The first series of The Missing was the series that put the Williams brothers – Harry and Jack – on the map. It was a harrowing story of two British parents stranded in France searching desperately for their little boy, Oliver, with the help of local policeman Julien Baptiste. The search drove the couple apart and threw them into a downward spiral of madness and obsession, and as viewers it had enormous emotional impact, tapping into some of our greatest fears. The Williams brothers followed that series up with One Of Us, a disappointingly messy four-parter, but they’re back with the second series of The Missing – an eight-parter, but a brand-new story, this time providing a different spin on the idea of a missing person: that of a child returning from years of presumed disappearance.
We were introduced to a young Alice Webster at school. She showed off her new spider’s web tattoo to her younger brother; he told her that their mum wouldn’t be happy about it. We flashed forward to 2014, and saw a malnourished, pale teenager dressed in rags stumble through a busy street. We flashed back – the younger version of Alice Webster bunked off school and was walking along a deserted road. 2014. The teen collapsed. Back… legs, a pair of Doctor Marten’s boots, in the back of a van. Forward… teenage Alice in an ambulance.
It was a cleverly juxtaposed first opening sequence, which flitted between two timelines effortlessly and to maximum effect. It was a taste of things to come.
I also had a nagging sensation that I’d seen this type of story before. Indeed I had, in BBC3’s excellent Thirteen earlier in the year. But instead of Ivy Moxam emerging from captivity, this time it was Alice Webster.
We were then introduced to the Webster family – uptight military captain Sam Webster (the always-excellent David Morrissey), Gemma Webster (Keeley Hawes, on good form, as ever), and their son Matty (Jake Davies). Together they couldn’t believe that their daughter – who they had grieved for and had presumed long gone – was now in their midst again.
And then we were off. The story split into two time periods. We had 2014, where the Websters and Alice were not only trying to come to terms with her return, but also her ordeal in captivity (she had been kept with another girl, Sophie Giroux, and had been raped, with a suggestion that she may even have given birth to a child); while in the present day the family was fractured. Matty was a meth-smoking delinquent, Gemma was a wreck and Sam had huge burn scars down one side of his face and back. He was also conducting an affair with the very same army sergeant who had been leading the investigation into the whereabouts of Alice’s abductor. And what of the returned teen, Alice Webster? She was lying in a graveyard, her headstone telling us that she had died in December 2014. The same year she was found.
It was cleverly structured: one timeline gave us information about what was going to happen to the main characters; the other started us off on a rollercoaster towards that conclusion. At some point we’ll meet in the middle.
These two timelines also gave us Julien Baptiste. Perhaps the best character in the first series, Baptiste (the fantastic Tchéky Karyo) also returned to The Missing. With a mention of Oliver Hughes in the first few scenes, Baptiste was called by the army sergeant in the 2014 timeline, asking him for advice on the Sophie Giroux case, which he had been working on. He travelled to Germany to offer his help.
In the present day, we saw Baptiste in Kirkuk, in Iraq Kurdistan, looking to gain passage to a place I couldn’t quite make out. He teamed up with a journalist (played by Trapped’s Ólafur Darri Ólafsson), and told him that not only was he suffering from a brain tumour and he was facing a race against time to find the man who abducted Sophie Giroux and Alice Webster, but he thought that Alice Webster wasn’t actually who she claimed she was.
So there were LOTS of hooks and LOTS of things going on. And lots of questions: what happened to Sam’s face? What did he do or try to do? Who was young army man Daniel Reed and why did we see him wiping blood off the floor in 2014, and attending the funeral of his father who happened to die a week before Alice’s death? Why was Gemma going over footage from a rollercoaster ride at a local theme park? Who was the woman Matty shouted at in the supermarket car park?
All questions that will, no doubt, have answers down the line. But as first episodes go, The Missing was inventive and provided loads of hooks that sank deep on first watch. It’s a whodunit, a whydunit, a chase thriller, a noir… it had a bit of everything. I enjoyed it very much, but I’m wondering if it had too much of everything. We’ll soon see.
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