BBC1’s The Missing has been one of the undoubted TV highlights of 2016. Yet, even thrillers as overwhelmingly thrilling as this one have been known to blow it in the concluding episode, when the biggest revelation of the lot turns out to be that the writers couldn’t really answer all the questions that previous episodes had so intriguingly raised.
And of course, The Missing had raised more than most, with its fiendish plotting ranging across three timeframes — until last week, that is, when it added a fourth. So could Wednesday’s finale possibly avoid giving us that sense of outraged disappointment that comes from realising we’ve spent weeks looking forward to a full-scale solution that never quite comes? The answer, I’m happy to report, was a triumphant yes.
Admittedly, we’ve known since episode five who the main baddie was — which for some shows might have led to the rest of the series being an anti-climax. In this case, though, it was the first sign that Jack and Harry Williams’s script would be wise enough not to leave all explanations to the last minute, preferring to drip-feed us the information we craved in a way that combined satisfaction, shock and further tantalisation. It also meant that on Wednesday the remaining loose ends could be tied up without either rushing or cheating — and with just the right balance between excessive and insufficient neatness.
But if all this makes The Missing sound merely like a piece of precision engineering, that would be only half the story. The endless plot twists were always accompanied by a hugely affecting awareness of the emotional costs and ambiguities involved — even for the bad guys. On Wednesday, one of the people questioning the fantastically sinister Adam (Derek Riddell) took understandable offence at his references to himself and the young women he’d imprisoned as ‘a family’. ‘Don’t pretend that what you had with those poor girls was anything like love,’ she said — a remark that I’m pretty sure we were invited to see as troublingly misguided.
In fact, the only uncomplicated character was the hero: grizzled French cop Julien Baptiste (Tchéky Karyo), whose status as the world’s most noble man was never in doubt, and whose taste for lyrical Gallic wisdom rather went into overdrive once he’d cracked the case. ‘Absence diminishes little passions and increases great ones,’ he informed one grieving father towards the end, ‘as the wind extinguishes candles and inflames a fire.’
Luckily, for any viewers whose passions are inflamed by the absence of The Missing, help may be at hand. The previous night brought us the highly assured first episode of Rillington Place, which also has a villain who’s at his most sinister when he’s smiling — and which also represents BBC1 drama at its least jolly.
Playing the real-life serial killer John Christie, Tim Roth was first seen walking down the street while managing to seem innocuous and menacing at the same time: a trick he continued to pull off for a while, before the menacing side took over completely.
But even then, Roth kept things nicely understated — if at times in the same slightly showy way that Mark Rylance did in Wolf Hall. (Behold! I act with restraint!) He was well supported too by Samantha Morton as Christie’s mysteriously loyal wife Ethel, through whose eyes we saw his increasingly suspicious behaviour. Meanwhile, the programme plunged us into wartime and austerity Britain at their most austere, with all colour leached away and the indoor and outdoor scenes locked in constant competition as to which could be the dingier.
So far, there’s only been a bloodstain and a spot of digging in the garden to indicate what Christie’s up to — but already it looks as if we’re in for another dark treat.
Finally, in what I think may be a first in my TV reviewing career, a programme from Channel 5. MPs: Behind Closed Doors (Monday) started like an episode of Little Britain, except with John Prescott as the narrator: ‘Britain — home to 65 million people.’ After that, however, any hopes I had for a few cheap laughs at Channel 5’s expense soon faded in the face of a documentary that proved not just charming but distinctly heartening too.
The simple idea was to film at the constituency surgeries of three contrasting MPs: Nick Clegg, Naz Shah and Jacob Rees-Mogg (who, as ever, seemed in the possession of some great and secret hilarity). All three came across extremely well as they listened to their constituents’ needs and did their best to help. Their kindliness was also reflected by the programme itself, which was brave enough to suggest that MPs might sometimes do a tricky job with impressive decency. Or, as one grateful constituent — and cannabis fan — touchingly put it, ‘I didn’t get no reptilian vibes off Nick Clegg.’