We had a strong feeling that TV crime dramas in 2019 were going to be pretty special. And, like the hunch of any great detective, it turned out to be true…
We’re only in February and it looks as though we’ve already been treated to at least two top drawer shows of the highest calibre. The third run of HBO and Sky Atlantic’s True Detective is near perfect television, while the BBC’s new Sunday night mystery effort Baptiste isn’t all that far behind.
Like True Detective, this is effectively the third series of Baptiste. Don’t worry, though. You haven’t missed anything. It is technically a new show; it’s also one that’s a spin-off from The Missing. While Nic Pizzolatto’s US hit is an anthology with an ever-changing line-up of investigators, this reintroduces us to a familiar face – the ghostly white visage of a certain Julien Baptiste (Tchéky Karyo).
If you thought that Karyo’s Baptiste was a calm and studied figure in The Missing, then you ain’t seen nothing yet. We catch up with him a few years here as a mostly retired man, living temporarily with a young family in Amsterdam. A meditative and relaxed older gent, he seems happy to leave the tracking down of missing people behind him. Yet when the call comes, it only takes one cup of coffee with his police commissioner ex-girlfriend to convinced to return to the fold. And guess what? When he does, he’s just as brilliant as ever… Quelle surprise.
For those of you inclined to pick up on political allegory and nods, there’s the faintest whiff of Brexit about this debut episode of Baptiste. What with us following a frantic and desperate Brit (the ever-brilliant Tom Hollander from The Night Manager) as he runs around Europe yelling, getting himself in trouble and having panic attacks.
The distraught and crumpled suit-wearing man is Edward Stratton, the uncle of a young sex worker called Natalie Rose, who’s gone missing. He’s pinballing around the Red Light District of the Dutch capital in search of his absent niece, very keen indeed to track her down. Soon, so too is eponymous Julien Baptiste. Who, as viewers of The Missing can attest, is a handy man to have on your side in that kind of situation.
It doesn’t long before we’re all plunged headfirst into a world of sex trafficking, Romanian gangsters and friendly seashell-loving old men being cut up with chainsaws. Well, this is a Harry and Jack Williams series, after all. Those of you that remember One of Us or Rellik will know what we mean.
It quickly becomes clear that Baptiste isn’t just dealing with a run-of-the-mill missing persons case here. This looks to go much, much deeper. And while this modern-day Poirot is often one step ahead of the bad guys, this time he’d better watch those steps. Only the bad guys are a couple of strides in front of him even at this stage (they’ve already bugged his house and intimidated his wife, ferchrissakes).
We prefer to keep our reviews as spoiler-free as possible, just in case you happen upon them before watching. So we won’t go into too much detail around the rather sizeable twists toward the end of this opening hour of Baptiste. Suffice to say that one of the two big reveals is slightly more convincing than the other. You’ll know which is which if you’ve seen episode 1 in its entirety.
Speaking of being convincing, luckily Baptiste convinced here in its maiden showing. Spin-offs can be risky (for every Better Call Saul there’s a Joey). Judging from this first sixty-minute effort, though? We could well be in line for a treat every bit as good as The Missing. If not better… Très, très bon.
What did you make of Baptiste episode 1? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below…
WARNING: spoilers below. Still catching up? Read Steve’s review of episode 1 here.
BBC One’s new flagship Sunday night crime drama Baptiste is a spin-off of their smash hit The Missing, a popular mystery series centred around – naturally – missing people.
Last week’s opener, although set in the Dutch capital city of Amsterdam, presented viewers with a familiar set-up: French detective Julien Baptiste (played by Nikita’s Tchéky Karyo) is hired to help track down a teenage girl that’s seemingly disappeared. So you’d be forgiven for thinking that Baptiste is squarely in the mould of its predecessor…
How wrong you’d be.
What would usually take an entire series to uncover – namely the missing girl’s whereabouts – took just an hour here. By the end of last week’s episode, Baptiste had already found her. So is the limping Gallic investigator getting better with age? Well, no. Not quite. Despite quickly tracking down young sex worker Natalie Rose, if anything, the ageing former police detective seems to be losing his touch a little and getting sloppy. He fell for Edward’s schtick, after all.
It’s clear already that this is no Missing Lite. Baptiste is weaving a complex web here. There’s human trafficking, Romanian gangsters, bags full of money, heads in freezers and an enigmatic Englishman at the heart of it all. And that’s just the start of it. By the end of this week’s second slice of the drama, we can add a dead former missing girl and a murderous gas man intent on offing Julien’s wife into the mix too.
We now know that Edward isn’t Natalie’s concerned uncle. He is, according to her, an obsessed former client of hers who can’t leave her alone. He’s also not just middle management in a logistics company – he’s heavily involved in trafficking, working closely with the Romanians.
“I wish I didn’t have this feeling… A feeling that everything isn’t quite as it seems,” says Julien at one point here. While we understand the man’s frustrations, we have to say – it’s par for the course when you’re the star of a complicated TV crime drama. Stick with it though, Jules. We’re certain things will start to become clear soon enough. We’re not even halfway through the series yet, mon ami.
Things have got a little murky, though. Some arch manipulation (and a nifty bit of pickpocketing) by Tom Hollander’s Edward Stratton leads our antagonist to discovering Natalie’s whereabouts. In a bid to steer clear of Stratton’s muscle when her visits her houseboat, Natalie ends up hiding underwater, of all places, and ends up drowning.
Baptiste takes the news rather badly and blames himself for it. This emotional baggage seems enough to drive the man for the rest of the series and make the case personal for him. It looks as if he and Stratton are now on a Holmes n’ Moriarty-style collision course. Baptiste has the Dutch police and Europol on his side, but Stratton’s got an Eastern European mob in his corner.
Is Edward a criminal mastermind, though? We’re not sure if he’s just involved and up to his neck in things. Or whether he’s actually The Boss who avoids suspicion by playing the part of the damaged and vulnerable-seeming Brit abroad. Time will no doubt tell.
There seems to be more to Edward and Natalie’s relationship than meets the eye too. We know he’s not her uncle. But was he really just in love with her? That seems increasingly unlikely. What seems increasingly more likely is that she stole from him. It would explain the buried bag of banknotes found by our dog-loving tulip farmer Herman (Gijs de Lange). The bag was uncovered next to her necklace and the farmer freaked out when he saw the news that Natalie’s body had been dredged from the water.
We’re left with a cliffhanger as episode 2 draws to a close, as the spectre of handsome Romanian killer Constantin (Alec Secareanu) doing his gas man bit again looms. As he’s let into Julien’s apartment by his wife Celia (Anastasia Hille), we start to worry about the future of the poor woman’s neck…
That’s now two potentially murderous situations we’ve been shown that could have been avoided if everyone used smart meters.
When someone at the door says, “Hi, I’m here to read the gas meter…” Lock the door. That’s the biggest lesson we’ve learned from Baptiste so far.
What did you make of Baptiste episode 2? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below…
Last week’s second episode of BBC One’s spin-off from The Missing, Baptiste, left its audience hanging from two cliffs. Julien’s wife Celia had fake gas man and real murderous Romanian ‘Brigada’ gangster Constantin (Alec Secăreanu) on his way into their house, while Baptiste himself had discovered the frozen head in Edward Stratton’s basement…
Celia managed to escape, but Constantin untidied the place to such an extent that Baptiste was forced to put his wife, daughter, son-in-law and grandchild into a safehouse, some half hour east of Amsterdam, in the small city of Almere.
As for the decapitated head… Well, things were all pointing to Tom Hollander’s Stratton being some sort of high-ranking criminal type. But, alas, he’s not. The head wasn’t sent to him as a tribute or as proof that an ordered hit had been carried out. It was, instead, a threat. The bodyless bonce belonged to his father.
So why is Edward having bits of family members posted to him? Well, it all goes back to the missing/now dead sex worker he loved, Natalie. We discover here in episode 3 that the love he felt for her wasn’t actually romantic. It was more of a paternal feeling brought about by Natalie’s physical resemblance to his dead (former sex worker) daughter Lucy. Edward, it seems, is a nice guy, after all. Sort of.
While he may be nice, he’s also rather easily manipulated. Natalie soon exploited his feelings for her as she convinced him to steal a million Euros from Romanian gangsters for her. This is the point where Edward should’ve taken a note from Meat Loaf’s book. “I would do anything for love,” he should’ve told her. “But I won’t steal a million Euros from Romanian gangsters. No, I won’t do that.”
Instead he does steal the money, and gives it straight to Natalie so she can buy back her trafficked younger sister. Edward changes his mind about her keeping the money after the mob find out he stole it, but Natalie won’t return it and disappears with the bag full of cash. As we know, she stashes it at Herman’s house and Edward is forced to track the girl down to try and get the money, return it to Constantin and avoid more familial bloodshed.
Herman, for his part, decided to leave Amsterdam with the dug-up bag of money and Natalie’s sick kid. The tulip farmer was clearly close to Natalie and followed her plea to take her child away from his nasty drug dealer father. But his plans to start a new life didn’t last long as he’s robbed of the money by an unseen assailant.
This week we also met Genevieve (Jessica Raine), a British liaison officer for Europol who is also hunting down Constantin and the Brigada. She gives fairly short shrift to Julien, but then receives it herself from Edward. So it looks as though she may have carry on her business without the help of the series’ two main players. Still, she appears tenacious enough to do just that.
We had to wonder who the ‘trapped in’ man was that Genevieve was speaking to pre-credits, though. Is he her husband? Boyfriend? Brother? Partner? We’re guessing whoever it is, he’s there because of the gangsters she’s tracking down and that her work has become personal.
We ended with something of a shock twist. Police chief Martha (Barbara Sarafian) had lent Julien her colleague and son Niels (Boris Van Severen) for the day to assist in the investigation and the two bonded over a shared career and cancer experiences. Julien, a former lover of Martha’s, did a little maths and a sly (impressively same day) DNA test and things have got even more personal for him… Niels is Julien’s son.
The end of this episode ushered in the halfway point of a series which has so far has shown itself to be a thoroughly classy affair. Tightly plotted, well-paced and smartly written, it has believable characters you care about, non-schlocky plot twists and some truly excellent performances.
Tchéky Karyo is a steady presence as the calm and stoic lead, but it’s Tom Hollander who is really allowed off the leash here. He pushes the boundaries of what’s believable with his Edward Stratton, but with an expert ability to balance mania and restraint.
In lesser hands, Edward could easily be an over-the-top presence that veers into hysteria and self-parody – such are the obvious emotions on show. But with Hollander at the wheel, Stratton is perfectly pitched and executed. The Night Manager and Rev actor treats us to a quite special performance here.
It may be a special performance, but it seems as though Edward might need special protection as we closed this week’s instalment with the man being politely ‘asked’ to get into Constantin’s car.
Here’s hoping he can talk his way out of it.
What did you make of Baptiste episode 3? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below…
WARNING: spoilers below. Still catching up? Read Steve’s review of episode 3 here.
Just when you think you know someone, eh…?
Four hours into the six allotted to this Amsterdam-set spin-off from The Missing, we see our supposedly wily and experienced French detective Julien Baptiste (Tchéky Karyo) duped by Tom Hollander’s Edward Stratton yet again. For a wily and experienced old detective, he really can’t get the measure of his new pal, can he?
We leave this fourth episode, entitled ‘Vertrouwen’, with Edward driving off into the Amsterdam night at speed, away from Baptiste. In his possession? The million Euros he originally stole from Constantin, the head-removing mob bigwig from the Brigada Serbilu.
The bag of cash is a classic Hitchcockian MacGuffin here, an object used to drive the plot forward and motivate the characters into action. It also provides us with a frenetic game of pass-the-parcel, given how many people have had the thing in their possession. Albeit usually only very briefly.
As we look ahead to next week’s instalment of Baptiste, Julien’s family are still in danger, with the bag o’ notes being the only thing he had as leverage to persuade Constantin to leave them all alone and alive.
It’s a shame, what with it being Julien who put in all the effort to track down the money, kicking into full-blown sleuth mode. He deduced that the dead girl, ‘Natalie Rose’, would have wanted to bequeath the money to her son and so paid a visit to her father-in-law Herman the tulip farmer, the most Dutch man ever. Herman, now robbed of the cash, ‘fessed up and led Julien to a Wotsit-eating voyeur type who films everyone in the village (although he’s definitely ‘not a pervert’).
This perverse-seeming non-pervert helped Julien work out where the money is: the local dentist stole it from Herman and was in the process of feeding the notes to strippers when our detective hero intercepted and rather promptly took it all back. Directly to Edward…
So what is Edward up to? Well, it might look like he’s driving off into the sunset with the money in a fit of selfish panic. But his line to Julien, ‘something good has to come of all this…’ leads us to think that he could well use the money to try and save Natalie’s sister. Which would be great news for the young Polish girl. And not so good news for Monsieur Baptiste and his mardy family, all holed up in their squalid little safe house.
Meanwhile, we were presented with a tragic end to the story of sex work activist and cafe owner Kim (played with a restrained dignity by Chilean-born actress Talisa Garcia). After coming out to her Welsh boyfriend Greg not only about being transgender but also having been a gangster, she meets a rather sticky end. Constantin’s henchmen gladly reminded us all that theirs is a cutthroat business. In the most literal sense possible.
Which just serves to remind us all how important it is that Julien comes up with a plan now the money’s gone. That said, if his family does get offed by the Brigada – there’s always Marta and Niels to fall back on. His ex-girlfriend and secret son may be a drunk and possibly corrupt respectively, but beggars can’t be choosers, can they?
Unexpectedly funny/explicit scene of the week: effectively imprisoned in a five-star hotel, Edward is told by Europol agent Genevieve to ‘go and enjoy the spa or something’. Cut to him sat uncomfortably in a sauna in a large pair of swimming shorts. As the steams clears, we see he’s surrounded by unashamedly naked Europeans, all enjoying an underwearless group sweat. Feeling self-conscious, he traipses out an embarrassed and humbled man.
Did you watch Baptiste episode 4? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
WARNING: spoilers below. Still catching up? Read Steve’s review of episode 4 here.
“You’re on a Romanian gangster’s kill list. Sorry about that…”
Exes, eh? Bumping into them is rarely fun. But whereas most of us merely have to put up with the odd awkward exchange of nods in Tesco, Edward Stratton’s former wife Claire (Downton Abbey’s Clare Calbraith) has it far worse. Her ex-husband pitches up on her doorstep in this penultimate episode of Baptiste with quite the proposition: bring your new boyfriend and come with me to a grotty caravan park for a week or get butchered in your home by the murderous Eastern European gang I stole a million Euros from.
It was quite the choice. And given the decor and facilities of the caravan they holed up in, that second choice came to look quite an attractive option. As it was, it didn’t matter anyway. The Brigada Serbilu tracked Edward, Clare and Carl down, with the throats of latter two ending up on the wrong side of a knife. Bleeding out in a static caravan decked out in 70s wallpaper is no way for anyone to die.
Edward managed to avoid a similar fate, instead putting the little vegetable knife that Claire sharpened for him to good use and getting out alive.
How much of that million Euros is left, do you think? It’s gone from the back of Constantin’s van, to Edward, to Natalie, to a hole in a tulip field, to Herman (who bought a car), to a stripper-loving dentist (who bought a load of Champagne and lap dances), to Baptiste, back to Edward (who rented a trawler and then a caravan and paid for a long black cab ride to the caravan park), back to Baptiste…
Well, it turns out that none of it’s left. Not after Baptiste bought a €993,000 boat with the remaining cash, anyway. Actually, it’s not just a boat. It’s ‘a 2016 17 metre-high performance motor yacht, in excellent condition’.
Baptiste isn’t planning an elaborate holiday, though. It’s all part of a high-risk plan… Give the money back to Constantin in exchange for Natalie’s sister Cristina as instructed by Edward and Constantin will merely welsh on the deal and kill everyone to clear up the mess. So Baptiste needed leverage. He decided to use the money to buy a boat in Constantin’s name. The gambit was simple – Constantin is forced comes into Europol and gives up his bosses. Or the Serbilu Brothers that head up the Brigada find out that a million Euro yacht was bought in cash by their employee, it looks like he’s ripped them off and they kill him.
It was fiendish work from Monsieur Baptiste.
Julien and Genevieve are basically trying to turn Constantin. And he does turn… Upside down as he exits his window and lands on his head. Was it suicide or murder? Either way the man’s dead. And so too is the plan.
Next week’s final episode may well present Julien & Co. with a case of ‘better the devil you know’. Only if the big Serbilu boys find out what happened with the money and the boat (and they no doubt will), they’re going to seek redress for it.
How will they find out? Well, Julien’s worked out that there’s a mole in the Dutch authorities… Martha. Another troublesome ex.
We suspect there’s a twist to come in next week’s finale. We’re not convinced that Martha is corrupt. We think it could well be her (and Julien’s) son Niels that’s the bent copper feeding info to the gangsters. He may even have been the one who offed Constantin.
We’ll find out in Sunday night’s big closer. Hopefully, we’ll see the trafficked girls saved too. The key to that could well come from, ironically, a key. Greg followed the clues left posthumously by his partner Kim to a lock-up containing a box of items that we suspect could hold the key (sorry) to the whereabouts of the Brigada’s secret warehouse full of kidnapped girls.
We’re looking forward to the climax of Baptiste; it’s been thoroughly excellent. Writers Harry and Jack Williams always serve up quality, but this has been an especially classy affair so far.
Did you watch Baptiste episode 5? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
WARNING: spoilers below. Still catching up? Read Steve’s review of episode 5 here.
As talk of leaving Europe reaches fever pitch in this country, we were forced to say goodbye to another European adventure on Sunday evening as BBC One’s engrossing six-parter Baptiste wrapped up.
Julien Baptiste (Tchéky Karyo), our limping missing person hunter, made for pleasant company this past month and a half as he got caught up in a case that turned rather dark rather quickly. It was an investigation that saw personal revelations, his family going into hiding and stacks and stacks of bodies pile up on the streets of Amsterdam.
Child sex trafficking is a nasty business, after all.
“It is a filthy job but someone must perform it, uh?” Julien reminds his de facto partner-in-fighting-crime Genevieve Taylor at one point here is this final episode. And he’s right. By 10pm he had tied up the case, but not without some rather significant filth accrued along the way. Albeit, our central character – save for a stray bullet in his already weak right arm – escaped rather cleanly from it all.
As for tracking down young Cristina, Edward, Julien and Genevieve came up short in the end. They used Kim’s box of evidence to track down the warehouse where the Brigada Serbilu were holding the girls and helped dismantle the operation. Cristina, however, was long gone. Natalie’s sister had already been sold to an unknown punter for just €750.
Some viewers may have felt a little short changed by Julien effectively failing his mission here, but it was a fitting conclusion, really. With global sex trafficking netting organised criminals over $100m in profits every year from the trading of some 4 million women and children, there are rarely ever pleasing conclusions to such tales.
As for last week’s reveal that there was a mole in the Dutch police, we were right (of course) – it wasn’t Marta leaking information as Julien first suspected. It was her/their son Niels. This wasn’t the most surprising twist in the world, with the bushy-eyebrowed young investigator’s back story seeming somewhat forced from the get-go, his cancer and parental heritage serving only to explain his motivations and provide added connection to Baptiste.
After Niels stepped out of the shadows, it wasn’t long before he went full-blown bad guy and ended up (somewhat accidentally) committing a rather public matricide in front of half a dozen armed police officers. RIP Marta and BYE Niels.
There have been more surprising endings to TV crime dramas of late, but the quality remained throughout it all. This series has been a classy affair from start to finish, with plenty to admire and enjoy. Especially in terms of performances.
What we’ll really remember about Baptiste will most likely be Edward Stratton. Tom Hollander gave us a quite beautifully committed character here and proved – once again – that he’s one of Britain’s finest working actors. His Edward was a truly nuanced character: principled but sly, nervous yet oddly brave – he was a sweaty, tense and darkly funny man, completely out of his depth, deprived of sleep and running on his instincts.
All in all, Baptiste has been a welcome addition to BBC One’s Sunday night scheduling. It never dragged or become too convoluted at any point and served up more than enough intrigue and suspense to keep us entertained throughout.
Granted, the big twist was telegraphed well in advance and the script had a slight tendency – with Julien’s lines especially – to veer into the pretentious, but aside from those two minor critiques, this was TV from the top drawer. Here’s hoping for a second series…
It’s our hope that this is just adieu and not goodbye.
Did you watch Baptiste episode 6? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.