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Will 'Resurrection' last?

The opening of ABC’s Resurrection is stunning. A dark haired little boy lies on his back in a lush, vibrant green and water soaked field in rural China—then gasps, sits upright, and looks up at the sky. He walks into a small village and mumbles, “Is she dead?” just before collapsing in the midst a crowd of bewildered Chinese villagers.

That is our introduction to eight-year-old Jacob Langston—who drowned in Arcadia, Missouri, 32 years before while trying to save his aunt. And he’s not the only one who died in Arcadia who seems to have come back to life.

Resurrection’s premiere was moving yet unsettling and somewhat disturbing—a unique combination that, among other things, has piqued my interest.

First, I find the Resurrection’s premise intriguing. Based on The Returned, a novel by Jason Mott, Resurrection raises some engaging questions right off the bat:  Are these really the dead raised to life? Will they stay alive? Are they people—or something else? What’s going on? Is it the end of the world? Or is everyone dead and living in some sort of Lost in-between-space?

For those of us familiar with the Bible, the premise rings some bells. There are the individual resurrections, like those associated with Elisha and Elijah. Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter, a widow’s son and Lazarus. And Peter and Paul had their turn at it as well.

But then there’s that moment in Matthew’s account when the bodies of many holy people were raised to life, came out of their tombs and appeared to many people in Jerusalem after Jesus’ own resurrection. Every time I come across that passage, I ponder similar questions: What would it be like for their families and those who witnessed the returns? How would the resurrected live out the rest of their lives? Were they changed? What were the ripple effects? The relational dynamics?

This series has the potential to explore questions like these—but we’ll most likely have to wait for some of the answers. While the series is based on The Returned, series creators have said it will depart from the novel. And supposedly, ABC’s series isn’t related to the acclaimed French series Les Revenants (which just went on my Netflix queue), so it’s no use going there for clues either.

In addition to the premise, I’m also intrigued by some of the images in the premiere. For example, water features prominently, symbolizing both life and death. Jacob is lying half submerged in water when we first see him in his resurrected form. Both he and his aunt drowned in a swiftly moving river. We see Jacob through a water cooler jug that the pastor drinks from just before encountering him, and it’s raining when another previously dead person is reunited with his loved ones in Arcadia.

I’m also intrigued by several cinematic shots looking down on the characters from above. Interestingly, two prominent shots like this frame the premiere—a shot of Jacob from above in the soaked field in China and a shot of the other resurrected man embracing his daughter in the rain. Angles like that suggest there is a something greater at work here.

And I also like how the characters in the story are bumping up against something that challenges the way they look at and understand the world—and, while we aren’t encountering people returning from the dead, this is something with which we resonate. Our world is rapidly changing. Technology is advancing at a rapid pace and we are discovering new things every day in the physical and biological sciences. Stories on both the big and small screens—ranging from films like Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life to television series like J.J. Abrams’ Lost—ask us to ponder if there is something greater than us, and who or what that is. All of this challenges us to constantly examine the way we understand world, ourselves, each other, and God. A series like this has the potential to shed some light on how we approach and wrestle with these things.
The premiere did have its weak points. It was uneven, moving between stunning and clunky. The portrait sketched of Henry Langston (Jacob’s father played by Kurtwood Smith) felt a bit flat. And the scenes related to faith and church were, as many critics have pointed out, too heavy handed.

Will Resurrection last? That’s a good question—both within the story itself and in terms of the series’ longevity. For now, there’s enough to keep me tuning in to find out.