Starz's The Missing is one of the grimmest, most depressing, and most compelling thrillers that aired on television in all of 2014- I think it even has True Detective beat, due to the relentless focus on the primary subject matter. Yet even with such horrifying topics as child kidnapping and international sex rings on hand, the acting was first rate and the pace top notch, holding your attention for all eight episodes as a gripping, first class thriller from beginning to end.
James Nesbitt and Frances O'Conor star as Tony and Emily Hughes, on vacation in France with their 6-year-old son Olly in tow. Since I mentioned child kidnapping was involved, you probably already know where this is going, don't you? Yes, that's right- following in The Killing and Broadchurch's footsteps, this is another series about the disappearance of a child and the investigation that follows. It's a subject that may feel fully explored by now, and I wondered going into it what new angle could possibly be taken here, but don't you worry about that. The fresh approach of The Missing is to vault back and forth in time, between the moment the Hughes' child was taken in 2006 and the awful few days that followed, and the present day, eight years later, when the circumstances of the various characters we meet on the show are vastly different, and the mystery of Olly's disappearance was never solved.
Already that puts us in a very depressing place, since the abduction of a child and the idea of never finding out what happened to him is almost unbearable to grasp, the worst nightmare for any parent. But Nesbitt and O'Conor are so incredibly genuine in their performances that as miserable as the situation is, they are always fascinating to watch. Nesbitt's Tony is more interesting, as the formerly violent man driven into the abyss by what was his own mistake in looking after their son, and the obsessive lengths to which he goes in a quest for vengeance and closure (think Liam Neeson in Taken) is quite impressive to behold. And O'Conor is heartbreaking as the mother who can barely function in the immediate aftermath of their son's kidnapping, and in the present day as a woman trying to desperately to save what's left of her own life by refusing to fall into despair and false hope, the antithesis of her husband's obsessive attitude.
Surrounding the two of them is a cast of supporting characters who all play varying roles in the investigation into Olly's disappearance, the most important of which is veteran French character actor Tcheky Karyo as Julien Baptise, the head detective on the case whom Tony seeks out years later when he thinks he's found a new lead. Baptiste is the optimistic heart of the show, determined to help the Hughes's figure out what happened, and his character may be the only one who makes all the misery bearable, although he suffers in his own life with secrets that are eventually revealed over the course of the series as well. The gimmick of the flashbacks and flash-forwards works surprisingly well, as each episode alternates between which timeline is more interesting, and either one of them would make for a fascinating story on its own (a sign that the material you're working with is strong).
Ultimately, the show has to promise the viewer some kind of answer about what happened to Olly, (however untrue to life that may actually be), and that requires the development of some glaring coincidences in the present timeline that suspend disbelief a tad, but for dramatic purposes in a show paced like a thriller, I could forgive the contrivances in the object of satisfying an audience. The character work is plenty strong enough to justify furthering the plot however they want, and let's face it, at some point we are owed an explanation after investing so much time. Though the show may not be for everyone (some episodes were so disturbing they effected me for hours afterward), it's undoubtedly one of the strongest of 2014 and for those prepared to brave the darkness it's well worth the investment.