If you’re coming to this review having just watched The Missing I’ll bet you’ve just made that noise that we all make when a TV show turns the tables on us in its final seconds. It’s a noise that’s quite tricky to describe, it’s like a gasp of air and an ooh all in one. For me that noise is usually followed by a tingle throughout my body. If you haven’t seen the opening episode and therefore not experienced that bizarre sensation I highly recommend you do so before reading on.
If you’re a longtime visitor to the site you’ll know I’m weary of second series. In recent years second series have been granted to dramas not because the story demands it but more because the channel wants to hold onto a ratings juggernaut. The obvious example of this is ITV’s Broadchurch which returned for an unwelcome, unnecessary and ultimately uneventful second series in 2015 following its phenomenal success in 2013. Then there was The Fall which frustrated invested viewers when the words ‘to be continued‘ scrolled across the screen during the final seconds of the first series. I think even the most devoted Fall fan would admit the subsequent second and third series have failed to capture the momentum of the first.
There are exceptions to this rule though. The second series of Happy Valley was a triumph and took the story into an interesting direction and each series of Line of Duty is better than the last. If you’ve seen it you’ll know the second series of The Missing has more in common with Happy Valley and Line of Duty than it does with ITV’s crime drama. It’s a gripping, tense and engrossing opening episode that leaves you desperate for more.
I’m on twitter a lot. I’m a prolific tweeter but one thing I will never do is live tweet along with a drama. There’s no possible way you can be fully immersed in a piece of scripted drama if you’re tweeting along. The Missing is a show that demands its audience be fully invested. Set over three time periods and featuring characters at various stages of their lives. Some we meet and follow throughout others we see mere glimpses of but we know they’ll be crucial as the story progresses.
The series opens in Eckhausen in Germany in 2003. Young Alice Webster bunks off school, making her escape through a hole in the fence. She walks through a snowy Forrest and along a bridge. As a viewer your sense of unease is heightened as the bass in the soundtrack intensifies. We see a yellow camper van approaching the oblivious schoolgirl and direction cleverly shifts as we see a young woman, unsteady on her feet making a similar journey. The two images of the schoolgirl and the clearly shaken young woman sit side by side as the opening scene builds. We get our first look at the stumbling young woman. Her hair is long and straggly, her skin is as pale as the snow that surrounds her, with dark eyes she’s almost in a zombie state. The action shifts again and we hear a faint scream as the campervan door closes. As the camper drives away into the distance the action shifts back to the woman who collapses onto the floor. When we see her again she’s barely conscious in the ambulance with a paramedic keen to establish her identity. When asked if there’s anyone the ambulance can call for her the girl murmurs “Sophie Giroux” The camera slowly pans down to her arm where we see that this girl shares the same tattoo as the girl who we last saw in the back of the mysterious yellow camper. Could this be Alice?? Luckily at that point the credits roll and you’re given an opportunity to catch your breath. That’s how you open a new drama folks!
We’re now in 2014 and Alice’s family rush to her bedside still stunned to hear about her return. Alice’s father Sam (David Morrisery) is a serving soldier. Her mother Gemma (Keeley Hawes) is a teacher at a local school and her brother Matthew, who she refers to as ‘midget’ in the opening scene of the episode has grown up a lot in the eleven years his sister has been missing. Before they head in to see their daughter they are given some distressing news from the doctors who have examined Alice. We are as shocked as her parents as we learn it appears there are signs that Alice has had a baby. Their initial meeting is strained and emotional as they come to terms with having their missing daughter back in their lives. When they step out of the room the meeting prompts mother Gemma to ask “What’s happened to her Sam? Where the hell has she been?” The story takes further turn when one of the police contacts Julien Baptiste. Viewers of the first series will remember Baptiste (Tchéky Karyo) as the French detective desperate to reunite the Hughes family with their young son Oliver after he vanished on a family holiday. Baptiste has retired since the Hughes case but his last case was that of Sophie Giroux. When the police officer mentions this on the phone Baptiste is more than a little curious. Where the two girls kidnapped at the same time and held together? Could Sophie return too?
It is then we shift to the third time period. It’s present day and we meet Baptiste in Iraq, following a clue that he believes is key to finding the person who abducted the girls. It is clear that a lot has changed for the Websters in present day Eckhausen too. Gemma and Sam are barely talking and there is a distinct distant between Sam and his son Matthew too. Matthew is a very different person. Filled with rage and anger. The family unit is a very different one to the one we saw at Alice’s bedside just two years before.
The two brothers who write the series Harry and Jack have proven their skill at throwing frequent surprises in to keep their already gripped audience on their toes. The first big one here is when Gemma accompanies Matthew to visit Alice. The presumption is that mother and son will visiting Alice in her flat, house or perhaps hospital, instead the pair visit Alice’s grave as the Williams brothers reveal that Alice died at some point in 2014. What?! It is unclear how she died and how soon it was after she returned to the family home but that was just the first of many twists this weary reviewer never saw coming.As Matthew stands shaken at his sisters grave he says, “I haven’t forgotten what I promised you.” What?! I simply must know now!
Back in Iraq it appears our intrepid french detective is being followed. Someone isn’t happy at him sniffing around the backstreets as he tries to track down the man who abducted the two girls. He manages to convince local Stefan (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson) to drive him the dangerous trek across the border to reach his destination. This is when the Williams brothers drop another surprise as Baptiste reveals to Stefan that he has an inoperable brain tumor. I had stupidly assumed that Baptiste’s new shaven head was there to show that he had grown older and to help the audience distinguish the various time periods. I hadn’t for one moment considered it was the result of an illness. It is also then that we learn that Baptiste is in Iraq hoping to track down a former solider Daniel Reed. We flashback to 2014 and see Reed in uniform attending his father’s funeral. His father took his own life. At this point we aren’t privy to why but I’m more than a little intrigued as to how this young solider is connected to the disappearance of the two girls.
Staying in 2014 Alice returns home. Everything has stayed untouched since the day she first disappeared. She says goodnight to her still shaken family and we watch as she stares up at the solar system painted across her bedroom walls. Back in Iraq in the present day and Baptiste is relaying Alice’s story to Stefan. “When Alice Webster returned people said she was free. That girl who came back after all those years kept in a basement, she wasn’t free when she left that that place she was still a prisoner. But, most importantly I believe, was not Alice Webster.”
And that brings us back to the time where we all made that collective sigh/gasp/ooh that a twist like that deserves. So many questions.
- If she’s not Alice where is Alice and who is she?
- If it’s Sophie why didn’t Sophie return to her own family?
- What caused Alice/Sophie’s death?
- How does Daniel Reed fit in?
- What did Matthew promise Alice he would do?
- What caused those horrific burns on Sam’s body?
- What caused Alice/Sophie to return?
- Who followed Baptiste?
On the paper The Missing isn’t that unique. You can draw parallels with BBC Three’s recent drama Thirteen which saw Ivy Moxam return to her family after years being held captive. There are elements of French zombie drama The Returned that sees children presumed dead after a bus crash inexplicably return to their families as if no time has past, but somehow the two pale into insignificance when you immerse yourself in the world the Williams brothers have created here. I love the European setting which makes it feel very different to any of the other homegrown drama that I love, and the clever idea of having the missing person return skillfully distances this series from the first. I am simply in awe of what the BBC, the Williams brothers and the cast and crew have achieved here, the only downside is having to wait a whole week for some of my questions to be answered. That being said, this lucky reviewer has a preview of the second episode so you don’t mind if I indulge now do you??
The Missing Continues Wednesday 9.00pm on BBC One.