Baptiste episode 2 review: plenty of plot but short on character

The Missing spin-off unfurls a busy story designed to keep us guessing, but still lacks energy or characterisation…

This review contains spoilers.

1.2 Measure Of A Man

“I wish I didn’t have this feeling. A feeling that everything isn’t quite as it seems,” says Julien Baptiste. There’s a name for that feeling, Jules, it’s called ‘episode two of six’. If everything were as it seems, we could all just pack up and go home now. We can’t, because this thing’s been machine-engineered to keep us guessing for another four weeks.  

It takes a great deal of additional storyline—the Polystyrene Wotsit packing material of a crime thriller—to fill six hours of screen-time with the required quota of twists and revelations. That’s why episode two was stuffing it in by the handful: Niels’ post-cancer testicle prosthesis, little hospital boy, Tulip Farmer and the bag of money… plenty to keep viewers diverted while we ponder Baptiste’s central question: who is the enigmatic Edward Stratton? 

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Enigma’s the word for it; Stratton is impossible to pin down. He’s either an unhinged psychopath, a grieving father, a resentful underdog, a masterfully concealed criminal, an obsessive creep or some combination thereof. So far, he’s less a character for Tom Hollander to play than a Sudoku for Julien Baptiste to solve. (And really, how engaging is it to watch somebody solve a Sudoku?) 

Like ours, Hollander’s grasp on his character so far feels tenuous. He’s doing what he can to deliver floatily unhinged dialogue like “she’s upside down and turned around” or the Billy Lomax mouse incident without looking embarrassed, but the actor’s dined on finer fare than this.

Karyo too, is still struggling to make much impact as a lead. His character’s meditative approach doesn’t make for gripping TV here. If Stratton, another obsessive with an addict daughter, has been designed as Baptiste’s villainous counterpart (working towards a ‘we’re not so different, you and I’ moment in future) then both creations lack substance. If they’re supposed to be mirrors of each other, neither has a great deal to reflect. 

Is Stratton actually a villain? Hollander’s playing him as more desperate than dangerous, which may provide some clue as to the ‘real story’ here. The ex-wife seems to be key to that. If Stratton were really the baddie that his mouse-slicing anecdote suggests, she’s unlikely to have taken his call or calmly answered Baptiste’s questions (exes are always the first to shout ‘psycho’). Her continuing sympathy suggests that his involvement with the trafficking gang, and the human head in his basement may be part of a plan. Could he be out for revenge on the people he holds responsible for daughter Lucy’s addiction and death? Or – and stranger things have happened at (the BB)C – might Lucy not even be dead, but trafficked, and this is all part of an attempt to find her?  

Definitely dead because we saw it happen in not-quite-slow-motion-though-it-felt-like-it is Natalie Rose. She was dredged out of the canal after a very unlucky mishap, taking the truth about Edward Stratton with her. What’s her relationship to the Tulip Farmer who unearthed that bag of loot, or to the little boy he abducts from hospital? More polystyrene Wotsits to chew on, there.

Another Wotsit is how the decapitated beachcomber corpse links back to Stratton, other than by dint of its head being on a shelf in his basement (Antwerp, not London as I wrongly assumed last episode). Baptiste’s UK contact has clearly made a connection, but we’re still in the dark. As will Celia Baptiste be, permanently, if the gas meter reader she’s just buzzed in pulls the decapitation trick twice.

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Wotsit. Cliff-hanger. Wotsit. Wotsit. Revelation. Cliff-hanger. You can’t fault the design of Baptiste; it’s a professional piece that hits the right notes – they just ring hollow.