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…
Still catching up on Baptiste series 2 episode 3? Read Steve’s review of episode 2 here.
As is the case with some of the bigger drama series now, this second run of the BBC’s crime thriller Baptiste is available to watch in full on iPlayer. So if you’re a binge-watcher and fancy tearing through this sophomore series of Harry and Jack Williams’ missing person drama, you can do so in double quick time.
It’s a tempting proposition, given its quality and the dramatic way in which each episode ends, teasing you to stay and watch another. Yet while we understand the motivation to smash through multiple slices of Baptiste in a row, we much prefer to pace ourselves. 9pm on a Sunday evening is the perfect time for a single engrossing hour of high-end television like this.
This week’s offering may well have encouraged more iPlayer visits, only it ended in quite jaw-dropping style…
We knew from the conclusion of last week’s show that the fundamentalist Islamist angle was a false flag, designed to make Hungarian immigrants look bad and throw the scent off Gomorrah and the far-right extremists really responsible for Emma Chambers’ husband’s murder and the kidnapping of her sons. It became clear that Baptiste’s writers wanted to deal with topical European politics here and, so far, the balance between that and telling the central story has been struck perfectly.
The fact that so much of the action is now firmly set in the here and now – and is so realistic – made the memorable final scene here all the more gut-wrenching and visceral. Crazed terrorist gunmen cutting down civilians in the street isn’t exactly the primary fear of Europeans at this exact moment, but we hardly need to cast our minds back too far to remember when it was. Seeing the bullets fly and bodies pile up here in Józsefváros was jarring but moving.
Just as we were recovering from bearing witness to the atrocity, we were served up the series’ big twist. Having just learned how Emma lost the use of her legs, only seconds later we discovered why Baptiste spiralled, hit the bottle, grew the beard and lost touch with his client. His heroics with a gun turned out to be anything but.
The reveal was genuinely shocking. We’d learned earlier in the episode that Emma’s missing eldest son Alex may have been somehow involved in a catfishing ruse after we saw his mother check his laptop. We could have suspected he was involved in something untoward. But even the best armchair sleuths would have done well to anticipate how this third episode would end.
It seems likely that the shocking shooting and Baptiste’s breaking bad into Liam Neeson mode will see a line drawn under that earlier timeline and the next three hours will cover events of ‘the present day’. After all, there’s still plenty left to tie up. Alex may now be accounted for, but Emma still needs to track down her youngest, Will. Plus her, Julien, Zsofia and Andreas have to find out who Gomorrah is and – with a bit of luck – take down the organisation.
The way they’ll have to do it is no doubt via a character introduced here in this week’s episode, the leader of the far-right political party Hungary First, a kind of fictionalised Marine le Pen, Kamilla Agoston. A ferocious wolf in sheep’s (finely-tailored) clothing.
Whatever happens in the second half of the series – and we imagine there’ll be a few more twists and turns to come – we’d be very surprised if anything matches up to the climax here. Not only was the final reveal genuinely shocking, the entire scene was as powerful as it was harrowing.
However the next three hours play out, we’re here for them. Just one hour at a time, though. On a Sunday night at 9pm, as things should be.
Did you watch Baptiste series 2 episode 3? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below…
Still catching up on Baptiste series 2 episode 4? Read Steve’s review of episode 3 here.
Well, at least we now know why Julien and Emma’s relationship is so strained. There’s nothing quite like putting a couple of bullets into someone’s eldest child to start a rift, is there?
Of course, there were extenuating circumstances to the shooting, ones that actually lead to Baptiste not just avoiding criminal repercussions but being championed. The papers may have hailed him ‘The Hero of Jósefváros’, but he knows he just killed a brainwashed kid – one he had been tasked with finding (alive).
We opened here in episode 4 with a couple of lengthy and rather maudlin scenes, post-shooting atrocity. Emma Chambers, the desperate woman-on-a-mission to track down her missing family, is now laid up in hospital without the use of her legs. Baptiste is slumped in a chair feeling sorry for himself, although there’s not much new about that. Even by his own highly morose standards this week’s instalment has Baptiste being particularly Baptiste-y. If you could lean into the TV screen and slap the man, sometimes you would.
To spare Emma further pain, Julien refused to admit he knew the identity of the terrorist he shot and killed, pretending that young Alex was merely another innocent victim of the far right extremists he had been recruited by. Which was nice.
With the split chronologies now abandoned and the timeline up to the present day, the story is slightly simpler to follow now as we’re presented with a very simple premise… Our rag-tag team need to find Emma’s only remaining family member, Will, discover who the shady Gomorrah character is and attempt to stop Hungary being seized control of by murderous racists. It’s a good job Baptiste is now focused again: hair cut, beard trimmed and miniature bottles of Famous Grouse in the bathroom bin.
Without wanting to give too much away in terms of spoilers, progress is made on the mission by the end of the hour, with a significant piece of their puzzle slotting into place. All from some guts from Emma and guile from Julien. He really is back. Even if you still kind of want to slap him a little.
The identity of the underground right-wing figurehead known as Gomorrah becomes a little more known thanks to some digging by the unfairly sacked former police major Zsófia. Dorka Gryllus – who is, rather incredibly, 48 years old – has done very nice work in the role of Zsófia here. She’s subtly come sharper into focus and now, arguably, is the heart of this second series. Her intrepid work tracking down her father’s killer seems to have broken the case. It also gifted us some cheap but welcome thrills as she bashed said skinhead killer half into a coma with his own skateboard.
With two episodes left, things are beginning to tie up nicely. Though we can imagine that a couple of twists and turns will be left. Our assumption is that neither Kamilla Agoston – nor her slimy British husband – are Gomorrah, but are merely the political arm of the faction.
Who does that leave as the unknown terrorist? Well, in truth, there aren’t that many suspects. Our pick? We’re torn between Zsófia’s former boss and the seemingly innocuous ‘changed man’ Andras Juszt. Perhaps his docile ‘man in a cage’ act from earlier in the series was merely a ruse. Some Machiavellian plotting to throw everyone off the scent. Y’know…. Juszt in case. Sorry.
Whatever happens we just hope, at some point, Julien perks up a bit. The man’s becoming a bit of a drag and flat screen TVs these days are likely to topple onto the floor if you reach over and cuff them too hard.
Did you watch Baptiste series 2 episode 4? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below…
Still catching up on Baptiste series 2 episode 5? Read Steve’s review of episode 4 here.
For a dangerous and murderous far-right extremist terrorist organisation, the Hungarian nationalists in Baptiste series 2 are awfully easy to kidnap and sling into cages, aren’t they?
The climax of the first episode some five weeks ago now saw the newly-wheelchair-bound British Ambassador Emma Chambers (Fiona Shaw) manage to capture one of its top operatives, András Juszt, and keep him locked up in the back of her estate car – a bit like a Labrador, only taking him off his lead to do hers and Baptiste’s bidding. Now, in this penultimate episode, Emma and Julien have yet another terrorist tied and locked up… This time Emma’s youngest son, Will.
We already knew that both of the Ambassador’s boys had been radicalised, but the reasons had only been hinted at until this point. Here, in what’s easily been the series’ finest episode, we learned why: their sister Laura.
This was an hour of information extraction. Within a few minutes, our detective duo had gone from escorting Will from the abandoned country house to imprisoning him in an underground lock-up. Polite questioning led to nothing and so – after discovering a video on the kid’s phone which heavily suggested another attack was imminent – Will’s mother and the star of the show upped their game and put the pressure on.
We also had to extract information as viewers. Holes in the plot and gaps in the characters’ motivations thus far were plugged as a series of flashbacks acted like so much Polyfilla (other multi-purpose fillers are available). Will and Alex’s sister was stabbed to death by a disturbed man, an immigrant to Hungary. Over time, Alex became drawn to far-right and racist ideology via an internet forum. Will followed. It led to the shooting of the father and, eventually, Baptiste’s shooting of Will.
The episode was at its most powerful when Fiona Shaw’s character was pleading with her only surviving son (Conrad Khan – Black Mirror, County Lines) to see sense. Mute until this week, Will exploded into life with verbal vitriol which took his mother by surprise. Full of hatred and intent on despicable deeds, Will spewed out some disgusting rhetoric. But while Emma was taken aback, she couldn’t help but still love her son. It’s this love and trust that led to his eventual escape. Shaw’s performance here, while a little shrieky, is on the money. A perfect encapsulation of simultaneous love and hate – and of serious cognitive dissonance – portrayed with just a furrowed brow.
With Will escaped and the terrorists’ plans no clearer than just ‘an attack is planned’, Julien has some serious work to do to stop whatever it is from happening.
It seems as if he may have cracked who Gomorrah is, though. Despite being adamant that Kamilla Agoston was the head of the snake, she’s not. So who is? Well, we’ll find out next week. Our money is on Juszt.
We’re looking forward to the big crescendo here, especially if the final hour is as good as this fifth outing was. We have to say, though. We’re not sure we’ll miss Baptiste all that much. As fine a programme as it is, as engaging as it is – with excellent performances all round – it’s just so, so bleak. The death and sadness here is relentless. We know crime dramas tend to be a little skewed this way and, hey, they’re our bag. But Baptiste very nearly crosses the line into dourness.
Look at Emma Chambers: daughter stabbed by intruder, she’s forced to watch her die. Then her husband is shot to death in a forest. Then her sons go missing. She thinks one’s been killed by Islamist militants. Then she discovers they’re both alive, but are radicalised terrorists. Then one kills a load of people. And permanently disables her. Then Baptiste kills him. They find her other son, but he’s intent on carrying out an atrocity of his own…
And you thought your life was tough.
Did you watch Baptiste series 2 episode 5? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below…
Spoilers below. Still catching up on Baptiste series 2 episode 6? Read Steve’s review of episode 5 here.
Très bien! Almost as soon as we were all saying bienvenue again to our favourite bespectacled French detective with a limp, we were bidding him adieu once more. This time, we can only assume, for good.
It’s been a dramatic and engaging second run for Harry and Jack Williams’ Baptiste, with another dedicated performance in the lead from Tchéky Karyo. The man is, without doubt, a very generous and accommodating actor. As with Tom Hollander in the first series, the Gallic thesp is only too pleased to share the screen and help bring the best out of his co-performers. Here, both he and Fiona Shaw were at their best when playing off each other and verbally sparring, the script a weapon.
This sixth and final instalment had some fairly heavy lifting to do. Not only did it have to conclude the story of the series and do so with no little tension and drama, it also had the task of tying up the entire mythos of the series and its principle character.
Without giving too many of the finer details away on the off-chance that some of you out there are yet to catch episode 6 (it’s up on iPlayer now if you haven’t), there’s still plenty we can discuss without running the risk of spoiling too much…
With Andras Juszt newly identified by Julien as the head of the snake, Gomorrah, the snuffled-out clues led to what appeared to be the terrorists’ next target: a refugee centre on the site of an old abattoir. We got there after an extended series of flashbacks showed us how Gomorrah was hiding in plain sight all along, playing a very smart game indeed. There was a finely-crafted Machiavellian plan being enacted by Juszt the entire time.
Could Julien and Emma stop what was being planned and save her only remaining family member, Will? Well, even for a relentlessly downbeat show like Baptiste, one jarringly violent and visceral terrorist attack is probably enough per series, isn’t it?
Still, we weren’t left wanting for a climatic and action-packed ending, though it came in the shape of a largely unrealistic fight scene in which our sixty-something hero holds his own – and then some – in a brutal fight with the main bad guy, a vicious man half Baptiste’s age.
There’s a mature ambiguity to the overall ending somewhat. Although Juszt’s Gomorrah was behind bars, another member of the Hungarian nationalist terror group assumed the role, no doubt bent on carrying on its legacy of death and destruction. Far-right politician Kamilla Agostin saw her approval ratings soar after being linked to the terror attacks against the immigrant populace of Józsefváros from earlier in the season. It was clearly a little not-so-subtle commentary on the state of Europe-wide politics.
There’s also a little mystery as to how things wrap up for Julien. It appears as if it’s a happy ending for the man. Which is nice, given how much moping he’s done this past month and a half.
The action concluded by the halfway point here, so there was plenty of time left to ease out of what’s been a solid if rather unspectacular six weeks of crime thriller. We were glad to have seen Baptiste back on our screen but perhaps it’s now time to draw a line under the saga of the morose French tracker. Before he really starts limping.
Merci, Julien. And au revoir…
Did you watch Baptiste series 2 episode 6? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below…