Warning: contains spoilers for Baptiste series 2 episode 1.
As much as they need keen instincts and a signature coat, TV detectives also need personal tragedy. In The Missing, Det. Julien Baptiste’s was his daughter Sara’s heroin addiction. Series one showed Baptiste peeling himself away from the case of missing child Oliver Hughes to visit his own child, hospitalised by an overdose and in over her head with the dealers she’d been working for to fund her habit.
Baptiste felt responsible for Sara’s addiction and – as he told another addict he was helping to get clean in The Missing series one – had nursed her through detox several times. Growing up, Sara (Camille Schotte) had felt side-lined by Baptiste’s commitment to his work, and overlooked in comparison to the missing children her father devoted his life to finding.
By Baptiste series one, Sara was clean and a new mother. She and her partner Ron (Omar Baroud) had moved from France to Amsterdam, where they were raising their infant daughter. When Julien and Celia were visiting her there, Julien became involved in a missing persons case that temporarily required the family to go into hiding for their own safety. Sara didn’t hide her displeasure at being forced out of her home, and once again resented the ripples made by her father’s work as a detective.
Fast forward to the start of Baptiste series two, and Sara is four months dead. How she died is one of the new series’ mysteries, as is why Julien feels such guilt about her death. We meet Julien four months after the loss of his daughter, when he’s separated from wife Celia and living in a dingy hotel. The background photo on his phone is of Sara and his granddaughter. Julien is refusing to take Celia’s calls, and carrying out his investigations with an uncharacteristic lack of emotional involvement. We see him chase down a young runaway, who says that he won’t return to his parents. Baptiste walks away uncaringly, telling the boy to do what he likes, and that everyone will make their own mistakes, but at least now his parents will know that their son is alive. Did Julien make a mistake that led to Sara’s death? Or was the mistake hers?
In his hotel room, Julien watches a TV news press conference featuring British Ambassador to Hungary, Emma Chambers (Fiona Shaw), whose family has gone missing. Upon hearing her appeal to witnesses for information, Julien glimpses a knitted blue toy elephant on his hotel nightstand. When he looks a second later, it’s no longer there.
Later, having travelled to Hungary and pledged to help Emma Chambers find out what happened to her missing sons, Julien sees the toy a second time. In the hotel bathroom, once again, it’s there one moment and gone the next. The blue elephant clearly signifies the loss of Baptiste’s daughter, and the grief and guilt he’s experiencing. Perhaps it was a childhood toy of Sara’s, perhaps it once belonged to his granddaughter, whose whereabouts – along with those of her father Ron – are currently unknown. Perhaps it actually figured in Sara’s death, or is simply a reminder of her loss.
Eighteen months after Sara’s death, and fourteen months after Baptiste took on the Chambers family case, he’s in a terrible state. Unkempt, bearded, drunk and disorderly, he’s picked up by two police officers while battering on the door of a French townhouse, screaming that its occupant is a coward and for them to come out. Who’s inside that house? Is it somebody associated with the Chambers case, or perhaps Ron, his granddaughter’s father? Is Julien being refused access to his granddaughter after Sara’s death?
What killed Sara? The most obvious guess would be a heroin relapse, perhaps provoked by the shock of discovering that she had a half-brother. Baptiste series one introduced Dutch cop Niels, son of the Amsterdam chief of police Martha Horchner, who’d concealed Niels’ birth from his father Julien. Niels was exposed as corrupt and working for a people-trafficking gang. Now he’s in prison for corruption and for the accidental fatal shooting of his mother. When Celia meets Julien after he spends a night in the cells, she berates him for his “stubborn Gallic bullshit” and for silently torturing himself “about what happened to [their] daughter”, then gives him divorce papers, which he signs.
Not so long ago, Baptiste had a wife, daughter, granddaughter, and a new son. Now, he has nothing except a heap of guilt and the persistent, torturous image of a toy elephant to represent his loss. As he told Emma Chambers (who, like Baptiste series two’s protagonist Edward, also lost a daughter), he carries Sara’s death with him. If he succeeds in helping Emma to find her missing son, might it lighten that load?
Baptiste series two airs on Sundays at 9pm on BBC One.