Review: The Missing (S1 E8/8), Tuesday 16th December, BBC1

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Like Broadchurch before it, The Missing has become the most talked about crime drama of the year. It has been a classic whodunit wrapped up in the emotive blanket of a child abduction case. So who did it? Why did they do it? And, crucially, what really happened to little Oliver Hughes?

I’ve spoken to a few people this morning who felt short changed by this resolution. Indeed, some of the reviews in the newspapers have been less than flattering. Endings (as I’ve already discussed here) are tricky. It’s such a subjective matter that everyone has their opinions. One person’s perfect denouement is another person’s disappointment. We need and want answers to a crime drama, but sometimes crimes don’t have a neat and tidy answer, and I actually liked The Missing’s explanation as to what happened to Oliver Hughes. It was a neat and tidy ending, but not quite the resolution many were hoping for.

Instead of a killer or a gang of child traffickers or corruption, Oliver had simply wandered off from the bar and was run over by Alain Deloix, a drunk who should not have been driving. Consumed by guilt he hid the body. It was a sickening accident. And that was all. A sickening accident that was covered up by Alain’s brother, the high-ranking politician George Deloix.

The was the first twist, but on his deathbed he revealed more. Oliver was not killed during the accident. George hired a fixer to clean up the mess, but because the child had seen his face he couldn’t let him survive.

I liked this final episode. It was to the point, and got down to the business of answering questions quickly and without fuss. To start with we were transported to Russia, where a mysterious man stood menacingly in a playground, staring down a group of children. One of the children’s face was obscured. Could this be Oliver? Within the first half an hour we got our answers. It wasn’t Oliver. It was never Oliver.

The inclusion of suspects Vincent Bourg and Ian Garrett, as well as lines of enquiry like the trafficking gang, not only served as plausible suspects and eventual red herrings (crucial for any crime drama) but showed that bad people and bad things are in this world and do exist. It was just that in this particular story they had nothing to do with the disappearance of Oliver Hughes.

Overall, The Missing was a tense, (generally) well acted whodunit. But it had its flaws. Even though it had an incredibly emotive subject at its core – one of those supreme nightmare scenarios every parent daredn’t think of – I found it hard to engage with it on an emotional level. As I’ve said, the story of a disappearing child makes your stomach drop and your teeth gnash. It’s a sickener. So why could I not engage, not truly engage, on an emotional level with The Missing?

Strip away the emotive subject and it was a text-book whodunit, of that there is no question. But the more I think about it the more I think the dual-timeline approach was the root of my frustration. In other shows, notably True Detective, different timelines added intrigue and, eventually converged. In The Missing the timelines didn’t do this. As I followed one timeline I revved up emotionally until it abruptly switched to another. I revved up again, only to switch back again. And so on, and so on. Some will argue that because of the emotive nature of the child abduction story, we needed those timelines to help control the tension, to control the despair. But for me it had the opposite effect – it stopped me engaging on fundamental levels. There was even another timeline added in the penultimate episode to muddy the waters even more.

When you strip it back, right back, I alsothought that The Missing was sometimes an exercise. The Madeleine McCann case – not just her disappearance, but the fall-out, the continued media coverage, and the process of eliminating of suspects in the public eye – was an obvious inspiration for this. I just felt that at times this could have been a dramatised documentary.

But on the whole it was skilfully done, with moments of narrative and visual brilliance. And it was well acted. Frances O’Connor and, especially, Tcheky Karyo and Ken Stott were superb.

I was particularly interested in the way the series portrayed the break-down of Tony and Emily’s relationship after their tragedy, and some of the ideas and scenes in this area were excellent. In the end The Missing was a study of the fall-out from a catastrophic event, a human story with guilt, redemption and resolution at its heart.

For Tony, the search for his son had not only become an obsession but an addiction. His life had become consumed by the search – he needed it – craved it – to exist, to assuage his guilt and, in the end, to feel human again. Towards the end of this episode the green shoots of positivity were budding all around him, but it was too late for Tony.

We left him in Russia, on a lonely quest searching for Oliver and his body, his mind twisted and wracked with madness. It turned out the man in the playground was Tony.

This was as perfect a final episode as you could hope for.

Paul Hirons

For our episode one review go here

For our episode two review go here

For our episode three review go here

For our episode four review go here

For our episode five review go here

For our episode six review go here

For our episode seven review go here

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