The premiere of The Missing begins on a rainy day in Châlons Du Bois, a sad looking little town in Northern France. It is 2014. Our protagonist, Tony Hughes sits at a table by himself, looking as miserable as the weather outside. He’s eyeing a family with young children at a nearby table—and, to actor James Nesbitt’s great credit, he manages to pull this off without triggering your “child predator” alert; he plays wistful, not menacing. Tony hones in on a young boy in particular and asks him how old he is. “Sorry, I have a son his age,” he tells the mother. But, of course, this show is called The Missing, and we know that must not be true.
The next scene has Tony sitting in a room by himself at Hotel L’Eden—again, credit to Nesbitt for averting what could easily be an ominous prelude-to-a-kidnapping scene—and leaving a voicemail for a woman close enough to him that he begins the message with, “It’s me,” but not close that they’ve been in touch recently (“I hope you’re well. I heard the news.”) Then, “I came back. Same room, everything… I’ve found something.” Something very bad happened in this room.
The show switches to its second timeline—eight years ago unfolding simultaneously throughout the episode in alternation with the present (an incredibly popular TV trend, see: The Affair, True Detective, How to Get Away With Murder). So the gray shroud lifts and we return to a sunnier, happier time in 2006. Tony is merrily road-tripping across the French countryside with his wife Emily (beautiful) and his son Oliver (adorable). Tony gets a work call, which he pulls over to answer, earning him a scowl from Emily (Frances O’Connor). When they’re ready to hit the road again, the car won’t start. And because we’re wanting for this “missing” event to happen, you can’t help but think this could be where the bad thing happens. Horror movie have primed us to expect a car broken down on the side of the road in the country to lead to trouble… But alas, no.
A local mechanic informs the Hughes that their car is, pardon my French, f—ed for at least a few days, so they check into Hotel L’Eden in Châlons Du Bois—but this time, the town looks charming and the hotel looks warm and welcoming, rather than drab and depressing as they appear eight years later. Like any little kid who gets to stay in a hotel, Ollie is psyched, jumping on the bed and laughing. Even though many shows are using the double timeline, but The Missing does it effectively—the happier and more carefree the Hughes family is in each scene from the past, the greater sense of dread you feel. When will whatever bad thing happened happen?
NEXT: The main event