This review contains spoilers.
2.3 A Prison Without Walls
The ability to stand still every so often works wonders for a thriller. Quiet moments don’t just offer a slip road away from the roaring influx of revelation, they allow tension to build and realisations to gradually dawn. Characters are given a chance to breathe uninterrupted by the noise of plot.
The Missing, gripping as it is, could afford to stand still a little more often. With a cast this good, there’s plenty to keep our attention without erratically leaping from strand to strand, year to year and continent to continent. Episode three was stuffed tighter than a bratwurst with plot so noisy it’s becoming difficult to hear the human drama underneath.
It’s an understandable and forgivable tic in a crowded TV market. Boredom is death, so incident is king. Viewers are treated like premature babies who require a new feed every few minutes to keep up their strength. The result is an episode like this one, engrossing but exhausting and tinged with the dissatisfaction that it was all a bit of a rush.
A Prison Without Walls was packed with revelations: Henry Reed didn’t kill himself. Sophie Giroux, masquerading as Alice Webster, did. Sophie admitted to having had a baby daughter in captivity. Kristian Hertz is in prison for the abductions of Alice and Sophie. Nadia Hertz was violently attacked by masked vigilantes after his arrest. Nadia and Kristian were into S&M. The incriminating yellow camper van, now red, is currently parked in a Swiss forest. Julien falsely accused Sophie’s father of being involved in her abduction and destroyed his life. Brigadier Stone was in Iraq in 1991 with Henry Reed and Nadia Hertz. Gemma knows about Sam’s affair with Eve…
The most physically dramatic scenes, save for the burning shed, were Julien’s. His Iraq adventures are unfolding like a video game. Having completed the first mission by tracking down Daniel Reed, he’s now unlocked the next clue (a full name and location handily shouted between bursts of gunfire) and is off to the next level, perhaps stopping to pick up a health pack and earn a side-mission trophy along the way.
All the while the real human drama is playing out in Germany. Keeley Hawes and David Morrissey are effortlessly steering that ship. Study their faces in any scene and you feel every bit of the Websters’ desperation, confusion and pain. Gemma and Sam’s reaction to Sophie’s rollercoaster story had my heart thudding more than any scene of Julien under fire in Iraq.
While we’re on the topic of the Websters, young Jake Davies as Matty is proving just as impressive as his parents. His is another layered performance that could have been a one-note ‘angry young man’. The prison confrontation scene was captivating not just for its revelation that Sophie felt guilty about implicating Mr Hertz, but for Matty’s conflict about fulfilling his promise. Director Ben Chanan is getting the best from a well-cast bunch there, not least Abigail Hardingham as ‘Alice’. At least The Missing‘s convoluted time structure means we might see her again in flashback.
Sophie’s rollercoaster confession felt like a response to Julien’s earlier request for a memory showing that the girls were alive, even content, during their abduction. Having planned her exit strategy, Sophie offered the Websters the unsettling but perhaps comforting truth that “there were times that [they] were happy”. It was a pivotal and cathartic moment for Sophie, the first time she admitted what everybody had known since she returned – that she had given birth in captivity to a child who died. “This isn’t my life” was her other admittance. What we’re yet to find out is why she denied who she really was in the first place.
Denial was rife in this episode. Kristian Hertz denied abducting the girls, but was convicted anyway. Gemma denied to Julien that there was anything amiss with Alice, Sam denied the same to his wife and then denied his obvious suffering to his counsellor (whatever “cry for help” it was that earned Sam’s demotion to pencil pusher, it must have been separate from the fire?). Even Gemma, arriving at Eve’s house to share the news of the amusement park photo, seemed to deny she had discovered the affair.
And then there’s Brigadier Stone, who’s managed to cover up his guilt so far but whose dementia leaves him vulnerable. How much longer can he deny the role he played?