This review contains spoilers.
2.2 The Turtle And The Stick
Like the trusty coma, dementia is the perfect illness for a thriller. It enables writers to store key information inside a character and release it precisely when the plot demands without anyone being able to scream ‘but why didn’t you say that weeks ago?!’. Characters suffering from dementia can legitimately flit in and out of lucidity, giving away nothing until the time comes for them to give away everything. Danny Brocklehurst knew that in 2011 BBC thriller Exile, and the writers of The Missing know it too.
In the present day, we learn that Roger Allam’s Adrian Stone is a dementia sufferer. Back in 2014 we also learn that he had an existing connection to the girl we know as Alice Webster, and a dark secret. The final, revelatory line of week two was her asking him “How can you live with yourself after what you’ve done?”
Post-It Notes at the ready, write this down: Other than tell traumatic stories about turtles, what did Stone do? Did he abduct Sophie and Alice? Did he collude in their imprisonment?
Whatever it is, he appears to have a hold over Alice that’s keeping her quiet. She must stand to lose something very important to go along with his charade. And if Baptiste is right about Sophie pretending to be Alice, does the same thing explain the decision not to return to her own life but to assume the other girl’s identity?
The dialogue in Stone and Alice’s scene was carefully written for maximum ambiguity, but the performances – her slight wince when he sat down beside her, her bitter reproach to him that she’s always been able “to see”, the menace behind his words to her that she’s no longer a child (and thus can be tried as an adult for a crime, perhaps?) and his slight, deliberate pause before calling her Alice – seemed to tell a clear story about their shared past.
Overall though, this is far from a clear story. It’s a long one, as Julien Baptiste wryly told his journo pal this week. Eight episodes long to be precise, which gives us six more in which to find out why Baptiste is still pursuing Alice and Sophie’s abductor two years after they arrested the man incriminated both by that receipt and Alice’s testimony.
It’s time for another Post-It: if he isn’t the abductor (and Julien obviously doesn’t think he is or he wouldn’t be entering a Middle Eastern war zone in pursuit of someone else) then why finger the butcher? Stick that one somewhere passers-by will see it and soak up the questioning looks.
Moving on, I have a bad feeling about Alice’s new habit of sleeping in the garden shed. If that banged-up Jaguar has nothing to do with Sam’s accident, a burning shed containing a trapped daughter is just the sort of thing that might cause him to end up covered in scar tissue.
A repeated theme in this week’s episode was the inability of returning to the person you once were. Stone’s dementia proves that literally by diminishing his former self neuron by neuron, while the Websters realise it figuratively. Even if Alice is indeed Alice, she’s clearly not the same girl as bunked off school that day in 2003. And despite having their daughter back, the family can’t go back to their old lives no matter how many series one-referencing yellow scarves Gemma wraps around them. Likewise, by choosing to bear his scars rather than have them treated, Sam refuses to return to his old self, opting instead to stay in purgatory, as punishment perhaps, and not just for having a seedy affair in the local Ramada Inn.
Once again, Hawes and Morrissey are good enough actors to keep us watching were this simply a family drama about bereavement and adultery without all the additional thriller hoopla. The few scenes shared by those two this week were the quietest yet the most captivating. Seeing their tenderness towards each other two years ago and knowing that they hadn’t yet been broken by Alice’s abduction reveals a relationship that must have a core of steel. The Giroux parents (“Please Mrs Giroux!” Splat) tell a different tale.
Which reminds me of our next Post-It question: what was Julien’s mistake on the Giroux case? Perhaps it was underestimating the likelihood that two girls may share the same stress tics in the same way Tony Hughes in series one underestimated the likelihood that anybody other than his son was likely to draw a stick man on things.
Week two was another packed hour, one well-tuned to the requirements of a thriller. Viewers were kept bouncing along from question mark to question mark and then left, like last week, with what can only be called a game-changer.
That just leaves room for two final questions to stick up on the evidence wall. What happened to Henry Reed in Iraq in 1991? And What are Gemma and Julien hoping to see on those rollercoaster pictures? Good stuff. That’s plenty to be going on with until next week.
Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode, Come Home, here.