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The Missing series 1 review

Episodes: 8

Premiered: 2014

Duration: 1 hr

What could have been a generic crime drama with a relatively familiar plot is elevated by excellent writing and standout performances here in Harry and Jack Williams’ brilliant BBC One series, The Missing.

James Nesbitt has never been better as the father whose son is abducted here in what’s an addictive, unpredictable and even sometimes quite gruelling piece of television.

Fans of Broadchurch, take note – The Missing is an eight-part thriller that you simply cannot ignore.

Here’s Stuart Barr’s episode-by-episode The Missing series 1 review.

The Missing episode 1 review

On a family holiday in France a young English boy, Ollie, goes missing from his parents’ care. Authorities take immediate action calling in a veteran detective to head the investigation. As he arrives on the scene, Detective Baptiste (Tchéky Karyo) notes ‘we find him immediately, or we don’t find him’ – a stark and devastating truth about child abduction cases in which the culprit is not an estranged parent or family member. Because of the way that the drama is structured we know that the child will not be found during the initial investigation. Set over two time periods, the story began in the present day with the boy’s father Jack (Nesbitt) drinking alone in a French bar and renting a desolate hotel room.

Jumping back eight years to before the child’s disappearance we see a different man to the haunted figure we have just met. The seasons also change from winter to summer. Leaving his wife Emily (Francis O’Connor) in the hotel, Jack and Ollie go to a crowded bar to watch the World Cup. The bar is packed, noisy, and a shot on goal sends the French supporters wild. Ollie is holding his father’s hand and then, in a blink, he isn’t.

The Missing episode 1

Returning to the present, Jack meets with Baptiste and reveals the reason for his return – a recent photo posted on Facebook showing another child wearing the distinctive scarf Ollie was wearing when he disappeared. The geotagging shows the photo’s location clearly and Jack is convinced it is a lead.

This opening episode of eight established a large cast but centred on the father. James Nesbitt’s everyman qualities have helped make him a major star on UK television, but he can also turn off his charm to play tough (as in Colin Bateman’s detective series Murphy’s Law). In The Missing he plays to both ends of his range, moving from loving father and husband to driven, obsessed loner.

The dual timeframe allowed for a number of questions to be posed. What happened to the Hughes’ marriage? How has the retired Baptiste come by a pronounced limp? Why does Jack carry a degree of notoriety in the present? However, the centring of the drama on the paternal figure could be deemed problematic. One hopes the next seven episodes flesh out the character of Emily, Ollie’s mother.

One of the pleasures of this opening episode was the care taken to show detectives actually carrying out detective work – especially when Baptiste and Jack follow the clues found in the photograph of the scarf. This leads to a shocking discovery and evidence that Ollie was actually ‘taken’.

Directed with a deliberate lack of flash by Tom Shankland, best known for Ripper Street and two distinctive horror films (w Delta z and The Children), and written by Harry and Jack Williams, episode one of The Missing occasionally relied on convenient plot twists to move the story forward, but laid the groundwork for a potentially gripping series exploring contemporary fears. The question is will it ultimately exploit those fears and the real-life tragedies which it is clearly inspired by?

Directed by Tom Shankland

Starring James Nesbitt, Frances O’Connor, Tchéky Karyo, Jason Flemyng, Saïd Taghmaoui

Did you watch The Missing episode 1? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

Read Stuart’s review of The Missing episode 2 here.

Check out our must-read books for fans of The Missing and Baptiste here.

Stuart Barr
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    The Missing episode 2 review

    Still catching up on The Missing episode 2? Read Stuart’s review of episode 1 here.

    After an opening packed with plot and characters, episode two of The Missing eased off the narrative accelerator. Existing characters where fleshed out and two significant new players entered the scene. Continuing to use dual time frames, two fresh narrative strands arose. In 2006, the police believe they have a suspect in Ollie Hughes’ disappearance. Known sex offender Vincent Bourg (De Voogdt) has been placed in the vicinity of Ollie Hughes’ last known whereabouts. In the present, Ollie’s father Tony and retired detective Julien Baptiste attempt to reopen the case following their discovery of a faded child’s drawing scratched on a basement wall.

    While Tony continues to be the main protagonist, more time was given to his now estranged wife Emily in this episode, showing her delayed reaction to Ollie’s disappearance in 2006, and her new domestic situation with partner Mark (who she met during the investigation) in the present. We discover that Emily’s father is now hospitalised with dementia, but will clearly have to wait to find out more about the hint in episode one that he and Tony have a secret which could reveal a motive.

    The Missing episode 2

    Also in the mix is ambitious freelance journalist Malik Suri who offers the family confidential details of the suspect during the police investigation and has subsequently turned Ollie’s disappearance and the family’s misery into a career. Played by Arsher Ali, Suri is an odious and unprincipled discredit to the fourth estate, but one who has rationalised his actions to the point he feels discharged of moral obligations.

    Quickly arrested, the character of Vincent Bourg was unusually sympathetic. In the present we find Bourg working nights in a fast food outlet. In an attempt to control his vile impulses he voluntarily agrees to chemical castration. As the past and present intertwine it becomes apparent that he is also feeling some kind of guilt related to Ollie’s disappearance – but was he directly involved?

    The Missing episode 2

    A new character with an unclear role in the unfolding drama is Ian Garrett (Ken Stott) a wealthy property developer. Garrett sees the Hughes’ case unfolding on television and contacts the family to offer a substantial reward for information leading to Ollie’s recovery.  His offer comes (apparently) without strings and is presented as an act of kindness. Stott’s high billing suggests it would be foolish for the audience to accept this at face value – everyone seems to be hiding something.

    The real star of this episode was Tchéky Karyo as Baptiste. The detective is a man of tact and intelligence far from a standard crime fiction cliché. One of the pleasures of The Missing is in the procedural detail. Detective Baptiste is shown doing actual police work in 2006, and as an amateur detective in the present we see his skill in dealing with authorities. He deftly leverages the town mayor’s re-election campaign against a potential scandal and has the case re-opened. While Tony Hughes is (understandably) hot-headed and frantic, Baptiste is calm, methodical, but blessed with an acute gift for empathy.

    As the episode ended on another sudden twist, it became clear that there is a greater well of darkness underlying the abduction of which the family and the police are unaware.

    Directed by Tom Shankland

    Cast: James Nesbitt, Frances O’Connor, Tchéky Karyo, Ken Stott, Titus De Voogdt, Arsher Ali

    Did you watch The Missing episode 2? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

    Read Stuart’s review of The Missing episode 3 here.

    Check out our must-read books for fans of The Missing and Baptiste here.

    Stuart Barr
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    The Missing episode 3 review

    Still catching up on The Missing episode 3? Read Stuart’s review of episode 2 here.

    The Missing episode 3 really began to turn up the heat.

    The investigation into the disappearance of the Hughes’ son Ollie escalates a hidden event in Tony’s past which negatively impacts upon Detective Baptiste’s efforts and undermines the previously solid state of his relationship with wife Emily. Seven years later, Tony’s attempts to contact his estranged wife bear fruit but the taste is bitter. Tony has previously raised her hopes over false leads and the emotional toll taken has been substantial.

    A key theme of this episode was to explore how a parent should deal with the unexplained disappearance of a child. Emily says to Tony that she does not have his ‘strength’ and is unable to join his relentless quest for revelation. She wants a life, she wants to grieve, heal, and move on. Tony is unable leave the past; he is tortured by not knowing Ollie’s fate and driven to follow this path no matter how dark the woods become.

    When the police discover Tony has a history of violence, they are duty bound to investigate the lead even if resources could be better directed elsewhere. Tony hospitalised a friend of his wife for a minor flirtation with her. With the assistance of his lawyer father-in-law, he paid off the man and the episode was kept hidden from Emily and out of the newspapers. The revelation gives Emily reason to question Tony’s actions on the night of Ollie’s abduction for the first time.

    The Missing episode 3

    The plot takes an unexpected turn when an undercover detective contacts Baptiste with information on a ‘package’ moving through the criminal underground. He has little more to offer, but is certain it is not drugs or weapons.

    This was the best episode yet, with the deliberate pacing of previous instalments paying dividends. We have had time with the characters, so when disturbing revelations about Tony hit he manages to retain our sympathies. However, a scene in which he tracks down and attacks a paedophile was still startling. As he chokes the pathetic young man, the camera focuses on Tony’s face. His fury may be righteous, it may even be justified – there is more going on than the police know – but that does not make it any less frightening to observe. Nesbitt continues to impress, channelling a darkness that lies within this character and allowing it to surface for the briefest of moments behind his eyes.

    Director Tom Shankland shows his experience in directing feature films with two great set pieces, a terrific car chase and a tense raid by armed police on an isolated rural warehouse. His background in the horror genre also shone through in a final image that was extremely disturbing and lingered uncomfortably as the credits rolled.

    With five episodes remaining there is much scope for further twists and many questions still to answer. Misgivings remain about the grimness of the subject matter. Child abduction and paedophile rings are topics from which the mind recoils. Will The Missing be able to continue to find a delicate balance between the gravity of its themes, which mirror very real and very depressing crimes, and the need to provide thrills and entertainment?

    Directed by Tom Shankland

    Cast: James Nesbitt, Frances O’Connor, Tchéky Karyo, Ken Stott, Titus De Voogdt, Arsher Ali

    Did you watch The Missing episode 3? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

    Read Stuart’s review of The Missing episode 4 here.

    Check out our must-read books for fans of The Missing and Baptiste here.

    Stuart Barr
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    The Missing episode 4 review

    Still catching up on The Missing episode 4? Read Stuart’s review of episode 3 here.

    Episode 3 with its car chase and its bloody murder deceived viewers: the pace was a feint, teasing revelations. The Missing Episode 4 plunged back into a fog of secrets and lies.

    In the present Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) and Inspector Julien Baptiste (Tchéky Karyo) finally uncover concrete evidence of Ollie’s abduction, but the identity of his abductors is as hidden as ever. In the past, the one solid suspect uncovered by the police investigation, sex offender Vincent Bourg (Titus De Voogdt), had an alibi removing him from the investigation. Five days after Ollie’s disappearance, Baptiste and his English liaison Mark Walsh (Jason Flemyng) privately express doubts the child will be found alive.

    This episode slowed the pace, adding colour to the characters – albeit only with shades of grey. We have already seen the effects of Tony’s obsession with the truth: his ruined relationships, his violent tendencies and his social alienation. In this episode his almost ‘blinkered’ viewpoint in fact supplies a narrowing of focus that allows Tony to uncover a tiny but crucial detail.

    Tony’s invasion of Bourg’s apartment in the previous episode appeared to net no useful knowledge. However, a chance exchange while buying a paper leads Tony to realise that Bourg had muttered a phrase in French meaning ‘I will say nothing’. The implication of this is not that he has no knowledge, but the opposite. Bourg knows something, but about another party. This revelation heightens Tony’s paranoia and leads him to question the motives of benefactor Ian Garrett (Ken Stott), something the audience knows is justified even if the reasons are not clear.

    The Missing episode 4

    As Tony becomes full of a terrible passion, his wife Emily (Frances O’Connor) suffers a distressing breakdown, revisiting the swimming pool where her son was last seen. Tony is elsewhere, consumed by his quest, and so she is comforted by Walsh whose concern is genuine. In the present we discover that Walsh’s apparently secure professional life has actually been compromised by his relationship with Emily, something he has been careful to hide from her.

    The sense of paranoia intensified throughout the episode, while motivations which seemed clear slipped back into shadow. While the Hughes’ grief and horror is never in any doubt there were many more questions to be answered by the close of episode 4 than at the beginning.

    As we reach the midpoint it is clear The Missing is embracing the luxury of an expansive eight episode canvas. Writers Harry and Jack Williams have approached their story like a novelist. A two hour film would need to cut to the chase but the writers and director Tom Shankland are able to lead their audience down the occasional blind alley or pick up and examine a previously inconsequential detail from an earlier episode. Viewers used to the relentless pace of an action series or the quick set-up and resolution offered by one-off show may be frustrating, but for fans of long-form crime fiction the approach is both familiar and refreshing.

    With another four episodes to go, a long and winding road lies ahead.

    Directed by Tom Shankland

    Cast: James Nesbitt, Frances O’Connor, Tchéky Karyo, Ken Stott, Titus De Voogdt, Jason Flemyng

    Did you watch The Missing episode 4? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

    Read Stuart’s review of The Missing episode 5 here.

    Check out our must-read books for fans of The Missing and Baptiste here.

    Stuart Barr
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    The Missing episode 5 review

    Still catching up on The Missing episode 5? Read Stuart’s review of episode 4 here.

    The Missing episode 5 may mark the point where the show stopped being merely good and become great. Leads that were developed in the first three episodes appeared to melt into thin air during last week’s instalment, leading to a disappointingly telegraphed twist. However, in episode 5 the fog of confusion surrounding the investigation of young Oliver Hughes’s disappearance was cleared by shattering developments.

    Across two timelines, one in the present and one in 2006, Rini Dalca (Anamaria Marinca) – the girlfriend of the undercover cop murdered in episode 3 – was key to developments. In 2006 Dalca was a junkie with a link to the trafficker Karl Sieg. In the present she has turned her life around and is now a school teacher, but detective Baptiste still believes she can lead him to crucial information. In both timeframes Dalca has been asked to enter a dangerous situation, and in the present the scars of the past are all too visible.

    As Baptiste oversees his 2006 investigation in Paris, Tony Hughes remains in Chalons Du Bois pursuing his own investigation. Tony is now convinced there is a link between apparent benefactor Ian Garrett and the paedophile Vincent Bourg. He also suspects Garrett may have been culpable in the disappearance of his daughter Molly.

    The Missing episode 5

    Series writers Harry and Jack Williams played some brilliantly devious games with the dual timelines and shifting points of view here. The eight episode scope has allowed them to seed seemingly insignificant plot points which are now blooming into surprising flowers – some of which have vicious thorns. Like True Detective, The Missing also benefits from a single director’s vision and Tom Shankland’s deceptively unobtrusive style foregrounds his actors’ performances.

    In this episode it was Anamaria Marninca and Ken Stott who shone bright, with Marninca playing a character who is initially trapped by addiction and circumstance into helping Baptiste’s investigation, later placing herself at risk once more due to the demands of her own conscience.

    Stott made the flesh crawl with his ability to move from genial to deeply sinister. Garrett’s police station confrontation with Hughes was electrifying. James Nesbitt played Tony like a caged wolf, while Stott in contrast was a mesmerising viper. Both circled the other looking for a moment of weakness to strike. Nesbitt has kept Tony sympathetic even as he travels further into the shadowlands and dark chasms open beneath his character.

    Initial worries that a series about child abduction, trafficking, and paedophilia could be tasteless or simply too harrowing to enjoy have been deftly evaded. This episode contained horrifying revelations, but they were kept wisely off-screen. The audience received all the information necessary by watching Tony’s face when he discovered a video camera containing taped evidence of unconscionable crimes.

    The Missing has played the long game, keeping its cards close to its chest – a gamble in these days of short attention spans and multiple screens in the living room. The stakes are high and the series is winning big so far, but with three episodes remaining the stakes will only get higher.

    Directed by Tom Shankland

    Cast: James Nesbitt, Frances O’Connor, Tchéky Karyo, Ken Stott, Titus De Voogdt, Anamaria Marinca, Diana Quick

    Did you watch The Missing episode 4? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

    Read Stuart’s review of The Missing episode 5 here.

    Check out our must-read books for fans of The Missing and Baptiste here.

    Stuart Barr
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    The Missing episode 6 review

    Spoilers below. Still catching up on The Missing episode 6? Read Stuart’s review of episode 5 here.

    The Missing episode 6 begins with Tony Hughes standing over Ian Garrett’s body. This is no frame. After discovering Garrett’s activities as an abuser, the distraught father smashed in his skull. Tony is then forced into a desperate attempt to cover up his crime. Of course, after Tony asked Baptiste to investigate Garrett, the disappearance of Garrett instantly raised suspicions. This investigation will carry through to the present and Baptiste does not forget a detail.

    Tony has no choice but to confess to his wife Emily after he traps her into providing an alibi. Emily Hughes now has to deal not only with the disappearance of her child, but with the realisation that the man she loves is capable of both violence and murder. This induces a serious breakdown and it is the English police officer Mark Walsh who pulls her back from a precipice – both literally and figuratively. Tony witnesses this and, with a great moment of wordless acting from James Nesbitt, he realises he has lost her.

    In the present the investigation focuses on Karl Sieg, a man who a witness placed near the house where Ollie Hughes was seen following his abduction. Baptiste tracks Sieg down in Paris, but Sieg demands a large amount of money before he will give up any information.

    Against Baptiste’s advice Tony approaches Emily to source the cash. It is a measure of his obsession that he coerces her into helping by sending her distressing video footage of Ollie and his faceless abductor. Tony appears genuinely oblivious to the callousness of this act, although it clearly shocks Baptiste.

    The Missing episode 6

    Again, a minor detail from an earlier episode becomes significant. While Sieg’s information is largely useless, he does give up an important lead almost as an afterthought. He observed the detective Khalid Ziane collecting evidence near the house in 2006. Ziane is now in prison – why we do not yet know, although it becomes clear during the episode – but Baptiste knows that no evidence was submitted. This could be a crucial clue.

    Even six episodes in, we are discovering more about these characters. We find out more about Baptiste’s tragic relationship with his drug-addicted daughter and how this affects the way in which he deals with the Garrett revelations. We see more evidence of the single-mindedness with which Tony pursues the truth, to the extent that he wilfully destroys close relationships. The odious journalist Malik Suri re-enters the story in this episode, and while we still do not know the details of the information he holds on Detective Ziane, we see how ruthlessly he will betray his sources once they have fulfilled his aims.

    Writers Harry and Jack Williams positioned characters and plot details like chess pieces in anticipation of an endgame. We still know shockingly little about Ollie’s disappearance and the identity and purpose of his abductors. Is this something we even want to know? The dilemma and horror of The Missing is that we have now come so far that we must find out the truth – yet the prospect that those answers could lead to a happy ending looks increasingly bleak.

    Directed by Tom Shankland

    Cast: James Nesbitt, Frances O’Connor, Tchéky Karyo, Saïd Taghmaoui, Johan Leysen, Arsher Ali, Jason Flemyng, Titus De Voogdt

    Did you watch The Missing episode 5? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

    Read Stuart’s review of The Missing episode 6 here.

    Check out our must-read books for fans of The Missing and Baptiste here.

    Stuart Barr
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    The Missing episode 7 review

    Spoilers below. Still catching up on The Missing episode 7? Read Stuart’s review of episode 6 here.

    Episode 6 of The Missing closed the 2006 storyline with Tony and Emily Hughes leaving the town of Chalons Du Bois. The investigation into the disappearance of their son Ollie had run out of leads, and chief investigator Julien Baptiste had been hospitalised following an attack by fellow policeman Khalid Ziane.

    Ziane used to have a different identity, complete with a criminal record. In 2006, Ziane’s past was discovered by the reporter Malik Suri and used to blackmail him into becoming a source. Once the detective had served the journalist’s purposes and given him crucial evidence, Suri threatened to expose him, sending anonymous details to Baptiste. This caused Ziane’s desperate attack on his superior.

    In episode 7 the story moves forward to 2009. Alex Duchamps – a 6 year old – is snatched in broad daylight from a Chalons Du Bois car park. No one sees anything. Tony is convinced that the case is connected, and although Emily is less sure, both pack their bags.

    In the present Baptiste and the now divorced Tony and Emily are trying to track down vital evidence stolen by Ziane in 2006. Now in prison, the former policeman refuses to answer questions unless Baptiste can convince his son to visit him. Suri re-enters the story, and following an interview with the paedophile Vincent Bourg he now suspects that Tony has murdered Ian Garrett and uses this to blackmail him for an interview.

    The Missing episode 7

    This ingenious story from writers Harry and Jack Williams is maintaining its grip into the final episode. While the identity of Ollie Hughes’s abductors still remains obscured, some viewers will be feeling their suspicions growing, especially when the final moments of episode 7 tantalisingly suggest Tony has figured it out. It has become increasingly clear that The Missing requires careful viewing, hiding cues and clues in the background while directing the viewer’s attention elsewhere.

    The thread that links the adult players in this story concerns children and their absence. This can be seen in different ways, though most obviously with Tony and Emily Hughes who have literally lost their son. Baptiste’s actions are coloured by his tragic relationship with his drug-addicted daughter. The English policeman Mark Walsh tries to maintain a normal father/son relationship while separated from his child’s mother, something that is stressful even in an amicable divorce. Ian Garrett hid the truth about his missing daughter, and that revelation caused his death. Vincent Bourg tries to escape his sick sexual impulses towards children with medication. Even the odious journalist Malik Suri is revealed to have a son with cystic fibrosis, and has to deal with the terrible effects of chronic illness. The fear and knowledge of his son’s condition add some colour to his motivations, even if they do not excuse his actions. “I’m not a bad man; I’ve just made bad decisions” states Malik, though even he does not sound convinced.

    Much is left to be revealed in the final episode. Having come this far, we feel we have to find out the answer to the mystery, though this will certainly be something we approach with dread.

    Directed by Tom Shankland

    Cast: James Nesbitt, Frances O’Connor, Tchéky Karyo, Saïd Taghmaoui, Arsher Ali, Jason Flemyng, Titus De Voogdt, Anjli Mohindra

    Did you watch The Missing episode 7? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

    Read Stuart’s review of The Missing episode 7 here.

    Check out our must-read books for fans of The Missing and Baptiste here.

    Stuart Barr
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    The Missing episode 8 review

    Spoilers below. Still catching up on The Missing episode 8? Read Stuart’s review of episode 7 here.

    Opening in Russia with a group of children menaced by a mysterious figure, the finale of The Missing series one finally brought revelation but with one last chilling twist. The opening betrayed director Tom Shankland’s horror film background (he directed the films WΔZ and The Children) and the implications of the finger drawing of a stick figure slowly melting on frosted glass would linger throughout the following hour of drama, offering the promise of the resolution sought by Tony Hughes.

    While the series has woven together two timeframes each informing the other, here for the first time a traditional flashback was used. Episode 7 concluded with the discovery of vital evidence – a sobriety coin found near the spot where Ollie disappeared. Only Tony recognised its significance: it placed Alain Deloix (Jean-François Wolff) at the scene. This led to a deathbed confession. The solution to the mystery was tragic and random, an accident that was subsequently covered up by Deloix’s brother, the town mayor (Eric Godon, a performance of lower case ‘e’ evil).

    Vincent Bourg was not involved, despite being perhaps The Missing’s most contentious element. The portrayal of Bourg was an attempt to humanise and understand a paedophile, recognising the possibility that their impulses could be classed as an affliction. Bourg’s story was a sad one. The character acknowledged his deviance and sought treatment – first from science, and then from faith. Neither brought him peace. In his final moments, we were made to linger on the fact that he was someone’s child once too. At the same time his character contrasted with the truly vile Ian Garrett, a reminder (as if one was needed) that sexual predators do exist and use social status and wealth as a shield.

    The Missing episode 8

    The Missing dealt with difficult subject matter with taste: the truth behind Ollie’s disappearance moved away from the sort of abduction narrative that has become a staple modern horror story, but also exposed the terrible power it has over the imagination.

    James Nesbitt has been outstanding throughout, and in this episode he hit new highs – or depths – of pain and anguish. The contrast between the carefree, loving father we see in the flashback to before Ollie’s disappearance and the wraithlike ghost he has become is extreme.

    As Emily Hughes, Francis O’Connor has been no less impressive. A moving speech delivered by Emily on the occasion of her re-marriage was a magnificent example of acting and also showed how surviving the trauma of losing a child need not be betrayal of their memory. This was something Tony could not do; his quest is ultimately not one for truth, but a flight from it, fixated as he was on a particular scenario he needed to be true.

    After seven episodes filled with clues and suspense, the audience will have been approaching this final episode of the first series (a second has been confirmed) with a mix of expectation, trepidation, and anxiety. Such fears proved unfounded, and the story reached a satisfying albeit chilling conclusion.

    The Missing episode 8

    Directed by Tom Shankland

    Cast: James Nesbitt, Frances O’Connor, Tchéky Karyo, Jason Flemyng, Titus De Voogdt, Eric Godon, Jean-François Wolff, Astrid Whettnall

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