This review contains spoilers.
2.1 Come Home
While some TV dramas go perfectly with a vat of tea and a chocolate hobnob, and others sit well with a glass of wine, the best accompaniment to The Missing series two might be a flipchart, multi-coloured board markers and a stack of Post-It Notes. Episode one was cluttered with questions to file away and a timeline so convoluted that a homemade diagram was your best hope of keeping up.
Over the course of the hour I totted up three time periods, four countries, two abductions, two missing babies, two suspects, one affair, at least one suicide, a mysterious fire and a funeral. Best add paracetamol to your Wednesday shopping list for the next seven weeks.
Haircuts turned out to be key. If Keeley Hawes had a bob, it was the present day; if not, it was two years ago. If Tchéky Karyo was bald and clean-shaven, it was modern-day Iraqi Kurdistan, if fuzzily bearded it was 2014 Europe. David Morrissey’s tell was his expanse of scar tissue from the aforementioned mysterious fire. With it, he was in the here and now; without it, rewind two years.
Navigating the chronological shifts will soon become second nature I’m sure. Just make sure you don’t savour too extended a blink at any point or you run the risk of missing the caption explaining that it’s now eleven years after Alice was abducted, the month of her return, days before she died, and two years before her mum got a bob.
If indeed, that really was Alice.
Gotcha! said the episode’s final line (after a more subdued and much sadder ‘gotcha’ when Gemma and Matthew arrived at that graveyard). It must have taken everything Tchéky Karyo had not to look right at the camera and wink after delivering that humdinger. If it turns out Baptiste was speaking figuratively, then we’re all officially allowed to queue up and bop The Missing on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper.
He won’t be, of course. That would be a step beyond the realm of acceptable ‘screwing with the audience’ behaviour, something which The Missing’s writers likely have a keen sense of after the mixed response to series one’s finale.
So if that isn’t/wasn’t/won’t be Alice Webster, then who is/was/might she be? Sophie Giroux doing a passable British accent? Another self-tattooed girl entirely? One option, perhaps, is that Julien Baptiste’s fatal tumour is pressing down on the part of his brain that controls wild, unanchored narrative excursions.
That’s right, a fatal brain tumour. The Missing does nothing by halves. Apart from Hawes’ Gemma, each character has a distinguishing characteristic such as you might find in the instructions for a do-it-yourself murder mystery dinner party. Baptiste has the tumour. His daughter was a drug addict. David Morrissey’s Sam is having an affair. His son smokes crack in Aldi car parks…
Baptiste’s impending death introduces a new element of urgency to proceedings. Like DI Alec Hardy in Broadchurch, he doesn’t know how long he has left to fulfil the promise he made to a missing girl’s parents and his quest to do something rather than nothing has made him reckless. No longer counselling series one’s Tony Hughes on the importance of letting go, he’s taken on Tony’s role and is pursuing remote leads across continents. We all saw how that ended last series. Unsatisfactorily.
There’s nothing unsatisfactory about the cast pulled together for this series. Hawes and Morrissey are such capable hands that any amount of confusion will be worth it to see these two go through the many pains of a primetime thriller together. Even without the question mark over Alice’s identity, the prospect of watching that broken family reassemble around their returning daughter promised to be satisfying enough dramatically. BBC Three’s Thirteen and, in a different genre, Channel 4’s The Returned (visually referenced, surely, during Alice’s solitary walk back over that dam) made similar premises work without needing to add a lorryload of potential red herrings and narrative twists.
That said, it did its job, this episode, albeit in a way that made you screw up your eyes in concentration. The cast is tantalising (hello Roger Allam!), the locations are diverting, the emotional scenes are affecting and the intrigue is gripping.
I’ll be back next week, flipchart and Post-Its in hand. Join me, won’t you?