Starz’s new eight-episode miniseries “The Missing,” produced by BBC One, opens with Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt, “The Hobbit”) in a French pub as he stares at a young teenager. He proceeds to ask the kid how old he is. “Thirteen,” the boy says. The boy’s mother looks back with apprehension. “I’m sorry, I have a son his age,” Tony tries to reassure her.
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However, Tony’s son Oliver (newcomer Oliver Hunt) has been missing for eight years, and a puzzle bridging the past and present begins to unfold. Alternating between the initial disappearance of Oliver eight years prior and Tony’s renewed search in 2014, “The Missing” lays its pieces expertly in its premiere episode “Eden.”
Visually, “The Missing” immediately captures the dynamic between flashbacks and the present. The past is rendered in bright colors, a vibrant life for Tony, his wife Emily (Frances O’Conner, “A.I.”) and Oliver. As soon as Oliver goes missing, this ideal vision gives way to darker tones. The present, with muted colors, seems sapped of life and happiness for any of the characters. The welcoming French town of Chalons du Bois becomes an isolating place for the characters that return to it.
Nesbitt is fantastic as a man grasping for straws in his search for a needle in a haystack. Nesbitt’s joy in the opening flashbacks gives way to panic then transforms to quiet desperation in the present day. His situation is described by retired French detective Julien Baptiste (Tchéky Karyo, “The Patriot”), “Tony is in Chalons du Bois because there he can believe that his son is not gone — that somewhere he is now 13 years old and playing football and starting to think about girls.” As he wanders through the French town, Tony is a small, lost man dwarfed by the mystery around him and overwhelmed by the fanatical belief that his son is still alive.
While Tony holds onto the past, others try to move forward. Emily seems to have started a new life with Mark Walsh (Jason Flemyng, “X-Men: First Class”). However, Oliver’s specter is a shadow over her and its hold on her is worsened as she becomes aware of Tony’s search. Although Julien discourages Tony from going any further when he says, “This isn’t good for you,” he slowly finds himself climbing down the rabbit hole again. Tony’s obsession is a black hole that draws others in no matter how much they try and escape it.
Written by Harry and Jack Williams (“Roman’s Empire”), “The Missing” skillfully handles its interlocking past and present. The mystery around Tony’s search begs the question “What will happen?” as Tony is joined by Julien to follow the one lead he has. Meanwhile, the state of the characters in the present asks, “What happened?” Both questions are equally enticing, and the secret of Oliver’s fate serves as the focal point — but just as intriguing are the reasons for Tony and Emily’s separation and the origin of Julien’s limp. “The Missing” drops hints in the present around the initial investigation eight years ago that naturally lead to curiosity about what went wrong, while events and details from the past echo hauntingly in the present.
The title “Eden” captures the sanctuary of happiness for Tony’s family in the past that is ripped away suddenly. While in the present, the new gardens that people have made are in danger of being torn down by Tony’s temptation to find the truth. “The Missing” is a visually and cerebrally engrossing series whose answers may destroy any semblance of safety left for the characters’ past and present.