It was with immense excitement I greeted the news that The Missing had been renewed
for a 2nd season. There was no discussion I saw on social media regarding the series, no ‘noise’, no theorizing (although that changed with season 2).
Yet, here we are at season 2. The core is the same – a family confronted with the unimaginable loss of a child, albeit a more horrific inexplicable loss in the form of a disappearance, and the exploration of relationships as they unravel, of evil in the form of everyday elements that seem harmless, of the moment when you stop thinking, ‘that can’t happen to me or my family’ and start thinking, ‘how could this have happened to me’?
Another aspect that has remained constant is the haunting, slow building quality of it. By forcing the audience to persevere, it’s more demanding of the viewer, in that it asks the whole of you to be present in every moment. Blink or stare at your phone and you might miss the depth or the resonance of the moment.
The central plot, this time, focuses on the Websters. 2003, winter, Eckhausen, Germany: 13 year old Alice Webster, playing truant, walks out of the school and out of her family’s lives. 2014, winter: An injured girl runs through a snow covered forest, her eyes are hollow, her face and body bear the marks of abuse. She runs into the middle of the town and collapses. She is Alice, returned after 11 years of horrific imprisonment and deprivation. She was one of two victims of the kidnapper – the other being Sophie. The detective from the last season, Julien Baptiste, whose case Sophie was, returns from retirement to find out what happened to Sophie. Neither Julien nor her mother believe that the girl who returned is Alice. 2016: Alice is gone, dead in a catastrophic self-induced fire. The Websters have fallen apart, while Julien is still investigating. 3 timelines happen simultaneously, each more intricate than the other.
There are certain type of thrillers that I have found myself attracted to over the last few years, in that, at an overt layer they are supposedly thrillers, but at a deeper layer, are simply explorations of human motives. Another aspect to my much beloved thriller/suspense shows is the associated overarching numbing melancholia. Both of these aspects apply to The Missing.
The atmosphere creation is extraordinary. The setting becomes a character. It adds to the narrative. The bleakness of the setting represents the loss of the Websters. Thus, a must watch for lovers of Broadchurch, The Killing, The Fall and Nordic mysteries in general.
A part of this atmosphere creation is the silence. There is a quietness to the settings, the way characters emote even in tensed situations or even during conflicts. The silence gives the audience a chance to step back, analyse and really feel the characters. Even when the characters are falling apart at the seams, there’s subtlety to it. It’s this silence, this subtlety itself that mounts the horror that the viewer feels at the disturbing elements and it enhances the viewer’s ability to empathize , be in the situation, almost live it.
The plot becomes secondary to the characters. Yes, this season is rife with twists and the multiple storylines have spawned some great theories about what happened from the audience, yet these twists do not distract from the central focus, which are the characters. At some point, one starts feeling that the point is not the unraveling of the mystery, rather it’s the visceral, in-depth dissection of the anatomy of grief, loss, pain and what it means to fall apart as a family. Every character is laid bare to the last ugly detail their faults and grey areas. Not even the victim is spared her faults.
Despite the twists, the beauty of the show lies in its slow-moving tension build-up, the halting of certain scenes to slowly explore the emotions in the moment. It’s how people, real people, react in situations unimaginable and unpredictable, situations you feel you cannot live through.
One of the most extraordinary moments on the show that reflects this is when the actress, Keeley Hawes, as Alice’s mother, makes her statement to the media. I have long been a devotee of this underrated actress and that moment is one of those understated moments that creep into you slowly, haunt you afterwards. There’s absolutely nothing overdone in the moment – neither in Hawes’ expression or her words, yet, in truth, it nearly made weep my eyes out.
Another moment is from the actress I had never heard of before – Alice Hardingham, who plays Alice Webster – she stares right into her mother’s eyes and says that there were happy moments even in captivity, with the man who had imprisoned and attacked her for years. She is poker faced, her eyes hollow, yet piercing into her mother. It’s one of those disturbing moments, where the audience is confronted with the ugly reality – the show is not a comfortable watch, you are frequently writhing at the horror and truth of it. What makes an abuse victim defend her attacker? What might she have suffered for 11 years?
The Missing is not a show to be gulped down quickly like cold water. It’s to be sipped slowly, to be taken in piece by piece. Its beauty is to be savored.