Before sitting down to watch the premiere of ABC’s new drama, Missing, I knew two things about the series. One, it starred Ashley Judd. Two, the premise was similar to Taken, the 2008 action flick starring Liam Neeson. Basically, this premise is: a former CIA agent will do whatever it takes to find her missing son.
Now, after viewing the Pilot, I can add one more thing to this list – Sean Bean dies. Or rather, Sean Bean as Paul Winstone dies. That’s right – Eddard Stark is dead. Again. Despite an ambitious premise and the promise of ‘exotic locations and thrilling twists’, it’s this thing that is the most memorable occurrence of the first episode.
The Pilot begins with a less than enthralling opening sequence of the protagonist, Becca (Judd), jogging through a park. We learn Becca is at home in the US, while her husband Paul and young son Michael are in Vienna, information clumsily revealed via a quick conversation between Becca and two friends she passes on her way back to her car. Becca is talking to Michael on her mobile phone when Paul’s death occurs. Michael witnesses the explosion that apparently took his father’s life.
The explosion scene itself is handled well. Becca, now inside her car, turns the key in the ignition. The scene quickly flicks to the footage of Paul’s car exploding. Unfortunately, the subsequent reactions of Michael, and by extension, Becca verges on the melodramatic. The combination of the over-acting of its two stars and the ill-advised use of slow motion camera work distracts from what should have been an upsetting scene.
Jumping forward ten years, Missing introduces us to a now eighteen year old Michael. Becca’s own addition in years is apparently denoted by her short haircut. We learn Michael is leaving for Rome to take part in an architectural program, a move Becca is apprehensive about. Despite the writers’ efforts, it’s difficult to care for these characters’. We know the pair is close and that Michael is smart. Yet beyond this, there’s little to endear them to us.
Missing’s use of flashback sequences are problematic. Their faintly hazy appearance and unattractive colour palette appear out of place against the rest of the episode. This, and various other instances, gives the pilot the feeling of a telemovie, more suited to the Lifetime channel than to a network drama.
Michael and Becca’s secret code, which he develops especially for them to communicate via while he is away, is one such instance. His example is ‘I love you’. The code itself is lamely explained away, Michael telling Becca he can’t text those kind of messages in front of his friends.
While you could argue, not incorrectly, the code is evidence of the close bond between mother and son, as the Pilot progresses it seems the writers’ are really just setting it up for use in future episodes, foreshadowing it as the means for which Michael will communicate by. Even if, so far, it’s just to tell her ‘I love you’.
The similarities with ‘Taken’ begin after Michael stops contacting Becca. She learns he has been dropped from his program after missing several classes. Worried, she heads to Rome to track him down. Her search begins with his lodgings in Rome. When an intruder enters the apartment we’re witness to the first of a series of underwhelming fight scenes.
Despite a rocky start (note: a coat hanger is never the right choice of weapon), Becca proves herself a more than capable adversary, killing the man after she fails to extract information from him. Aside from the obvious coat hanger blunder, the biggest problem with this fight scene is the actions of the intruder. Defying the logic of basically every cop show ever written, the intruder fails to properly clear each room of the apartment. Words cannot sufficiently describe the stupidity of the intruder.
The CIA agents’ investigation provides us with information about Becca. It is through them we learn that Becca is ex-CIA. The skills and experience she garnered as an agent proves useful in her search for Michael. Becca’s agency file is small, which, according to the CIA team’s lead agent Dax Miller, means one thing, ‘the thinner the file the better the agent’. Yet shouldn’t the other agents already know this? Small niggles like this and the incompetent intruder of the first fight sequence, occur throughout the Pilot.
A later gun fight, come car chase, sees Becca steal a scooter from a store, riding it through the shopfront to make her getaway. While another program, perhaps Chuck, could have made this escape work, here it’s just embarrassing, the victim of shoddy camera work and pacing issues.
The transitions between the scenes which take place in different countries are also problematic, particularly when they switch between Becca’s search for Michael and the CIA’s search for Becca. Rather than switch straightaway between the two, we’re first given a few shots of the city the agents are conducting their work in. They’re useless sequences that interfere with the momentum of the episode.
Missing has an interesting, if not entirely original, premise. Now the central conspiracy has been set into motion it’s possible it could develop into a decent story. However, to do this it needs to overcome pacing and tonal issues, most notably its lack of suspense. Improved direction of the fight scenes are a significant part of this. Most importantly, Missing needs to inspire more than our indifference towards the characters’ of Becca and Michael.