The story of the child who goes missing — and is either murdered or reappears after a long absence — has been a popular premise for several interesting, if flawed, series.
Not so for “The Missing,” a BBC anthology series that debuts its second season Sunday night on Starz. It’s different from “The Killing” — which had a great run on AMC until its showrunner alienated the show’s fledgling audience by not revealing the identity of the killer in the season-one finale. It’s also better than ABC’s short-lived “The Family,” as well as the first season of that network’s “Secrets & Lies.”
“The Missing” is a fast-paced, tantalizing jigsaw puzzle that successfully juggles multiple timelines, locations and characters, each of which has a connection to the main case — the reappearance of Alice Webster (Abigail Hardingham), a British girl missing for 11 years. She comes stumbling back from the presumed dead in Eckhausen, Germany, where her father, Sam Webster (David Morrissey, the Governor on “The Walking Dead”), is stationed with the British military.
Alice’s return sparks interest from the police, as her abductor remains at large. Retired detective Julien Baptiste (Tcheky Karyo) is called in to work on the case because of its similarity to another tragically unsolved case. Alice is treated with kid gloves by her parents as she gets her bearings at the army compound where her family lives — but her mother, Gemma (Keeley Hawes), senses that even though her prayers of having her daughter back have been answered, something is off.
Baptiste, in particular, has specific physical reasons why he thinks this “Alice Webster” is an impostor, and might even be Sophie Giroux, the other girl who went missing so long ago. His determination to fit all the puzzle pieces together takes him to Iraqi Kurdistan, in search of a seemingly random British soldier who served in the Iraq War. The shift from the green countryside of Germany to the bombed-out buildings in the Middle East seems jarring at first, but as “The Missing” unfolds, we see that not a single frame has been wasted. Like any good British mystery, the characters, however minor, offer solutions or present new perplexities to the overall mystery of Whatever Happened to Little Alice.
French actor Karyo plays the role of the tortured detective — who dismisses the easily drawn conclusions of the German Polizei — with grit and grace, even employing a noticeable limp left over from Season One (when his character was in a car crash). As the mystery girl, Hardingham is appropriately opaque and magnetically vulnerable. Morrissey and Hawes register a kind of stunted shock through the series’ many awkward at-home scenes.
“The Missing” is a mystery that affects a family as well as community. In a season short on promising shows, this one should be at the top of your list.
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