Those complaining about the end of The Missing are missing the point

James Nesbitt

Spoiler Alert: This article is about the final episode of BBC One's The Missing...so if you haven't watched it yet, steer clear.

Tuesday saw the finale of BBC One’s eight-part thriller The Missing and it is fair to say the conclusion has prompted a considerable amount of debate.

The programme told the story of Tony and Emily Hughes – played brilliantly by James Nesbitt and Frances O’Connor – as they sought to discover the truth following the disappearance of their young son Oliver.

I watched the final instalment with a growing sense of nausea; first induced by the disappointment of discovering the boy had chased a fox into the road before being struck down by a car and then by the realisation that things were not quite as simple as that.

Writers Harry and Jack Williams refused to give us categorical proof that Oliver was actually dead – killed not by the drunk driver whose sobriety pendants both gave him away and revealed a history of deceit, but by a man who was called in to dispose of the body.

When the crooked mayor tasked with cleaning things up was shown the contents of a van, the audience saw only his back, adding to a mystery that had played out brilliantly for the previous seven weeks.

Was there a body inside or was Olly about to be moved somewhere else – the mysterious package previously referred to?

The fact we had seen another glimpse of the matchstick drawing that has become the show’s most harrowing image in the pre-credits sequence suggested Olly was still alive and relocated to Russia. But we then saw Tony himself scribbling the same picture on a notepad while pushing to keep the case alive and we unknowingly witnessed his next step on a never-ending journey.

For fans bemoaning the lack of closure, they are missing the point. Where is Tony’s closure? Where is Emily’s?

She addresses her missing son in a room full of wedding guests, an acceptance that he will always be missing but never be gone. While Tony fights on because that is all he has left.

You sense the image he drew on a notepad and a snow-covered window was also repeated countless times elsewhere. It is his version of what Emily saw on her wedding day – his abiding memory of a son he will always feel guilty for turning his back on.

Television too often takes the easy option; it ties things up in a neat little bow, giving the audience the happy ending many crave. But The Missing did the opposite of that. It showed life as it is, making a brave decision but a necessary one.

Tony will never stop searching for his son because he believes he is alive, and that last unforgettable image of the eyes of an unstoppable man said it all.

I struggled to sleep afterwards, so lost had I become in Nesbitt’s performance. And even now I am still thinking about a show brave enough to leave hope – no matter how unlikely – while simultaneously suggesting Tony will slowly go mad seeking his impossible dream.