Warning: contains The Missing series 1 & 2 and Baptiste spoilers.
We first met French detective Julien Baptiste in 2006 (for him) and 2014 (for us). A key thing to know about The Missing’s breakout star is that his investigations take place over multiple timelines – not in a complicated sci-fi way, but in a ‘jazzing up a crime drama’ way. If you ever miss a caption telling you what year it is, it’s usually possible to guess based on Baptiste’s hair. As a rule, smoothly combed = the past, charmingly unkempt = now, shaved head = receiving treatment for a brain tumour/uncovering a Gulf War scandal in a disputed region of North Iraq.
We’re getting ahead of ourselves. In 2006, Tchéky Karyo’s French detective was one month away from an idyllic countryside retirement spent beekeeping with his English wife Celia (Anastasia Hille). Crime though, had other ideas. Specifically, one idea: kidnapping children, the finding of whom is Baptiste’s speciality. When five-year-old Oliver Hughes went missing in the French town of Chalons du Bois, Baptiste, a renowned finder of lost things, was brought into aid the investigation.
The Oliver Hughes disappearance
Before the Hughes case was closed, Baptiste was forced into early retirement when he sustained a serious injury. A gendarme on the investigation had been blackmailed by a journalist into leaking information to the press, and attacked Baptiste in an attempt to cover it up. Julien’s leg was slammed repeatedly with a car door, almost causing it to be amputated, explaining why Baptiste now walks with a limp. The leg was eventually saved by surgery, and by the fact that there’s already a charming, wistful, one-legged TV detective on the BBC in the form of Cormoran Strike.
Eight years after Baptiste’s forced retirement, he was dragged back into the case by Oliver’s father Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt), who had refused to give up looking for his son. It didn’t take much dragging; Baptiste lives for his work. Eventually, Julien and Tony tracked down a recovering-alcoholic hotelier who’d accidentally run Oliver down in his car while driving drunk, and his mayor brother who’d hired a Romanian gangster to get rid of the body.
But twist! According to the gangster, Oliver was unconscious but not dead, so he says he killed and disposed of him. Tony, however, doesn’t believe that. He thinks that the gangster instead trafficked Oliver to Russia, where he lives to this day. That was series one’s unresolved cliff-hanger, which was met by the British viewing public with no small consternation.
During series one of The Missing, we learned a few things about Julien. He’s a kind man with a philosophical bent, apt to making meditative statements on the nature of life. He’s also a keen reader with a gentle way about him, but equally willing to rough up a suspect if the case calls for it. He and Celia have a loving and pretty fruity marriage, as well as a beloved daughter named Sara. She was a drug addict hospitalised with a heroin overdose in series one, but had got clean by the time her dad was given his own spin-off in 2019’s Baptiste.
The Sophie Giroux/Alice Webster abductions
Again, we need to rewind. In series two of The Missing, the now-retired Baptiste was drawn back into another old case. Years earlier, he’d investigated the disappearance of 11-year-old French girl Sophie Giroux from a German town. Baptiste didn’t find her, but did wrongly suggest that her father was behind the abduction, which caused Sophie’s mother to kill herself.
In fact, Sophie Giroux had been abducted and kept hostage by a British military officer, along with two other girls – Lena Gerber and Alice Webster. When a now-adult ‘Alice’ reappeared in the German town in need of surgery, Baptiste went along and realised that the young woman was in fact Sophie impersonating Alice. Working with rookie German cop Jorn Lenhart, Julien uncovered the truth, which also involved uncovering a decades-old Gulf War scandal. In the process, the abductor was arrested, but not before he killed Jorn and Alice’s father Sam (David Morrissey). The girls were rescued, including Lucy, the infant daughter Sophie had borne her abductor.
In the closing moments of series two, Julien underwent surgery for a brain tumour. He’d been using the Sophie case to avoid the treatment and distract himself from his looming mortality. Spoiler: he survived.
In The Missing then, Baptiste either has a 50% child-finding success rate, or a 100% rate if you believe the gangster really did kill Oliver Hughes, or a 300% rate if you take the additional discovery of Alice and Lucy into account in the search for Sophie. In series one of his own spin-off Baptiste, those odds are about to get worse, or significantly better depending on who you’re counting. That series was set against a backdrop of child sexual abuse trafficking by Romanian gangsters, and ended with Julien rescuing a whole group of kidnapped girls, though not the specific one he was looking for.
Edward Stratton, Natalie-Rose, the Brigada Serbilu and Niels Horchner
Baptiste series one took place in Amsterdam, where Julien and Celia were visiting their recovering addict daughter Sara, her partner and their baby daughter. When Julien’s old flame Martha Horchner – now the city’s chief of police – dragged him into the case of a missing girl, Celia encouraged the distraction. Baptiste’s wife knew that retirement wasn’t her man’s bag and ever since the brain surgery, he’d needed something to do. His own spin-off provided that alright, plus a surprise new 32-year-old son whom Julien had no idea existed.
In Amsterdam, Julien was tasked with looking for Natalie Rose, a young girl reported missing by her uncle Edward Stratton (played by Tom Hollander). Except, Edward wasn’t Natalie’s uncle, but her client and conspirator in the theft of a million euros in cash from sex trafficking gangsters the Brigada Serbilu.
Like Julien, Edward had had a drug addict daughter – Lucy. After she died of an overdose, Edward split from his wife and took to visiting sex worker Natalie Rose platonically because she reminded him of Lucy. When Natalie Rose’s 15-year-old sister Cristina was kidnapped and sex trafficked, she and Edward hatched the robbery plan to get the money to buy her back. Except that Natalie disappeared with the cash, leaving Edward in debt to some very bad men, one of whom beheaded his father on an English beach.
Natalie had left the money with her tulip-farmer father, who was also looking after her young son, and then drowned while hiding from the gangsters in a canal. When Julien and Edward recovered the cash, Edward re-stole it in an attempt to see through the original plan and save Natalie’s sister Cristina. He failed, and Cristina was never found, but the investigation did lead to the rescue of a shipment of trafficked underage girls. Meanwhile, the gangsters had also killed Edward’s ex-wife and her new partner, but Edward survived.
To solve the case, Julien teamed up with Martha’s son Niels, a police officer recovering from testicular cancer who turned to be Julien’s biological son, the product of a youthful relationship with Martha. Niels also turned out to be a corrupt cop who was working with the Brigada Serbilu and taking bribes to assist with their people trafficking. With the help of Interpol’s Genevieve Taylor (Jessica Raine), Baptiste discovered Niels’ wrongdoing. After going on the run, Niels was tracked down and surrounded in a public square. He took his mother hostage and accidentally shot her in the head, killing her, also shooting his father Baptiste in the arm before he was led away.
British Ambassador Emma Chambers
All of which leaves Baptiste with a crooked cop son in prison, a recovering addict daughter, a baby granddaughter, a great many demons, a pronounced limp, and a very understanding wife. Series two takes him to the Hungarian mountains, in search of the missing family the British Ambassador (played by Killing Eve‘s Fiona Shaw), where no doubt, more personal heartache and philosophical musings await. Vas-y!
Baptiste series 2 starts on BBC One on Sunday the 18th of July at 9pm.