Thoughts on BBC One’s “The Missing”

The Missing is an interesting show. It’s one of those things that pull you in while watching, and while the ending may not make sense or might even let you down, you still keep thinking over the show and its characters. 

I started watching The Missing because of James Nesbitt. I stayed on because I liked the plot. It was slow, but every now and then the writers would drop something to feed your interest and keep you hooked for the next episode (where again the plot would slowly meander along). I suppose I could say I am a fan of slow shows, but that won’t be correct either, I think. Many a times I had a good mind to quit The Missing and just go over to Wikipedia to read what happens. But I held on because something attracted me to it. Maybe it’s Nesbitt’s performance, maybe it’s the writing. The plot is slow, but not painfully slow. The characters are sad, but not painfully sad (as one might say of Sarah Lunden of The Killing, which is similarly slow but I gave up after three seasons and was glad when they cancelled it). 

Yes, I think it’s the writing on The Missing that definitely had me hooked. The way the episodes were written and directed, it pulled you in to the plot so that while it was slow you were still hooked on to the plot and curious about what’s happening. And each episode was an exercise in slowly inching towards the truth. In each episode the characters (mainly James Nesbitt and Tchéky Karyo) uncovering a clue, come across roadblocks, and just when all hope seems to be lost there’s a glimmer of hope which leads them to the next clue/ episode. And these aren’t just random clues. They are sensible and well placed, so you stick on with the show. 

Interestingly it was the father of the missing boy who is more worried and “crazy” in this show, while the mother though sad manages to cope with it and make an effort to move ahead with her life. I didn’t expect that. In the first episode when the boy wen’t missing, I assumed it would be the mother who’d have difficulty and hence break up the marriage. Again, good writing. Sensible stuff. 

The ending is what put me off and also dragged me into the show. Not the ending of the mystery where they discover what “supposedly” happened to the boy, but the mystery surrounding that ending. That was superbly taken. For one, when the boy’s dead body was shown to the mayor, we the audience too never see it. So we are trapped in the mind of the parents – inquisitive just like them to know what happened to the boy – but unable to verify for themselves/ ourselves on whether the dead body was really of the boy. And therein the writers are kind of treating us like the father and mother I think. Some of us will be like the mother and find peace with the ending, telling ourselves that it was indeed the boy so we now have some sort of closure. But the rest of us will be like the father, unsure about the ending – and tearing ourselves apart in the process – because we haven’t seen the body! And to top it up there’s the final ending where the father is now in Russia and there’s a picture of the stick figure the boy draws, and we are left with no closure as to whether the boy drawing it was the son or just some random kid. We are trapped in the father’s mind-frame with no closure for ourselves, haunted with the thought that perhaps the boy is still alive! I love that.

The Missing really isn’t about a boy missing. It’s about the things missing in everyone’s life (including the viewers) after the experience. Missing closure. Missing life because of being trapped in the prison. Missing peace. 

If I remember correctly ever since the boy went missing, every year his father had been on some clue hunt or the other. Most of them ended up in a false alarm, but this latest one led to an end. The question now – and rightly so – is whether he should just leave it at that, or keep digging to answer all his questions? After all if he had just left things as they were, he would have never discovered what really happened to his son. So isn’t he justified in digging further and ignoring everyone else in his pursuit to satisfy any other doubts he may have? And especially since that stick figure drawing was on that window in Russia – surely it must mean something?

See how I am trapped in the father’s mind now. That’s what I said – excellent writing! “It’s the slow knife that cuts the deepest” (via Dark Knight Rises) – so apt here! It’s the slow episodes that have actually cut deepest into my mind. 

Anyone else noticed that James Nesbitt and Jason Flemyng have both played characters of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde? The former in the TV show Jekyll, the latter in the movie The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. And in this show one’s the ex-husband, the other’s the new husband. Heh!

If you ask me whether I’d watch The Missing again, I’d probably not. Do I love the show a lot? Sure, yes! I think it’s a great show. Many viewers seem to compare it to Broadchurch and prefer this over the latter. I don’t know if I’d choose one over the other – in my mind you can’t compare the two. Broadchurch was faster paced, but still a slow show and about something else altogether – how a murder ripples through a small community and nearly everyone seems to be a suspect (again, smart writing!). If I were given a choice between watching one over the other I’d take Broadchurch – mainly because it was more murder mystery, less other stuff, and also because it was slightly faster. But that’s not to say The Missing is better than Broadchurch, or vice versa. 

But I’d take Fargo over all these shows! Again, a different beast altogether, but boy do I love Fargo! I loved the writing, and I loved all the characters – esp. the really evil Billy Bob Thornton character, and the deeply evil Martin Freeman character. Nice!!