Review: The Disappearance (S1 E3&4/8), Saturday 4th June, BBC4

Programme Name: The Disappearance - TX: n/a - Episode: n/a (No. n/a) - Picture Shows: celebrating her 17th birthday Lea Morel (CAMILLE RAZAT) - (C) Julien Cauvin - Photographer: Julien Cauvin

(C) Julien Cauvin – Photographer: Julien Cauvin

If the first two episodes of The Disappearance showed us anything, it was that the story of a missing child makes for compulsive, addictive viewing. What is it about missing children that affects us so much? With our innate desire to protect, losing a child on our watch is our greatest fear. We watch these emotional stories for strange, perverse and vicarious thrills. Missing children stories make us confront our starkest, most vivid nightmares in the full knowledge that it’s a controlled experience: there’s a sense that if there’s a resolution and it’s happening to somebody else it’s something we can just about handle. We still didn’t know whether the the child at the centre of The Disappeared – Léa Morel – was alive or dead, or what had happened to her or why so we were locked into this spine-stiffening story, eager to know where she was.

NB: There are big spoilers in this post

When we left The Disappearance last week Julien and Flo had seemingly received a late-night, whispered phone call from their daughter. But by the end of these two episodes we knew that it definitely wasn’t her who had made the call, and in between we found out more things about the immediate people around her – her brother and his girlfriend, her boyfriend, her uncle Jean, the prostitute, Jenny (who ended up dead by the end of episode four), and her pimp Julien got into a tangle with in episode two, obsessed restaurant employee Nicolas and even investigating officer Molina.

Each of these suspects were built up, investigated and then processed. As we went through the suspect presentation charade, new details were revealed about these characters. Léa’s brother Thomas’s campaign against the council’s refurbishment of the railway station was uncovered, and Jean’s relationship with his lover – who he had been trying to keep secret from his daughter Chris for fear of upsetting her – was also uncovered. All of these people’s lives and their secrets were laid bare, despite their best efforts to keep them hidden from one another. It’s what humans do – they act out their daily lives, but under the surface there’s a vortex of hidden desires and relationships, grievances and sorrows.

Each of these characters had hidden elements to their personalities, but they were still being presented in an ambivalent manner when it came to Léa. As the explanations for their actions or whereabouts became clear, their involvement in the case became less clear.

What I liked best about these two episodes, though, was Julien and Flo’s relationship, which was beginning to fracture and unravel. Again, like The Missing and The Killing, we saw these two people exist in a limbo world. They didn’t know whether to grieve for their daughter or to stay positive, or whether to sit tight and let guilt and worry consume them or get out there and try and find her themselves. This constant, maddening conflict in each of them made them retreat into their separate worlds, trying their best to deal with the situation the only way they knew how. For Julien it was all fire and brimstone and raw emotion – Nicolas had given him a police radio transmitter and he was beginning to become obsessed with eavesdropping on the police chatter over the airwaves. This brought him into constant conflict with Molina, who was growing tired of his interfering. Flo on the other hand was becoming nervy, shaky and suspicious. She wanted to know why Léa telephoned her husband and not her, and felt snubbed. By the end of the double-bill madness was beginning to set in and she began popping pills to blunt her emotions and see a clairvoyant, who assured her that her daughter was still alive.

It was fascinating and heartbreaking to watch, two people who, instead of being brought closer by tragedy, were being pushed apart.

But by the end of episode four – crikey, we’re already half way through the series – there was a sense that Julien and Flo were beginning to come together again as they both attended youngest daughter Zoe’s school play.

Sadly, tragedy was just around the corner. Back in Miribel Park, Molina’s daughter – of all people – was enjoying an afternoon on the banks of the lake with her friends. As she waded out she saw a half-submerged, transparent bag floating near the branches of a tree, the dead body of a young girl inside, her eyes glazed and milky, not of this world.

If this was indeed Léa it had changed the timbre of the drama – instead of a where-is-she, it was very much now a whodunit. And that’s when, at the end of the fourth episode, I said to myself: “I want more, immediately.” It’s gripping, addictive stuff.

Paul Hirons

For our episode one and two reviews, go here



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