The chilling season finale of The Missing is sure to polarize viewers with its out of left field resolution to the disappearance of Oliver Hughes.

By Carolyn Todd
Updated January 11, 2015 at 03:02 AM EST
Credit: Jules Heath
  • Movie

I can’t decide whether the finale of The Missing is one of the best or worst hours of television I’ve ever seen. No, I didn’t guess right—I’m going to go ahead and say nobody did. But let’s dive right into what happened (and what didn’t happen, ahem) so I can get to my schizophrenically dithering reactions on it all—and give the series as a whole a proper sendoff. So, let’s break it down here…

The opening: Like many episodes before it, this one opens with an eerie scene, the significance of which we don’t understand until later. We’re looking on a mysterious man harassing young boys on a snow-covered playground somewhere in Russia. Then, a spine-chilling image: the big-eared stick figure we’ve come to know so well etched on someone’s frosty car window—a sure sign of Oliver Hughes. Could he have gotten trafficked by that Romanian gang and somehow ended up in Russia?

The setup: Following the piece of evidence they discovered last week—a bloodied 12 years of sobriety coin—Tony, Emily, Baptiste, Mark, and Laurence zero in on Alain Deloix, the husband of Hotel L’Eden innkeeper Sylvie. And, sure enough, they discover that only one of Alain’s 20 sobriety coins is missing: year 12. They go to his hospital room—where Alain is dying of cancer—to get the truth. Lying there, struggling to breathe, and wincing in pain, Alain won’t say a word—until Emily’s impassioned pleas crack his silence. He begins his story, and the timeline shifts to 2006: An omniscient flashback of what happened the day that Ollie disappeared.

The truth about what happened to Ollie: Tony leaves the hotel for the pool, and Ollie drops his yellow scarf on the way out. Alain decided to bring it to him in case he gets cold, ostensibly. But it becomes clear that this is just an excuse to escape from his wife, Sylvie, and hit the bar—meaning he isn’t clean and sober after all. The bartender asks if he wants “the regular,” making it clear that Mr. 20-years-dry does this often. He proceeds to get loaded while watching the soccer game, then gets behind the wheel.

Meanwhile, Tony and Ollie are about to leave the pool when they stop at the poolside bar to catch the action. This is it: the critical mystery moment when Ollie disappears. Ollie sees a fox—his favorite animal, as we’ve been reminded in the past—and follows it, out of the pool complex, through the patch of woods and onto the stretch of road that Alain is barreling down. Alain’s car slams into Ollie. He can’t detect a pulse or breath. (The occasional flash-forwards of Tony and Emily hearing the horrible details of the truth are heartrending. Yet we know Ollie can’t be dead yet, because of that drawing in the basement, and the footage of him at the window of the house.) Alain takes his cell phone out of his pocket—dropping the incriminating sobriety coin in the process—and dials for help. But when the emergency operator picks up, Alain goes silent. He can’t report the incident Ollie without incriminating himself. He hears Tony calling for Ollie and panics. Alain cries as he picks up Ollie’s limp little body and puts him in the trunk. He calls someone else to help him.

NEXT: A familiar face helps Alain cover up the crime

That person turns out to be Georges Deloix, the future mayor of Chalons du Bois, who is currently a judge—and, as it turns out, Alain’s brother. (Should’ve seen that coming. He’s been too keen to shut down the investigation, plus he always looked like the epitomic cartoon French villain, didn’t he?) Georges is ready to let him rot in jail, but then changes his mind—because if family isn’t for helping you get away with murder, then what good is it? Georges knows of a currently vacated house and cashes in on couple of favors, ultimately leaving Ollie in that basement with a greasy Romanian, charged with getting rid of the body. Problem: When the Romanian opens up the trunk, it’s empty. Yes!

Ollie made his way upstairs, but can’t open the window before the Romanian tears him away—there’s our video footage. Meanwhile, while Alain is telling this story (which Georges told him) from his hospital bed, he’s clearly in pain and struggling to speak. “More water,” he whispers. She lifts a straw to his mouth. Watching Emily have to help Alain—the man explaining how he is the reason she hasn’t seen her son in eight years—is excruciating to watch.

Back to 2006: The Romanian calls Georges. “The boy was still alive when I got here…” So you did the right thing and let him go… right? “You told me to get rid of the boy,” he tells Georges. “It’s done.” Emily and Tony sob like they never have before. Any modicum of hope has now been extinguished; there is no longer anything holding back their grief. After years of restrained suffering, their emotional floodgates burst open upon finally learning the truth. It’s one of the hardest moments to watch in the whole series.

The fallout: Alain begs them not to tell Sylvie—about the drinking, the murder, the cover-up—so she can remember her husband fondly, not as a monster. “Do not make her suffer for my sin.” The a–hole has a point. Admirably, Tony finds the compassion within himself to resist telling Sylvie the truth.

The crime is solved—the only thing still missing is the body. But when the police finally catch up to Georges at his forest cabin, he shoots a rifle into the roof of his mouth. So that’s that.

Mark and Emily travel back to London. Baptiste drops Tony off at the train station. Their tragic but solid partnership has finally come to an end. Baptiste encourages Tony to try to start living his life. Tony’s still hung up on the missing body though. “I just keep thinking… the only person that saw the body was Georges.” (Indeed, we never saw the body either.) He’s also hung up on the Romanian crime ring that he found out Baptiste investigated back in 2006—but Baptiste insists that the tip was nothing more than a plot to flush out the undercover agent Antoine.

Tony’s not quite convinced. Before saying goodbye, Baptiste tells Tony the tough truth he needs to hear. We discovered what really happened, and it was awful, but now it’s done. At least he wasn’t tortured, taken captive for years, or abused by Ian Garrett, Baptiste points out. “The painful truth is that what happened to your boy is perhaps the best you could’ve hoped for.” As they sit in the car, talking, it all feels so anti-climactic, and there’s a bid of the episode to go. This isn’t it.

NEXT: The fate of Bourg, Emily and Tony

Vincent Bourg: While all of this unfolds, by the way, so does the tragedy of Vincent Bourg. The earnest pedophile-in-recovery’s body is being destroyed by the drugs that were healing his mind. Early in the episode, he attends a church support group for people like him, but wonders: If science can’t save him, how could God? He ultimately decides that if God is the one who can cure him, then he is also the one who made him sick in the first place. Self-loathing and devoid of hope, Bourg comes to a decision: If he can’t cure himself, he’ll kill himself. “A snake that cannot shed its skin must die,” he writes in his suicide note to his mother. He hangs himself in his dining room.

Bourg had the most fascinating character arc. Our perception of him evolved from dangerous child predator to sad creep, to a sick man battling a grave illness and doing his best to turn his life around—and, ultimately to a man tragically resigned to his demons. Of everyone, he worked the hardest on himself, tried to change for the good the most. Honestly, I’ve literally never felt empathetic whatsoever towards a pedophile, until Vincent—a disquieting revelation.

Emily: A seemingly well-adjusted Emily marries Mark. Tony attends the quaint backyard reception. The cloud of misery that’s long followed Emily has dissipated; she actually seems happy. The bride gives a beautiful toast, thanking her friends and loved ones for helping her get through the terrible loss. Smiling through tears, she envisions Ollie standing in the crowd. Later, she and Tony share a quiet moment inside the house. Emily tells Tony something she’s ashamed to reveal to anyone else. “When we found out that Ollie died, I actually felt relieved just to know what happened… Isn’t that awful?” She knows Tony is the only other person in the world understands that feeling. Or does he?

Tony: Some time in the future—maybe a year or two later?—Tony is sifting through old case files. He hasn’t given up the case, and he seems like he’s found something. Baptiste advises him over the phone, “If you cant live with your doubt, it will destroy you, Tony.” But when has Tony ever taken Baptiste’s advice?

What seems like at least a few years later—Tony’s rocking a massive beard—we descend upon the opening scene again: The snow-covered park in Russia. Tony knocks on door #108 in the adjacent apartment complex. A young teenaged boy opens the door. “It’s you, my boy,” Tony says, trembling. He tries to communicate that he’s his father in broken Russian, and shows him the stick figure drawing. The boy doesn’t seem to understand. Is he Oliver Hughes?

I’m optimistic, for several reasons. The boy looks an awful lot like Ollie. Someone drew that stick figure in the window. Might Ollie have repressed his traumatic childhood memories? Maybe the Romanian guy was goodhearted deep down, and secretly let Ollie go. Or maybe he “got rid of him” in a way that benefited him personally by shipping him off to a trafficking ring in Russia—from which Ollie somehow escaped. And the fact is, they never found Ollie’s body. Or any evidence, really, aside from that one tiny coin. We never saw his dead body, either—it was artfully shielded from us. Most importantly, this whole story was relayed to us by Alain—who was likely heavily medicated—and half of his story was relayed to him by Georges. After his brother stepped in, Alain can’t say for sure what happened—and Georges blew his own head off, so they couldn’t confirm anything. I’m not ready to put 100% of my faith into a single, unreliable secondhand narrator. Also, The Missing has to end with them finding Ollie. Because I don’t know—it just has to, right?

A moment later, that hopeful anticipation fades. I feel nauseous. My heart grows impossibly heavy. As the cops swoop in on Tony, I feel like I’m watching a nightmare. Apparently, this isn’t the first door Tony has knocked on—he’s been harassing kids all over town. He was the menacing man in the opening scene. He has gone insane and become something of a child predator himself, obsessing over clues that aren’t there, seeing his son in strangers—unable to let go of his doubts, accept the truth and move on. Our tragic protagonist is hauled off in the back of a cop car. And that’s it.

NEXT: An indignant reaction from a disgruntled fan, and second thoughts

First Reaction: Wait, seriously? That’s it? No. Is there a surprise second finale? A continuation next season? A drunk driving accident, a deathbed confession and a man gone mad—this can’t be it. After all the leads we’ve been tracking and rabbit holes we’ve been falling into all season—at the very end we find out that they don’t matter? Vincent Bourg, Ian Garrett, the Romanian crime ring, Remi and her brother, Malik Suri, Khalid Ziane—all red herrings, having nothing to do with anything? WTF? This is bulls–t. I’ve never felt so betrayed, baffled, infuriated or manipulated by a show. (And I watched Lost.)

This seems like an easy way out, frustratingly random and simple. Loose strands weren’t so much tied up as snipped off. We didn’t even have a chance to figure out what was really going on, because we were busy chasing white rabbits the entire season. I’m sure there are some astute viewers out there who at least figured out the Alain/Georges relation and suspected one or both of them. I was not one of them.

I also have some factual issues with Alain’s story itself:

– How were there were no tread marks or blood left behind at the scene of the accident?

– Why did Alain have his 12th year sobriety coin in his pocket?

– Why would a fox approached a loud, raucous mass of humans? (Also, this bit is either imagined by the Hughes, or it’s real but made privy only to us viewers—because how the hell would Alain, or anybody, have known that Ollie followed a fox?)

– Georges didn’t think to double check that Ollie was really dead, given how inebriated his blubbering brother was?

– Ollie was gravely wounded enough to be pronounced dead—and he must’ve been, given how tiny he is and how hard he was hit—but he was able to get himself up the stairs and over to the window just fine?”

– And did Ollie really take the time to draw on the basement wall after he got up out of the trunk—before trying to escape the house?

Meta-realization: So all that being said… This finale was actually kind of brilliant in a cruel way—a frightening exercise in cognitive dissonance, at least for this viewer. I’ve realized that I found—and still find—the truth as hard to accept as Tony does. And Tony’s crazy. So am I crazy? I clung tightly to the last shred of hope up until the very last second, no matter how irrational. My mind didn’t process the reality in a logical manner—it obsessively searched for holes and possible errors in Alain’s story. Like Tony, I capitalized on any scrap of doubt that I could in order to sustain this lie I wanted to keep believing: That Oliver was alive. Like Tony, the truth wasn’t quite good enough for me.

Ask yourself: If you thought there was even a 0.01% chance that your child was alive somewhere out there, would you let go of your lingering doubts? Would you accept such an anticlimactic resolution after years of hopeful searching? I hate Tony for what he became in the end, a total basket case. But I understand him. And I think that’s why the finale is so deeply depressing, dissatisfying, traumatizing even. The Missing took us vicariously on a harrowing, winding journey with Emily and Tony, peppered with clues and hopes. And in the end, you’re either a Tony or an Emily. There are surely many reasonable, rational Emily’s out there who will accept this ending and move on—and I wish I was one of them.

I think it’s novel and brave of the writers of The Missing to challenge the scripted storyline we’ve all come to expect from these types of shows—that’s another reason this ending was so hard to accept. We’ve all come to expect a specific type of resolution in these situations—and when we don’t get it, we’re mad! We want a happy ending, and what we got is reality. And it stings. But the truth is that far more often than not, people whose children disappear never find them. And, after all, this is The Missing, not The Found.

I am SO curious to hear everyone else’s reactions to the ending of The Missing. Love it? Hate it? Can’t make up your mind? Tell me in the comments below!

Episode Recaps

The Missing

This limited series on Starz explores the lives of people who are affected by a boy’s disappearance eight years later.
  • Movie
  • R
  • 130 minutes
  • Ron Howard