Baptiste series 2 review: Our favourite French detective makes a triumphant return
Baptiste ups the ante for series two, with Fiona Shaw co-starring alongside Tchéky Karyo in this detailed examination of personal tragedy.
Here in the UK, drama lovers have always had an affinity for French detective-types, from Jules Maigret and Inspector Clouseau, to the more recent Assane Diop (who may not be an investigator, but gives off major Sherlock Holmes energy in Netflix's Lupin). Arguably one of the best examples, however, has to be Julien Baptiste – The Missing's private detective whose gallic temperament and stubborn commitment to crime-solving proved so popular, he was given his own spin-off series.
After two years away from our screens, Tchéky Karyo is back as the grizzled detective in the long-awaited second series of Baptiste. The BBC One crime drama made its dark, slow-burning debut in 2019, with Julien travelling across the Netherlands in search of a seemingly missing sex worker. Now he's swapping Amsterdam's red light district for the woody mountains of Hungary for his next case.
Introducing a new cast of supporting characters, Baptiste kicks off series two by diving straight into the life of Emma Chambers, the latest Brit in need of the titular detective's help. Played by the wonderfully understated Fiona Shaw (Killing Eve, Fleabag), we meet British Ambassador Emma Chambers while she's on holiday with her keen bird watcher husband (Adrian Rawlins) and two teenage sons in the Hungarian mountains.
The quartet initially seems like your typical, perfectly happy family unit, but cracks soon begin to show, with Emma and her husband arguing over her workaholic tendencies at dinner, after Emma tells a fellow guest that her phone-obsessed son Will (Conrad Khan) isn't just your usual anti-social teen – he's been permanently mute for the past two years.
Waking up the next day to find her husband and kids mysteriously missing from their hotel rooms, panic begins to set in. Emma struggles to get in touch with her family and the usually calm diplomat finally breaks down when she realises that the one method of communication Will has – his mobile – has been left on his bedside table.
Enter Julien Baptiste – the man who makes it his mission to find the missing, although he's in a very different mental (and physical) place to when we last saw him. After learning he had a secret son (who went on to murder his own mother) in the series one finale, Baptiste is now staying in a dilapidated hotel room and ignoring messages from his worried wife Celia (Anastasia Hille), when he spots Emma's case in the news and offers his services for free. "I find people Mrs Chambers, I've done this all my life," he explains before proceeding to show up the actual officers assigned to the case in typical Baptiste fashion.
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As demonstrated in series one, Baptiste's writers Jack and Harry Williams have an impressive knack for drawing in an audience with intriguing yet vague story set-ups. From teasing Emma Chambers' previous family tragedy with unexplained dialogue like "she would have loved this" and a curt reply of "you know why" when her husband points out they haven't been on holiday in three years, to Baptiste's almost compulsive desire to distract himself with work, the creative brothers have woven subtle details throughout that'll leave viewers desperately wanting answers within the first 15 minutes.
Series two steps the drama up a notch by switching between two different timelines: the start of Emma's case and 14 months afterwards. While neither Emma nor Baptiste are in the best of places when they first meet, it's soon revealed that their lives take a much steeper turn for the worse over the next year, with a dishevelled-looking Julien arrested for drunken behaviour before being served divorce papers by his wife, and a gaunt Emma seen using a wheelchair while continuing the search for her family alone.
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The show's two timelines give the detective drama a fresh, exciting face-lift, letting viewers slowly piece together the gripping events of the case, while uncovering the recent personal tragedies suffered by both Baptiste and Emma prior to the Chambers family's disappearance. Karyo and Shaw's dynamic as two individuals who distract from their intense emotional pain with constant work is simply outstanding, with the pair's chemistry and Shaw's heart-breaking performance definite highlights of the show.
As for the stars who round out the cast, Line of Duty's Ace Bhatti plays Emma's protective colleague Nadeem, who initially resists Baptiste's input, while Dorka Gryllus stars as Zsofia Arslan, the Hungarian officer in charge of the case, who tries to get rid of Baptiste at every available opportunity. Meanwhile, Rhashan Stone, Michelle Duncan and Anita Adam Gabay play hotel guests and workers who, in typical murder mystery fashion, are incredibly uncooperative and agitated when questioned by Baptiste.
Bolstered by a strong cast, a compelling set-up and various twists and turns throughout, Baptiste's second outing doesn't disappoint. Indeed it doesn't take a detective to work out that series two is definitely worth a watch.