Review : The Missing Finale – Disappointing

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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.

Do I trust Damon Lindelof enough to watch The Leftovers? – Review Ep 1 & 2

Synopsis (from IMBD)

The Leftovers “revolves around mysterious disappearances, world-wide, and specifically follows a group of people who are left behind in the suburban community of Mapleton. They must begin to rebuild their lives after the loss of more than 100 people”.

Review

When I first saw the trailer for ‘The Leftovers’ I adamant that I was not going to be watching it.  Sitting at my laptop when it came on however, it did catch my attention and in many ways this was my greatest fear. My fear was that The Leftovers would draw me like the Sirens of ancient Greek myth only to leave me marooned on the rocks of narrative disappointment.

You see I didn’t look at the premise of ‘The Leftovers’ and think that looks uninteresting or that’s stupid. As a lover of fantasy and science fiction I am fully on board with high concept premises. On seeing ‘The Leftovers’ my first thought that is an interesting idea but not for a TV series. In particular not for an American TV series

Why you ask?

Whilst the premise of The Leftovers is interesting and the show contains actors I like (Peep Show alum Paterson Joseph in particular is well cast). However, it also has a high potential to combine two tropes I hate.  Even worse it’s two tropes that can feed off each other.

Trope number one – Flashbacks

It’s an American TV drama staple. Lets show why character A is acting in such a way by flashing back five years and spending half the episode in a tedious narrative cul de sac. The Leftovers which is about a mystical event that disappears two percent of the population is ripe for tedious flashbacks.

Person number one wasn’t raptured but their wife was. Que flashback to before the rapturing as the writer drags us through a flashback of an affair or abusive relationship e.t.c.

Trope number 2. Religion/the meaning of life

People have been raptured off the planet what is the metaphysical significance of this? The perfect excuse for vague dialogue which pretends to offer some philosophical insight but in reality does nothing of the sort.

The Leftovers already had some hurdles to overcome in my eyes and then I found out that Lindelof was writing the series. Whilst I have enjoyed some of his work like Prometheus you would struggle to argue that he isn’t the prime propagator of tropes 1 and 2.  This then leads into the question

Do I trust Damon Lindelof enough to watch The Leftovers?

As I said though episode one did raise enough questions to draw me in. I am interested in the guy that is shooting dogs and Christopher Eccelston’s character and the cult of silent people dressed in white.

But this of course just brings me back to Lindelof. No doubt the guy can write interesting premises but they never lead anywhere satisfying.

So what I am coming up against is an odd theoretical issue. As a reader or viewer of stories I tend to without thinking trust that the author is going to fulfill his promises. After all successful writers do this but I’ve been burnt by Lindelof before.

I’m in an odd position. I enjoyed, the first episode in particular, enough that I’m tempted to give The Leftovers. However, I’m reticent to get back onto the merry-go-round with this Lindelof. The Leftovers is on a very short leash.

Review of Fleming (2013) Episode 1

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The names Bon… er Fleming, Ian Fleming

Who knew that to make a James Bond TV show without paying royalties to the Broccoli estate all you had to do was repackage your show as a biography of Ian Fleming’s life. I can guarantee you that the pitch for the new show “Fleming” went something along the line of Bond with Nazi’s and the studio executives went “sold”

Anyway, I’m not sure just how accurate the show ‘Fleming’ is to the titular character’s real life war experiences but I’m not going to focus on it because to do so would miss the point. As Fleming himself says in the pilot “call me when you need a first class fantasist” and that is how I treated the show as complete tremendously enjoyable fantasy.

The directors and scene dressers were certainly treating it in the same way because, large sections of the show are shot like perfume commercials. Fleming gets away with this and doesn’t become insufferable however, due to the panache of Dominic Cooper who is fantastic.

Cooper pulls off the role of Fleming brilliantly. Perfect for the role and show. The camera loves him and as the audience you don’t want to take your eye off him.

Overall then ‘Fleming’ was tremendously enjoyable. I’d recommend it and will be watching the next episode. If a man with a golden gun shows up however, someone is getting sued.

Review Archer Season 5 Episode 2 – Archer Vice: A Kiss While Dying (spoilers ahoy!)

"Kind of like the A-team but we sell drugs"

“Kind of like the A-team but we sell drugs”

This episode was good but sadly not as good as the above line (although that line is from this episode). I’ve watched this episode twice now. Well,l one and a half times and I’m still not quite sure what to make of it. After the previous episode (see review here) really set the stage for the season and was amazingly bold I am left wondering if there was any need for a lot of the stuff in this episode.

The episode begins with Pam bringing in a huge forklift full of cocaine that was last seen at the ISIS office. The rest of the gang Kreiger, Cyril, Lana etc are moving into the “enormous gilded aged mansion” (Archer’s words) that is going to be the HQ from now on. The hook for the rest of the episode is now set up as Archer, Lana and Pam are all going to Miami to sell some of the coke.

Now this is the point where the trailer from the end of the last episode really steps what would have been a great joke. Mallory announces Pam is going to Miami with them to which Pam says “like the three musketeers” to which Mallory replies “kinda”. Que cut to Pam in a full body cast made of cocaine (I know its a visual gag and doesn’t work when I’m writing it here but read generously). I would have laughed if the trailer from the end of s5ep1 had not already shown this and Pam’s ‘snacking’.

This moment kind of explains my ambigous feelings towards this episode. Much of it could have been done better. For a show that trusts its audience so much and is so clever they could have had Archer and co start off in Miami going to see the contact. Then there could have been cuts back to the new HQ to bring in the other characters like Cheryl or it is Carol who remembers. It would have made for a much tighter episode.

Anyway, there are some good moments in the rest of the episode including the laugh out loud line of Archers “Potato, Patreason” and Cryil calling out Mallory

“only if you promise to periodically micromanage it and emascualte me”

Mallory “I thought that went without saying”

I have a sneaking suspicion that the episode will grow on me the next time I watch it, but for now it was not a favourite. A 3.75 stars out of 5 or a B. Still worth watching though.