Finales to series that you have invested so much emotion in are tricky things, and entirely subjective – some won’t like the denouement; some will be entirely satisfied. And so it will be with The Disappearance. Some will not like the finish, some will. But for me, it tied up everything very neatly and provided an emotional conclusion to an emotional series.
NB: This reviews contains monster spoilers
In these final two episodes we still got twists and turns, the most notable being racing instructor Marco Berti, who, it was revealed, was conducting an affair with his young protegé in and around the city’s hotels. He quickly leapfrogged the teacher, Tellier, to the top of the suspects list. But episode seven ended on one line that completely changed the direction of the story – Julien, staying with brother Jean after another fall-out with Flo, heard his brother mention the brick that killed Léa. No on else knew that a brick had killed Léa apart from the police and himself. His stomach turned with the realisation that his own brother could have killed his daughter.
And so episode eight was a fraught hunt for the truth. Initially – and naturally – Julien wasn’t quite sure what to do with information that could rip the family apart even further, but in the end Jean was taken in and confessed to the crimes of murdering Léa and Nico. An accident he had said. He had to kill Nico, he had said, to cover his tracks. Molina didn’t believe him. Neither, quite, did Julien.
Thanks to her own extraordinary behaviour, which was finally witnessed by Flo, Chris eventually gave her game away. Over the weeks she had subtly consumed her cousin and best friend’s identity – from trying to become Romain’s girlfriend and taking on elderly sister duties by looking after Zoe, to wearing Léa’s clothes. In the end it was revealed that Chris killed Léa, lashing out at her after she had goaded her. It wasn’t just wanting to become Léa, Chris’s motivation lay in the fact Léa had everything she didn’t have – a mother and a functioning family unit. They were emotional and horribly plausible reasons for deep-seated angst and jealousy.
If Chris longed for a mother, this tragedy asked a question about fatherhood, too: how far would you go to protect your daughter. For Julien he felt that he hadn’t gone far enough and felt a powerlessness throughout the search for his daughter, while, for Jean, he had the opportunity to protect his daughter and he did so at all costs.
The Disappearance ticked every box you could possibly want it to tick in a crime drama. There was a riveting case to follow, ebbing and flowing with a relatively small cast of suspects delved into and processed in each episode; a family fractured by grief and guilt, members’ relationships splintering and evolving before our very eyes; a conclusion that tied everything up in a satisfactory manner; and a duo of investigators that were likable and whose characters also evolved as the case went on. Importantly, and, my favourite aspect of a crime drama, The Disappearance told stories of people whose lives were deeply and personally affected by a tragedy, and saw how they coped and adapted to something so devastating. From the mother and father’s complex relationship both with each other and to their late daughter, to the siblings and wider family’s relationship with themselves The Disappearance was a study in grief, guilt and the obsessions of making things right again.
I also enjoyed the development of Molina, not only with his relationship with Julien but also with his own daughter Rose. Let’s look at his relationship with Julien. To begin with Julien’s reaction to his daughter’s disappearance was contained rage and confusion, but as he got more and more emotional – as he felt that all-consuming failure in his fatherly duties to protect and provide – his need to make everything right became obsessive. His mistrust of Molina and the police soon gave way to his own investigations (using Nico’s radio scanner and setting up his own incident room in the basement of the restaurant). As the case developed Molina also became emotionally involved and softened to the point of actually working alongside with Julien. By the end of the story, the two had almost become friends. His relationship with his own daughter had also become closer, thanks to personal involvement (Rose had found Léa’s body floating in the lake at the park) and that same sense of protection and provision was felt (although Molina was much happier to let Rose grow as an adult, making her own mistakes), and his relationship with Guérin (who I loved all throughout) also changed and strengthened.
In many ways The Disappearance was all about relationships and how they change with time, with experience. Flo and Julien’s relationship changed, but came through in the end; Flo and her son Thomas’s relationship changed; Julien and Jean’s relationship had, naturally, changed irrevocably… everything flowed and shifted as time went on.
There were also lots of great performances, not least by Alix Poisson, who played Flo with a touching balance of frantic panic, blank-faced shock and, ultimately, strength.
So The Disappearance was good – very good – in places, and structurally it was interesting to observe (if you could with all the emotion of a missing a child swirling around). Despite it being set in a big city like Lyon, there was a small-ish cast of characters playing out the story in a limited number of locations – all classic signifiers of the whodunit. There was a cliffhanger at the end of every episode, and each instalment focused on one (or two) suspects and their own stories and subsequent exoneration. It was all expertly plotted, played and structured.
So why didn’t it quite wow me? Two words: The Missing. As much as I got into The Disappearance and was emotionally invested in the characters and story (how could I not?), there was always a sense that I’d seen it before. The fracturing relationships, the way the father mistrusted the police and the way he trudged his own obsessional furrow… it was all done (arguably better) in The Missing in 2014.
That’s not really a criticism, and hardly The Disappearance’s fault, but it did blunt total immersion. Still, The Disappearance was a worthy addition to BBC4’s slate of Saturday-night, European crime dramas.
For our episodes one and two review, go here
For our episodes three and four review, go here
For our episodes five and six review, go here