How do you top The Missing's first storyline? It set a very high standard. Series one was one of the most compelling and involving mysteries of recent times - a devastating look at a family torn apart by the disappearance of a child. And while the parents wanted nothing more than to get their son back, detective Julien Baptiste (Tchéky Karyo) always knew there might be no happy ending. Which may be why he was the only character who was unscathed when it turned out that missing boy Ollie had been dead all these years. He’d been murdered to cover up a car accident, and the series ended with father Tony going door-to-door in Russia dementedly claiming every teenage boy he could find was really his son.
A feel-good ending this was not.
Perhaps aware that the harsh reality of that ending would be difficult to top, series two of The Missing wipes the slate clean. If you’re hoping for updates on Tony’s seemingly now never-ending search, you’re out of luck: his story is over. Instead, season two starts with the one thing the first season never delivered: someone being found.
WATCH: The Missing airs every Wednesday night on SBS at 8:35pm, with episodes available to then watch anytime at SBS On Demand.
It’s Christmas 2014, and a young woman (Abigail Hardingham) turns up barefoot and ill in the small German town of Eckhausen, home to a British military base. She claims to be Alice Webster, a British girl who vanished there back in 2003. For her family, this is amazing news. Her parents, Gemma (Keeley Hawes) and Capt. Sam Webster (David Morrissey), have spent a decade coming to terms with their loss; their teenage son Matthew (Jake Davies) grew up hearing about a sister he barely knew.
When she claims to have been held captive alongside Sophie Giroux, a missing French girl who vanished around the same time, word gets back to the still-retired Baptiste. Giroux’s disappearance was one case he couldn’t solve, and he can’t let it go (having the missing girl’s grieving mother jump off a roof in front of him definitely didn’t help there). Maybe this is the lead he’s been waiting for?
Obviously things aren’t going to be that simple: this is The Missing, after all. For starters, this series takes place across multiple time frames, including the “present day” (which is in 2016) where we see a grave with Alice Webster’s name on it. Not a good sign – especially once you realise the death date is only a few days after Alice’s return. And back in 2014, Giroux is already thinking that maybe the “Alice Webster” that suddenly appeared isn’t the same girl who disappeared all those years ago. Does he simply mean psychologically, or has someone – someone able to give this girl the same tattoo the original Alice had – made a switch?
Now in the present day, Baptiste is in Iraq, looking for a British solider named Daniel Reed (Daniel Ezra). In 2014 we see Reed attending the funeral of his military father, who committed suicide; could that death have something to do with why he’s gone AWOL now?
All this really just scratches the surface of the events of this season. The cast may be different, but just like in the first series, The Missing is full of twists and turns that manage to be both surprising and totally logical. Writers (and real-life brothers) Harry Williams and Jack Williams know exactly how to build suspense without relying on cheap shocks, instead layering the developments one on top of the other so that each reveal has maximum impact. The multiple time frames only add to this; by showing us early on how more than one character ends up, the focus turns to how they ended up like that – and in The Missing, getting there is more than half the fun.
But there’s more going on with The Missing than just a gripping mystery. These people are almost without fail struggling to fill a gap in their lives, even when it’s clear that the passage of time means that gap can never truly be filled. After a decade of grieving for her missing daughter, Gemma can’t fully accept that the girl who’s returned home is really hers. Is she picking up on clues others have missed, or is it just that she can never get back what’s been taken from her? It doesn’t take long to learn that Gemma’s husband has found his own way of coping, while those around them aren’t faring much better. Daniel Reed has been shattered by the death of his father; whatever secrets commanding officer Brigadier Stone (Roger Allam) might have in 2014 are being swallowed up by the dementia he’s suffering from in the present day.
Then there’s Baptise himself. Rather than settle into a peaceful retirement, he’s back working on a case that takes him away from the family who cares for him. By 2016 he’s suffering from a brain tumor that could potentially kill him – hence his impressive new shaven-head look – but he’s still unable to let the Giroux case go. Even if he can solve the mystery of what really happened to Alice Webster and Sophie Giroux, will he be able to figure out what it is that won’t let him rest?
The Missing airs every Wednesday night on SBS at 8:35pm, with episodes available to then watch anytime at SBS On Demand. The entire first series of The Missing is also at SBS On Demand.