You could argue that Julien Baptiste is perhaps the forgotten man of British crime drama.
Becoming a much-loved character in Harry and Jack Williams’ The Missing, he got his own spin-off series. But that was a disappointment, and The Missing first aired in 2014. We’re already two years on from the first series of Baptiste and a lot of crime drama water has flowed under the bridge since then.
Could Baptiste still be fresh and relevant?
Still, Tchéky Karyo is an extremely likeable actor, as is Baptiste as a character himself, so I was hoping that this series would give him the send-off he deserved. After all, Julien has been through a lot. A helluva lot.
And yet he still can’t stop himself.
The story starts with a woman – who turns out to be British diplomat, Emma Chambers (Fiona Shaw) – in a wheelchair. We know something awful has happened to her immediately, and when she gets into a car with a friend she tells us that she must be mad what she’s about to do, but she’s going to do it anyway.
There has been a spate of crime dramas recently that start with either the present day or a flashback to some point earlier in the timeline to foreshadow events. This now overused device tells the audience that something bad has happened, but of course we don’t know what. It would be nice to follow a linear timeline for a change but here we are.
This is Harry and Jack Williams, after all, the masters of telling a story over two or even three timelines.
We do go back 14 months earlier to see the Chambers family on a holiday in the forests of northern Hungary, its spectacular canopies flecked with snow and and an all-pervading greyness. Emma wakes up one morning to find her husband, Richard, and two teenage sons (Alex and Will) missing. She’s frantic with worry, and is soon on television making an appeal.
Watching from afar is Baptiste who, haunted by visions of his late daughter’s teddy bear, decides that this is his next case. So, ignoring calls from his wife Celia, he gets on a plane and gets himself involved.
As usual with Baptiste, he manages to charm his way into the situation and makes promises to Emma, which immediately gets her onside. And, as usual with Baptiste, he manages to find details and clues from the hotel staff and guests about the movements of Richard and the two boys that the police simply cannot. He and Emma end up finding Richard’s body in a glade in completely the opposite direction to where the police have been looking.
Because of course they do.
And then we go back to the present day, where a drunken, heavily bearded Baptiste is arrested for drunken affray. His wife serves him divorce papers, and he’s a broken man. Again, the present day interlude serves to underline the fact that SOMETHING VERY BAD IS GOING TO HAPPEN, re-enforced by the appearance of Emma and talk of much blood in the recent past.
So this is the set-up and it’s… ok. It isn’t bad. There are cliches aplenty but Baptiste himself remains an intriguing character, although he’s really only a shadow of his former self after everything that’s happened to him. What will we watch here, I wonder? Redemption? A complete descent into obsession and madness?
After a slow-ish start, things began to move in the final quarter. In the flashback sequence Baptiste finds a prime suspect, who, in the present day Emma has apprehended and has caged in the back of her car.
By now we know that not only Richard but Alex is dead, too, so with both parties wracked with guilt and grief, the hunt is on for Will.
Let’s see where this goes.