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The really clever thing about #The Missing

Lonely young woman on top of a cliff at night

As I settled down last night to watch the penultimate episode of BBC1 drama, The Missing, I immediately noticed that something was different. I was not gripped with the usual gut-wrenching tension that anticipating this series normally engenders in me. Instead, I was actually quite relaxed, ready to enjoy a really good piece of entertainment. As I realised this, I was suddenly brought up short. I shouldn’t be enjoying it. Had I forgotten the horror and the upset of those early episodes, when Oli Hughes was first taken? How could I possible be enjoying the programme – it was wrong, wasn’t it?

Then I got it. That is what this brilliant series is all about. The terrible journey that Tony and Emily Hughes are forced to endure after their son is abducted in a non-descript French town. Time moves on for the couple, eight years has passed. And so for us viewers, time has moved on too. As we watch episode 7, we don’t feel the raw anguish that we experienced in episodes 1 and 2. The writers and actors have made us take that journey along with the parents. In last night’s episode, when back in Chalons Du Bois in 2009 after another young boy had been snatched and subsequently found, Emily challenged her husband’s self-imposed martyrdom. She told him that they were allowed to smile, to enjoy life occasionally – that this didn’t make them bad people. Tony clearly disagreed. His whole existence was placed on hold when his son went missing in 2006.He’d denied himself any joy since.

But then, in the present day, as Emily, Tony and Julien pull together to find out what happened to Oliver, we see Tony start to soften and perhaps even to begin to forgive himself and those around him. This gradual transformation is brilliantly played by both James Nesbitt and Francis O’Connor.

I think I have a good idea now of who took Oliver, or certainly the individual who was central to it. If you’ve followed from the very start then I’m sure you have too. But at this stage, the fate of Oliver is mattering less, which would have seemed unbelievable back at the very beginning. It has begun to become a story about the lives of those left behind. When we find out what did happen to Oliver, it will provide us with the answers that we so desperately crave. But then, after we’ve been told the truth, life will have to go on, for all of the protagonists. That terrifying prospect is really what Tony and Emily will have to prepare for.

And life will continue for all of us, without this superior drama, which has intertwined a gripping crime mystery with a complex tale of love and loss; exploring the terrible uncertainties that life can throw at us. In the end, it is the latter which will stay with me, something that I would never have predicted back at the very start. I think that is probably the cleverist thing about this excellent series.

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