When she comes back to life years later, her baby starts to grow again. A preacher, however, is determined to take Rachel’s will to live so the baby will not be born. He believes that the baby is evil because it has never known life. In the last episode, a number of individuals try to protect Rachel. Unlike the preacher, they believe that things aren’t so easy to categorize; it is not up to them to say who is superior and who is inferior, who is good and who is evil.

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