The Missing – if you feel cheated, they got it right

*** NB Spoilers ahead! ***

After eight episodes of The Missing, there was no Hollywood ending. Many of you found it something of a let down after a gripping series drawing us deeper and deeper into the hopes and fears of young Olly’s parents, Tony and Emily Hughes.

The final episode bounced around tying up loose ends, except the most important one. In some ways it fell short of the high standards set in earlier episodes. But I believe the final scene closed the series in a way that was clever and close to perfect.

Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) has spent eight years trying to find out what happened to his son Olly, who disappeared after straying away from his Dad at a bar in northern France. Tony will not let go of his mission.

Olly’s Mum Emily (Frances O’Connor) has spent eight years trying to move on and rebuild her life. Ultimately, her marriage to Tony cannot survive the trauma, and she grows closer to the police liaison officer who handled their case.

The series leads us through a number of red herrings with regard to the investigation. A central theme is paedophilia. Our working assumption is that Olly was a victim of a paedophile. In the end, we learn he was instead a victim of a drunk-driver. The accident doesn’t kill him, but his fate is sealed as various characters seek to avoid the consequences of their actions.

Within a short time, he is murdered by a fixer.

Or is he?

Tony Hughes searches frantically for years

Tony Hughes searches frantically for years

The final episode centres on the hospital-bed confession of the driver, Alain Deloix, who crashed into Olly eight years earlier. He confirms that Olly was killed.

But there is no body, and it is clear that M. Deloix witnessed neither the killing nor the body. His evidence is sincere, but second-hand.

Having heard the confession, we are only half-way through the episode. The story has half an hour still to run. So it seems we have reason to remain hopeful, especially given the intriguing Moscow vignette that opens the show – and which implies that Olly is still alive.

The wise French detective Julien Baptiste encourages to Tony to “start trying to live your life.”

“The painful truth is what happened to your boy is perhaps the best you could have hoped for. Rather he died than end up in the hands of a man such as [paedophile] Ian Garrett, or that he became one of those poor children kept captive away from sunlight and human contact in someone’s prison of a basement for their whole lives. You wish he were alive. But what kind of life is that?”

As the episode progresses, it is clear that Emily continues to find it easier than Tony to move on. She marries her new partner, with her ex-husband among the guests. She is ‘relieved’ to learn the truth about Olly’s fate.

But with no body, Tony cannot accept the narrative.

In the final scene we are back in Moscow (probably a year on), where a bearded and disheveled Tony at last finds his son(?) in a public housing block. We’re spared the details of what brings Tony here; suffice to say he never stopped looking.

At this point the Russian police arrive to drag him away, literally kicking and screaming, for harassing too many boys. This one gives nothing away. There appears to be no recognition of his ‘father’ – through the beard – but his reaction is suitably ambiguous and leaves open the possibility Tony was right.

We are left without closure, and for that reason many viewers seem frustrated or disappointed.

But this is life – or death – and there are no easy answers. No simple conclusions. That’s how it is for Tony, and that’s how it is for Gerry and Kate McCann, seven years on from the disappearance of their young daughter Madeleine. For Emily it is different. She has a conclusion she can live with, however painful it might be.

The Missing is a challenging tale of humanity in all its breadth and depth. There is weakness to be found in the powerful, power to be found in the weak, a deeply flawed hero and even a struggling paedophile (Vincent Bourg) with whom we might be able to sympathise. Unlike Tony, Vincent finds his own closure in the final minutes of the series.

The quality of storytelling and acting was excellent. All three main characters, and plenty of the others, hit their mark convincingly.

And what about the fate of Olly?

My conclusion is simply this: he is neither alive nor dead. He is, if you like, Schrodinger’s Boy.

There could have been no happy ending to this story. To find Olly alive or dead would have been difficult either way. We must decide if we are an Emily or a Tony. We know what they know, but it took them both to very different conclusions.

So then – what about me? Am I Emily or Tony? It helps to acknowledge this is a work of fiction. Oliver Hughes is not real. This allows me to be Emily. I can move on. But if this saga was real? If my son Caleb was missing? Then I would be Tony. Lacking total clarity about my son’s fate, I could never let go. And like Tony, it would destroy me.

In a way, that final scene says more about Tony than about Olly.

But if you feel cheated in some way, the ending was perfect. Welcome to Tony’s world.

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13 thoughts on “The Missing – if you feel cheated, they got it right

  1. Totally agree with this assessment. I suppose by this point I should know better, but what is it with the naysayers and their disappointment? This was masterpiece of writing, direction, cinematography, and of course acting, from start to end. Simple minds seeking simple plots really ought to stick with CSI: Midsomer.

    However, one unanswered question, and one curiously without discussion online: What were the Russian lines spoken by the boy at the end? There were two lines, the first as he opens the apartment door, the second as we see the police arrive in the distance. These were deliberately not subtitled, clearly intended to leave the audience rattled. Mission accomplished and bravo. But still, what did the boy say?

    • My Russian adviser says:
      The boy says “Hello! How can I help you?” – a bit artificial in Russian for a boy of this age, and too formal.
      And then he says “Listen, I don’t understand”.

      I think it holds less intrigue that we might have hoped for, and to me confirms the final scene is more about Tony than about Olly.

      • Definitely more about Tony either way. Leaving the lines untranslated, though, was another clever manipulation to sow just that much more uncertainty in our minds. Thanks for the перевод…

  2. How can I help you? Listen I don’t understand. I’d hoped the boy had said something more. I’d also been expecting Tony to see the child drawing on frost on a window.
    There could have been two men going round Towns / Parks in Russia. Tony and a second. Where they both looking for the same person/thing?

      • Nor, if we’re honest, that it was a car window rather than an apartment window. Only after the fact, going back to watch that sequence again, did I realize that the original shot makes it clear. In my mind, leading up to the end of the episode, I’d assumed that it was a building window of some kind, maybe a ground floor or basement flat. Once again, superb storytelling at work. Hitchcock would have been proud.

  3. I thought the second thing ‘Oliver’ said when he looked at the drawing was ‘I don’t remember’ (but admittedly I only know a little Russian). That would certainly lead to the conclusion that Tony was right when he said ‘My son. I’ve found you’. Can any native Russian speakers confirm/deny??

  4. About the last segment – for me it wasn’t a sense of being cheated, but rather I was angry that I was now back in a place of unhappiness with Tony.

    Here is a question – How was the Alan’s coin recovered. Yes, I know, a simply act of lifting the drain cover. But why would anyone have done so AFTER Oliver had been removed from Alan’s car by the the Town’s mayor and driven off to the ‘safe’ house.

    No one except Alan, and the Mayor would have any knowledge of what happened, Along with Oliver. But Alan would have been the only one to know about the coin falling into the storm drain.

    This puzzled me.

      • The cop was being blackmailed by the reporter, who threatened to expose him for something that I don’t think was ever made clear. Accordingly the cop was attempting to get the reporter off of his back for good by giving him the evidence, the significance of which neither understood.

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