Danger in Paradise
For season two of Starz’s European-set anthology, The Missing, its creators embrace a new, complex family tale.
Julian Broad Studio
Monschau, a German resort town on the Belgian border, is a picture-postcard tourist destination with a dark past.
Nestled in the Ardennes forest with the Rur River running through it and a 13th-century castle sitting pristinely above, this is where some of the most brutal fighting of World War II took place.
Today, in the town square, a shadow has once again settled over idyllic surroundings, as Keeley Hawes and David Morrissey show a photo to passersby with increasing desperation. The backdrop may be blissful, but their faces are not.
It’s a location shoot for the second installment of Starz’s limited anthology series The Missing, debuting February 12. In the first season, a young boy was abducted during a family holiday in France and his distraught parents spent eight episodes trying to discover what had happened to him. This new season continues the broad theme — families losing a child and falling apart — but tells an entirely different story with a whole new cast.
Between takes, David Morrissey (The Walking Dead) explains the set-up: “Sam [Webster, his character] is an officer in the British army and he, his wife and two children are based on a British base in Germany. When his 13-year-old daughter is kidnapped, the family is obviously devastated. Our story starts 11 years later, when a girl walks back into their life - and it’s their daughter.”
Keeley Hawes (The Hollow Crown, Upstairs Downstairs) joins the conversation: “…Or is it their daughter? I play Gemma, Sam’s wife, and the awful thing is that when she sees her daughter, something doesn’t click. This girl has been through a terrible ordeal when she comes back and she looks awful — and yet Gemma doesn’t have that maternal instinct. And so Sam and Gemma’s relationship starts to go into this terrible decline.”
It transpires that the Websters’ daughter was being held with another girl, whose name sparks the interest of French detective Julien Baptiste, the only constant from season one. Tchéky Karyo is back in the role, showing pictures of suspects on his phone to bystanders as the camera rolls.
Hair cropped, gaunt and gray, Karyo looks very different from the first season. But distinctive looks are important in The Missing. The new season, like the first, flashes back and forth in time to tell the story through a cracked glass. Visual cues as to the year are vital, which is why Morrissey is sporting a prosthetic scar on his face.
“It runs all the way down my back,” he says. “Because of the way our story is structured, we see Sam in 2014 when he doesn’t have a scar, but we very quickly see him in the present day, when he is scarred. He’s obviously been in a fire. But we don’t know what caused that fire, and we don’t know the circumstances surrounding it.”
Complications, misreads and switchbacks are all part of The Missing’s signature storytelling style.
“When we were writing it,” says Jack Williams, who created the anthology series with his brother Harry (both are also executive producers), “we kept looking at each other and saying, ‘Oh my God, this is so complicated — are we insane for doing this?’ But we decided to embrace it and go, ‘People are clever; people like complicated.’ Particularly now, when you can rewatch online, then go on Twitter and discuss it.”
For the second season, his brother adds, there will be plenty to discuss. Not least how a drama called The Missing can focus on a story in which someone comes back.
“Everyone assumes it’s a happy ending when the person you’ve lost comes back, but the idea we had for season two was that it’s just the beginning,” Harry Williams says. “And it’s not necessarily a happy ending because of what they’ve been through as a family. They’re going to be damaged. It’s just the beginning of another long journey to somewhere else. That’s what we wanted to explore.”
If the first installment, which echoed real-life abduction cases and referenced pedophilia and organized crime, is anything to go by, the second season will not be an easy ride.
“It’s odd, isn’t it?” Jack Williams muses. “I don’t know how we ended up writing that much dark subject matter. I suppose because it leads to such extremes of human emotion and experience, and it’s fascinating to explore that.”
Meanwhile, back in Monschau’s town square, Hawes and Morrissey are about to resume knocking on doors, asking about that face in the picture. They’re filming scenes for the final few episodes. Last time round, the missing child was never found. Surely this time all will end well?
“I wouldn’t get your hopes up,” Hawes says with a laugh. “Every time you think, ‘It can’t get any worse,’ it does. There’s nothing that this family doesn’t go through.”
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 1, 2017