Review : The Missing Finale – Disappointing


In case you missed it the finale of BBC drama ‘The Missing’ wrapped up last night and it was a huge ratings hit bringing in 6.6 million viewers or 28.5% of the UK’s TV audience. It was such a hit that already season two is on the way. Was it actually any good though? Not really

When you are writing a missing person story like ‘The Missing’ there are two ways to go at things. Either you write a character piece where you focus on the trauma and pain of the crime. Solving the actual mystery isn’t the point. Alternatively, you write a puzzle piece, a true mystery story where each detail of the plot slots together with a clever intricate beauty.

Both stories can be great. Donna Tartt’s ‘The Little Friend’ does the character piece brilliantly and you don’t have to look further than Agatha Christie to see how great a pure mystery can be. Mismatches of the two however tend to end up falling between two horses. Unfortunately, ‘The Missing’ did just this and ends up getting trampled under the weight of its own ambition.

The Character Piece

Anchored by brilliant acting from James Nesbit ‘The Missing’s’ strength has been showing how characters can get trapped in the past and struggle to move on with their lives.

Understandably, Nesbit’s character Tony Hughes is unwilling to move on from the kidnapping of his son. His ex-wife tries to move on but she is also trapped by the past. The detective Baptiste is trapped by previous trauma also not only from his injured leg but also from his drug addict daughter. The pedophile Vincent Bourg is similarly trapped by his past/character and ultimate hangs himself.

You could go through pretty much every character in ‘The Missing’ and find how they are held hostage by demons that trace back in one way or another to the disappearance of Oliver Hunt.

As the series wraps up some of the characters move on from the past and others don’t. The character arks of almost every character are done well. Every character that is except the protagonist Tony Hughes.

The problem with Tony Hughes is that he is the driving force of the story the protagonist. It is Tony whose refusal to let go of the past that begins and continues the story.

Tying up the solution to the disappearance and Tony’s character are interlinked and the writers never seem to decide whether they are telling a mystery or a character piece. The end result is that they do neither and it is unsatisfying.

As the finale enters it’s third act Tony’s character starts to unravel. At first Tony seems to accept Baptiste’s maxim that he will never know the whole truth and it is time to move on. We see real personal growth for Tony.

After much soul searching, brilliantly acted soul searching, Tony Hughes decides not to tell the wife that her dying husband killed Olly he decides not to take some measure of petty vengeance. Similarly, at the wedding when the detective calls lets it go to voicemail. He is no longer chasing after every impossible clue.

The Plot

That all seems okay. What could be the problem? The problem comes with how this intersects with the plot i.e. it doesn’t. To hook the viewer into watching the episode the writers opened the finale with a cryptic scene is Russia where a lone figure is trooping through the snow and staring at children. After a minute or so the camera zooms in and we see a picture of a stick kid with big ears traced onto snowy glass. In other words it was drawn by Olly.

This scene deliberately draws you in. Doubly so since we are very deliberately not shown the face of the lone figure. WTF?

Ultimately, though it turns out that the writers have played a trick on us. After seeming to have let go of the past Tony is still hunting his son. All his character development has been tossed away in order to deliver a cheap hook to keep us watching.

If the writers want to leave Tony trapped in the past then they should never had this opening scene. They should never had given us any answers to Oliver’s disappearance.

Or even better if they want to give answers about Oliver’s disappearance then Tony should have ended up in prison for the murder of Ian Garret. Just imagine he goes to chase down a final lead that will lead him towards his son but then the police turn up to arrest him. Tony’s past, the understandable sins he committed, have caught up with him and for a kicker the police don’t believe his lead.

In the end though the writers attempt to split the difference. As a result the mystery of disappearance isn’t satisfyingly told and neither is the character journey of Tony Hughes.

‘The Missing’ then fails to deliver the ending that it promised.

Donna Tartt’s ‘The Goldfinch’

goldfinchExpectation is something I often wish we could do without. Almost always it does nothing more than set you up for a fall. The previous high quality of Tartt’s rather sparse output made this drop even more perilous. When about six months ago I came across the author’s site and read that she had a new book coming out in late 2013 I  just knew it was something to look forward to. I should have known that the fall was coming.

You see Tartt’s previous writings did the most magical thing a story can do they transported me into its world. Even reading some of the short stories on her site drew me in. I could so easily place myself in the messy back garden of a ramshackle house playing soldiers with stick machine guns making ‘eck eck eck BOOM’ noises for added realism. The same was true for her two novels ‘The Secret History’ and ‘The Little Friend’. I was captivated. The atmosphere of the characters and the setting was palpable and all consuming. As a reader I wanted to experience the world of the characters even when it was dark.

In ‘The Goldfinch’ by contrast the atmosphere was lacking to say the least. What is even worse I was initially drawn. The beginning of the book is gripping. New York seemed real, the main character ‘Theo’ is interesting and you really for him. This strong start made the expectation fall even worse as from about 20% in on my kindle things started to go downhill alarmingly.

The story moves to Vegas and it quickly become clear that Tartt has no interest in anything but linguistic wordplay. The plot is stalled for the next 300 or so pages as it and character development disappears into a mixture of teenage myopia on drugs and overly long descriptions that almost last entire chapters . It cannot be overstated how boring and tedious this became. This book clearly was not edited in anyway because, although it runs in at a hefty 700+ pages at times it felt like double that.

The quality of this book is summed up by the ending. A final chapter composed of a long rambling monologue from the soporific ‘Theo’ who makes Hamlet seem a man of action. In is he ties together the loose ends of the plot revealing that all his problems have been solved without him having to do anything proactive at all! This might be true to his character but it makes him an awful main character for a book.  I haven’t seen a dumber ending since Ian McEwans equally full of itself ‘Enduring Love’ but at least that was only 247 pages long. Hell even the ending to Lost was better than this (okay that’s not true)!

So ‘The Goldfinch’ was a major letdown. My expectations again set me up for a fall but at least I’ve got the new Terry Pratchett book to look forward to.