Getting older is as much about loss as anything else. It’s not a very cheery way to start this review, we know. It’s true, though. There’s the lesser stuff like losing your figure, hair or ability to remember why you even walked up the stairs in the first place. There’s the more serious things to lose like your hearing or eyesight. And then there are the biggies like losing the people you love.
It’s loss that brings the two refreshingly aged lead characters in Baptiste’s second and final BBC series together. Don’t get us wrong, Tchéky Karyo and Fiona Shaw aren’t decrepit old codgers – far from it. But compared to the main actors in most modern dramas, well, they’re no spring chickens. Let’s be polite and call them autumnal poultry instead.
The grief that Julien Baptiste and Emma Chambers share here isn’t from being widowed, although we quickly learn that Emma’s husband has been murdered. Instead, it’s from the shared loss of a child. Baptiste is ‘carrying the death’ of his daughter Sara, while British Ambassador to Hungary and new client of Julien Emma is grieving for a son who was also killed. Keeping both of them alive is a shared desire to find Emma’s other son, who was kidnapped by the man/men who killed the rest of her family. The teenager is ‘the missing’ here.
Baptiste continues to be an interesting character. It’s been nearly two and a half years since we last saw him starring alongside Tom Hollander in the first series, and even longer ago when we first met the man in The Missing. He’s an unusual character for a detective: simultaneously wistful yet direct, unassuming but unrelenting. He’s vulnerable, both physically and emotionally. A brain tumour, smashed-up leg and untold trauma account for most of it. And yet for all the limping and self-pity, he’s still only ever a few seconds from some serious Poirot-esque Gallic grandstanding and case cracking.
This first episode tipped between engaging personal drama played out between two very fine actors and slightly schlocky Agatha Christie-style detective pulp. One moment we’re gripped by a touching monologue exploring the impact of anguish and loss, the next we’re watching a smart alec detective smugly tie a suspect in knots, making them trip over their lies. It’s a little jarring but, after all, this is as much a crime mystery and whodunit as it is a classy drama.
The plot is simple, although different time frames – it’s structured not unlike The Missing, in fact – keep things interesting. Handily, chronology can be charted by the length of Julien’s beard and whether or not Emma is in a wheelchair. Neither of which, Santa beard or disability, have yet been explained. Some serious events seemingly went down in between the two time frames explored here in this opening hour.
Chambers, on holiday with her family in the mountains of north east Hungary, wakes one morning to find her husband and two teen sons gone. Police begin to bungle and, soon, Baptiste involves himself. He quickly finds her husband in the forest, shot to death. Some digging helps him realise that the assailant – a man with a distinctive tattoo – seems to have kidnapped the boys.
Fast-forward to the present day and a maudlin, boozy and beardy Baptiste is visited by the now chair-bound Chambers. It seems they parted ways during the investigation and her missing son is still missing. He’s reluctant to help her again, he’s all but given up on life. Until she shows him the contents of her car… A caged man. The tattooed kidnapper.
We’ve five more episodes ahead to delve into the mystery, uncover what happened, see the wrongs righted and hope for some sort of peace for both Emma and Julien. Although this has been confirmed as Baptiste’s final series, something tells us we may not be in for the happy ending we all might desire. In five weeks we’ll all be just that little bit older. It’ll be a shame, but I’m sure we can all cope with the loss of Julien Baptiste. Until then, let’s enjoy it while it lasts.
Did you watch Baptiste series 2 episode 1? What did you think? Join the conversation in the comments below…
Still catching up on Baptiste series 2 episode 2? Read Steve’s review of episode 1 here.
Fiona Shaw is a superior actress. Her performance as the wry and sardonic MI5 boss Carolyn Martens in Killing Eve brings us nothing but joy, and her work here is no less committed – but whether it’s Shaw or Harry and Jack Williams’ writing that’s responsible, her portrayal of the grieving Emma Chambers does veer slightly into overwrought territory at times. There’s a little too much screaming and histrionics. It also seems that cry-yelling makes you return to your natural accent, judging by the Irish syllables that pop out during the screechiest of Shaw’s lines.
Still, while it may not be a restrained rendering of the character, it’s a fascinating one. Fiona Shaw’s easily the finest thing about this second series so far, just as Tom Hollander was in the first run. There’s something about the mercurial Baptiste and Tchéky Karyo’s interpretation of him that’s almost ethereal. He floats around, technically the central character, yet there’s a subtlety to him that really allows the other cast members to shine.
Julien really works like a conduit. The drama bears his name, but even as we’re shown how his daughter Sara came to die and just why he blames himself, it still feels like a side story to the main one… Fiona Shaw’s.
Onto that increasingly complex and twisty plot for this week and, well, we hope you’re taking notes.
If we’re honest, the plot isn’t overly complicated. It’s just with any split-chronology narrative, it can be a little tricky to keep up. The Williams brothers love the technique – anyone who remembers their backwards-told serial killer thriller, Rellik, will know that.
We pick up from the revelation at the end of episode 1: the now-wheelchair-bound Chambers has her sons’ kidnapper locked up in a dog cage in the back of her car. Arriving at the newly-bearded and beer-guzzling Baptiste’s Parisian hovel, she needs the wily detective to put down the booze and help her find her son. Strangely, the bad guy – Andras Juszt (Miklós Béres) – is only too happy to help. He’s a changed man, he says.
We had to wait until the end of the hour to discover who Juszt really used to work for. Early indicators suggested that we were dealing with Islamic fundamentalists, but instead that was merely a ruse. A smokescreen and framing device for the kidnappings, employed by what appears to be some sort of extremist far-right group of Hungarian nationalists. Of course, only Baptiste could see through the fake execution video.
Why did this shadowy group, run by an even shadowier figure called ‘Gomorrah’, target Emma Chambers’ family? Well, we’re yet to learn quite why, but we surely will. As they’ll presumably learn that they messed with the wrong ambassador.
As the dust settles and the bad guys are starting to become clear, it seems obvious that one of the themes of Baptiste series 2 will be the rise of far-right politics in Europe and the ideology behind anti-immigration viewpoints and, ultimately, racism – which you could either see as ‘timely’ or a little unoriginal, depending on how much television drama you’ve watched in the past year or so. Let’s see how this plays out and if it can add anything new to the discussion.
So far, it’s a solid if slightly maudlin return to our screens for Baptiste. We’re involved, but a little levity or lightheartedness wouldn’t go amiss across the next month. Sunday nights can be miserable enough as it is.
Did you watch Baptiste series 2 episode 2? What did you think? Join the conversation in the comments below…