There is no more dogged detective on television than the French child-abduction investigator Julien Baptiste. In “The Missing,” a drama that begins its second season on Sunday on Starz, he has the patience of Job and then some. Distressed parents don’t trust him; jealous cops won’t cooperate with him; and his wife won’t stop complaining about his long absences, but he just keeps working.
There’s also no detective more pesky and self-righteous. Baptiste’s modus operandi in the series is to show up far from home — Belgium in Season 1, Germany in Season 2 — and insinuate himself into someone else’s case, because he just cares so much (and he has more experience finding missing children). As played by Tcheky Karyo (“La Femme Nikita”), Baptiste has a Gallic world-weariness and certitude that take on epic, almost comic dimensions.
Almost comic, but not quite. That’s because “The Missing,” a BBC production, is one of the bleakest, most wintry shows around. An anthology series tied together by the Baptiste character, it focuses each season on a British couple who lose or have lost a child on the European continent. The British parents are in extremis, devastated and desperate in an alien environment, and frustrated by sympathetic but brusque law enforcement personnel. It could be used as a promotional tool for Brexit.
In Season 1 the show’s creators and writers, the brothers Harry and Jack Williams, used that template to fashion a fairly absorbing thriller with Nordic-noir inflections. Mr. Karyo played second fiddle to the British actor James Nesbitt, who gave a raw, quirky performance as a father whose son disappeared while they were in a crowd, watching a soccer match. The guilt-ridden father’s obsessive quest, over many years, to find his son was balanced against Baptiste’s methodical police work in a story that succeeded in both emotional and procedural terms, and declined to offer any gratuitously uplifting resolutions.
Season 2 (again eight episodes) puts Baptiste, now retired, in the center of the story, fighting his own demons and impending mortality as he joins the case of a missing girl who appears to have returned after 11 years. Her father is a British soldier based in Germany, and the story takes Baptiste on an ill-conceived detour into a Middle East battle zone in search of answers to the overly complicated, minimally credible conspiracy that underlies the plot.
Even with accomplished performers like David Morrissey and Keeley Hawes as the parents, Season 2 is the lesser in just about every way. It perks to life at the end, though, when the action settles into a cross-border manhunt that recaptures some of the eerie, hinterlands quality that made the first season distinctive. And Mr. Karyo’s indomitable Baptiste, shrugging in the face of indifference and opposition, should still appeal to any Philip Marlowe fans out there. You have to take your Bogart-style gumshoes where you can find them, even if they’re 21st-century French approximations.
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