“Six… Cinq… Quatre… Trois…” Detective Julien Baptiste counts down the closing moments of eight extraordinary hours of television. He lies on the operating table, eyes drifting, anaesthetic coursing through his veins. Then… blackness.
The Missing has ended – with one final question. Will Julien survive?
It will infuriate some people, not least the viewers who say that they cannot imagine The Missing series three without the selfless detective. Will there be another case to solve? Will the operation be successful? Will he see his wife again, “à tout de suite”, just as he promised?
But anyone hoping for an easy end after so many pulsating climaxes is watching the wrong show. The Missing doesn’t do cosy, satisfying, happy ‘endings’. The Missing does cliffhangers, week after week, shocking and scaring and teasing and tormenting us with revelations right at the death, just when we think we know what’s going on.
The Missing has revived the art of the cliffhanger.
What’s surprising about this climactic craft is how rare it has become. On-demand TV – the endless hours of Netflix bingewatching – doesn’t care about old-school things like hourly instalments and finishing in time for the news.
At its best, that gives writers the freedom to tell the story they want at their own pace. At its worst, it makes for flaccid plots and flabby series, stories cruising along with no real need to change gear. When everything is made for an all-night TV marathon, all concept of time – and timing – goes out the window.
It can be beguiling. It can also be soporific.
There was never any chance of drifting off in The Missing. Every week, tight plots worked towards a final climax, a sucker punch that left us winded for half an hour afterwards. Remember the drill scene? Remember how you felt after hearing the power tool’s whirr and watching the screen cut to black? That’s what cliff-edge storytelling feels like.
And guess what? It works best week by week. Climaxes become clichéd if you watch them back to back. They need time to ferment – and time to frustrate. Because that’s part of the fun, too, working you into a frenzy waiting for the next instalment.
Which brings up back to the final scene of series two. Even in the series finale, writers Harry and Jack Williams couldn’t resist one last cliffhanger. This is the last episode, meant to wind up loose ends and deliver closure. Instead, Julien is left waiting for the operation that might or might not save his life… the perfect ellipsis.
The Missing thrives on the questions it chooses not to answer. How else do you think the series managed to reveal ‘whodunnit’ in episode five and yet still keep audiences coming back? One conclusion simply sparks more questions.
Julien’s fate is the final unsolved mystery, the last open end after each character’s tale was told. Sam Webster’s ‘ending’ was cruel, yet oddly heartening, his body laid to rest with his reunited family gathered round. He had lived just long enough to see his daughter Alice alive again – but The Missing only had room for one miraculous resurrection.
They all had their endings; rarely did they have closure. Gemma, Alice and Matthew’s story will go on. Innocent Kristian Herz has his freedom, but not, it seems, his wife – when he emerged from prison, he walked away from Nadia without a word.
What about Eve, knowing what she does about her father? What about Adrian Stone himself? Is his memory genuinely gone, or is he trying desperately to hide from a past he can never really forget?
Adam Gettrick was arrested and interrogated, but even then he did not provide all the answers.
“How many other girls were there, Mr Gettrick?” Julien asks.
“What makes you think there were any more?” Adam replies.
“A feeling. A feeling I wish I didn’t have.”
Another question. Another disturbing cliffhanger.
The Missing doesn’t need to answer all these questions. This is a series that has timed its endings to perfection week after week. Isn’t that “closure” enough?
“Six, cinq, quartre, trois…” The Missing ended, as it always has done, right on cue.