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Baptiste - First episode review

Baptiste

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 ot of 5

FIRST off, I have to confess to never having seen an episode of The Missing, the two-series BBC thriller that kept audiences guessing several years ago. It means that one of that show’s central characters, Tchéky Karyo’s Julien Baptiste, is a newcomer to me.

But having wiped the slate clean and promoted its main character to leading man status, Harry and Jack Williams now have the chance to appeal to newcomers, while rewarding those already hooked with a new case to chew on. Thus far, the results are gripping indeed.

The story picks up as a young sex worker (Anna Prochniak) has gone missing from Amsterdam’s red light district, leaving her panic-prone uncle, Edward Stratton (Tom Hollander) desperately trying to find her. He subsequently enlists the help of Baptiste, whose instincts for finding missing people may have been diminished by the brain tumour he suffered during The Missing‘s second run, but who still remains Stratton’s best bet for a successful resolution.

It quickly becomes clear, however, that the path to finding Stratton’s niece isn’t going to be easy. She’s been taken by a Romanian criminal gang, headed by Alec Secareanu’s sinister Constantin.

We know Constantin isn’t someone to be trifled with. In the opening scene, for instance, he unveils himself in suitably dark fashion, posing as a meter reader to gain access to the home of an elderly man, only to suffocate him to death and then remove his head with a chainsaw.

His next scene is no less violent, as he lays into a pimp with a pool hall ball. And if that weren’t enough, he trails Baptiste’s wife and grandchild in a supermarket, desperate to get some kind of read on the man now assigned to finding him.

Secareanu may be a one dimensional villain at this stage, but his presence is such that he strikes fear whenever on-screen. It’s a case of an actor doing a lot with very little at this stage, although one suspects there is more to come from him.

But then the Williams co-writers are past masters at keeping you guessing and, just as the first episode seemed to be settling into its groove, they dropped in a doozy of a last-act twist.

Hollander, whose Stratton seemed plausible enough as a concerned uncle, was suddenly revealed to be someone other than the man he claims to be. What’s more, he has the severed head of the old man from the opening scene in his basement. It was a neat twist, designed to demand you tune back in for the second episode.

Hollander is, of course, superb. The actor is no stranger to being part of the BBC’s Sunday night audience grabbers, having been an integral and highly memorable part of The Night Manager. Here, he imbues Stratton with a wonderful ambiguity that makes it impossible to know his agenda, especially in light of that final scene. Initially sympathetic, he now could just as easily become an even more potent villain… and a worthy mental opponent for Baptiste.

Baptiste, himself, continues to be played with quiet relish by Karyo. While confessing to not being the man he used to be, Karyo nevertheless invests his wily detective with an instinctive intelligence that enables him to read people and situations better than most.

He’s sympathetic when he needs to be, compassionate as a doting if bumbling grandfather and husband, yet frank and astute at others. He is an enigmatic central presence.

Thus, while certainly occupying some seedy territory, given its sex trafficking backdrop and red light locations, Baptiste remains grimly compulsive viewing – driven by an intelligent and twisting script, as well as a trio of excellent performances.

The BBC would appear to have hit upon yet another winning formula to ensure that the coveted 9pm Sunday night slot is the UK’s primary destination once again.