by Morag Kennedy and Shona Robinson-Edwards, visiting lecturers in Criminology at Birmingham City University

The BBC One crime thriller The Missing has become more intriguing as the weeks go on.  Series two was set to be both intriguing and, at some points, unpredictable.  The disappearance and speculated return of Alice Webster has kept the audience gripped, with an array of twists and turns revealed throughout.

Abducted from an English school near a military base in Eckhausen, Germany, Alice Webster returns having escaped her captors.  Tcheky Karyo is the only familiar face returning for the second series.  This series also welcomes actors Keeley Hawes and David Morrissey, in a new location with a new missing child.  Instead, a young girl is part of the mystery as opposed to the first season which involved the disappearance of a young boy.  This week’s episode comes to an unexpected conclusion, but will we be any closer to finding out what happened to Alice Webster?

Tcheky Karyo who plays French detective Julien Baptiste is on a mission to understand what happened to Alice Webster and to obtain information about another missing girl, Sophie Giroux.  Baptiste’s conscience regarding the suicide of Sophie’s mother plays heavily on his quest to seek answers and fulfil promises.  The audience are drawn to Baptiste, be it his multilingual expression between French and English, or his distinct, and somewhat obsessive and unconventional method of investigation.  He is a very intriguing and somewhat endearing character.

The young girl claiming to be Alice Webster (who in fact we think now is Sophie Giroux), is played by Abigail Hardingham. She is the protagonist.  Her physical appearance is a clear representation of her struggles and hardships as an abductee.  Notably, her glaring and poignant stare and slow, deliberate movements suggest something deeper and more insidious is at work within her psyche.  At times, this complex storyline makes us question whether she is telling the whole truth.  Is she the victim, perpetrator or, indeed, both?

There are a number of theories as to who is involved in the abductions: Adrian Stone; Henry Reed; Nadia Hertz and, clearly, Adam Gettrick.  It appears that it is mostly military officers who are among those who are incriminated.  Gettrick’s position as a Press Officer is of vital significance.  On the one hand, he is representing and advising Alice’s family during her disappearance and, on the other hand, he is imprisoning an adult female and child in his house.  It is unclear as to who these female characters are however, it appears to be his daughter and another unidentified female.  Interestingly, these characters are kept in a locked room.  Episode six uncovered a startling discovery when the camera pans around to reveal a second locked room at the top of Gettrick’s staircase.  This brings into question another suspected abductee being kept in the house.  Although Alice Webster was not visible at Gettrick’s address, the discovery of a toy was a significant clue to another person’s presence.

Nadia Hertz’s role in the potential conviction of her husband is quite intriguing.  The sudden appearance of a camera containing images of Alice is a potentially crucial piece of evidence.  Did he really lose his camera or has he been set up?  The stereotypical assumption of a child abductor is a white male over the age of 40 years which is clearly illustrated by Mr Hertz’s imprisonment (Hanson, 2001; Milner & Webster, 2005).  The notion of a female being involved in the abductions goes against the gender stereotype of women who tend to be represented as care givers.  Therefore, Nadia Hertz’s involvement and knowledge of the case brings about justified suspicion.

A key factor in ‘increasing the visibility’ of victims is linked to the role of the media, and the continuing coverage given to families of both murder and abduction victims, such as the convictions of Ian Brady and Myra Hindley in May 1966; Robert Thompson and Jon Venables in November 1993; and most recently, the abduction of Madeleine McCann in May 2007.  Murder and abduction have therefore been at the forefront of public discussion for decades, which adds to the audience’s fixation with crime.  The scenes of murder, violence and suicide were disturbing to say the least, specifically witnessing a young girl burning to death, leaving behind her charred remains and slightly visible teeth.  This however is not unusual, it appears that dramas have become more and more saturated with crime, murder and suicide.

Recently, the focus on crime drama from a forensic science perspective has somewhat shifted.  Jermyn (2007, 2010) suggests that crime dramas such as Silent Witness and – in some cases – CSI have been influential, central to such shows has been the analysis of forensic science (Deborah, 2013).  In more recent times British crime drama has moved away from blood splatter analysis and post mortems to ‘good old-fashioned’ detective investigation, such as Broadchurch and Happy Valley.

The notion of Alice Webster as a victim raises some questions, Nils Christie’s (1986) notion of ‘the ideal victim’ is key here, Alice is young and white; living in a different country from that of birth, and it has been assumed that the perpetrator is ‘big, bad and strong’.  Stereotypical images of the ‘ideal victim’ forms some of the basis of this series, as the ‘newsworthiness’ of particular crimes are reinforced (see Ditton & Duffy, 1983; Jewkes, 2004; Wykes, 2001).

As such, there appears to be an appeal around missing children especially in light of the Madeleine McCann case.  The public appear to be more aware of missing children in particular and expect the perpetrator to be brought to justice.  In terms of The Missing, the media have taken a great interest in the story as it is likened to many real cases which have been in the public eye past and present.  Perhaps the reason behind this is hope.  In the UK 313,019 people went missing between 2011 and 2012, the bulk of whom were children (UK Missing Persons Bureau, 2012).

To conclude, Adrian Stone’s knowledge around the abduction of Alice Webster may be a key factor in solving the case.  Will his dementia prevent us from finding out the truth?  Without a doubt, Adam Gettrick is transporting captives across the border.  What or who is inside Gettrick’s basement?  The Royal Military Police appear to be represented two-fold.  They are portrayed as protectors and those who are intrinsically entangled, bonded by their inherent reluctance to step away from War.  They also appear to conceal their private lives somehow hiding immoral acts in plain sight.  Have the Military Police concealed vital information?  Are they the key to finding out what happened to Alice Webster, Sophie Giroux and Lena Garber?  Will they ever find Jorn Lenhart’s body?  And, who is the man Julien keeps hallucinating?  No doubt The Missing will come to an explosive end.

The final episode of The Missing airs on BBC One at 9pm on Wednesday 30 November.

Morag Kennedy and Shona Robinson-Edwards are visiting lecturers in Criminology at Birmingham City University. Interested in Criminology? View our course pages. 

 

References

Christie, N. (1986) The Ideal Victim. In E. Fattah (ed.) From Crime Policy to Victim Policy. Basingstoke: Macmillan.

Deborah, J. (2013) Labs and Slabs: Television Crime Drama and the Quest for Forensic Realism. Studies in the History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 44(1), pp. 103-109.

Ditton, J., & Duffy, J. (1983) Bias in the newspaper reporting of crime news. British Journal of Criminology, 23, pp. 159–165.

Hanson, R. K. (2001) Age and Sexual Recidivism: A Comparison of Rapists and Child Molesters, 2001-01. [pfd] Department of the Solicitor General Canada. Available at:  http://www.securitepublique.gc.ca/cnt/rsrcs/pblctns/sxl-rcdvsm-cmprsn/sxl-rcdvsm-cmprsn-eng.pdf [Accessed 21 November 2006].

Jermyn, D. (2010) Prime Suspect. Basingstoke: BFI Palgrave Macmillan.

Jermyn, D. (2007) Body Matters: Realism, Spectacle and the Corpse in CSI. In M Allen (ed.) Reading CSI: Television Under the Microscope. London: I.B. Tauris.

Jewkes, Y. (2004) Media & Crime (3rd Edition). London: Sage.

Milner, R.J., & Webster, S.D. (2005) Identifying Schemas in Child Molesters, Rapists, and Violent Offenders. Sexual Abuse: Journal of Research and Treatment, 17(4), pp. 425-439.

Wykes, M. (2001) News, Crime and Culture. London: Pluto.

UK Missing Persons Bureau (2012) Missing Persons: Data and Analysis, 2011-2012. [pdf] London: UK Missing Persons Bureau. Available at: file:///C:/Users/Morag/Downloads/Data_and_Analysis_2011-12_55.pdf [Accessed 23 November 2016].

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