'Baptiste' Season 2, Episode 2 Recap: Timeslip

Ace Bhatti as Nadeem, Fiona Shaw as Emma Chambers and Dorka Gryllus as Zsofia Arslan in Baptiste Season 2

MASTERPIECE “Baptiste”, Season 2 Episode Two Sunday, October 24, 2021; 10-11pm ET on PBS Julien and Zsofia track down the tattooed man but he gives little away. Things escalate when the police receive a hostage video, and Emma takes drastic action for her family. Shown from left to right: Ace Bhatti as Nadeem, Fiona Shaw as Emma Chambers and Dorka Gryllus as Zsofia Arslan For editorial use only. (C) Two Brothers Pictures & All3Media International


After a disappointing first season, Baptiste landed feet first with the opener for Season 2, hitting the new season out of the park on the first round with future Dame Fiona Shaw as Tchéky Karyo's latest co-star. This season opened with a mystery that didn't just kidnap a child or two but took out her husband, disabled her, and (finally) found a way to entirely sidestep the child-sex-ring storylines that have haunted the series since its days as The Missing. But there is one big issue that the show is struggling with: Time.

Emma: A man who won't talk about his feelings. I didn't take you for a cliche.

At the top of last week's recap, I noted that the season began (as so many do now) in media res. It's the current fad in prestige TV; sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't. In this case, I was ready to let Baptiste have it for the moment, as long as it wasn't going to abuse jumping around in time. But this week, unfortunately, doubled down on the interspersed timelines. On one level, it does keep the suspense up, as there are things that happened in the past fans haven't seen yet. But it's also irritating because it detracts from the show's better moments.

Up until now, time jumps were not Baptiste or The Missing's MO. Season 1 of The Missing did have the final reveal that the bearded stalker was future James Nesbitt years later. However, otherwise, everything stayed in the show's dictated present, with clear delineations when flashbacks arrived. Perhaps this being Baptiste's final season (and final mystery), the series feels that having the story told on twin tracks works better overall. But it does mean that one has to tell when we are going by Baptiste's current facial hair arrangement, which is not an ideal storytelling device. 

Tcheky Karyo as Julien Baptiste in Baptiste Season 2
Credit: Courtesy of (C) Two Brothers Pictures & All3Media

This week opens in the past, two years before the present day, and the death of Sara, who we discovered overdosed while Baptiste shopped for the knitted elephant that haunts his waking nightmares. Baptiste will later blame the relapse on the events of Season 1, specifically having to stuff the family in a safe house to keep them out of the hands of the Brigada Serbilu. (Oh, and not that she discovered she had a murderous half-brother?) The show then jumps to the present with Juszt in his dog cage, which Baptiste barely blinks at before flipping back to 14 months previous, when Juszt and Baptiste first met at the train station. Juzst got away, but not before Baptiste went full Ally Sheedy and stole his wallet.

Got all that? This is why interpolated timelines are exhausting. In short order, Juszt is arrested in the past, where he is revealed to be a Muslim extremist and freed in the present, where he swears himself to be a changed man. He is offering to make contact with someone who will help him find "Gamora," who he says is to blame for Alex's death, Will's current continued disappearance, and Emma's disability. No one is buying it, as evidenced by his continuing seat in the dog cage when going for car rides, yet this is their only lead.

The car ride, for the record, is to find Zsofia Arslan, who has come down in the world since her Police Major position 14 months ago. Now she's Zsofia Arslan, Mall Cop. (One assumes, like Alex's death and Emma's disability, this job change will eventually turn up in a flashback.) That she also doesn't hit the ceiling upon seeing a man in a dog cage in the back seat of an ex-ambassador's expensive car tells you everything you need to know about her mental state. Of course, she'll help round up a few bribable members of the Hungarian Police to help. After all, he's already shown himself an escape artist in the past, when Emma set him free from jail in hopes it would get Will released.

But in between the show doing the time warp again (and again), there are some genuinely stunning moments. All of them are set in the "14 months ago" era that the show seems unwilling to stick with. There's a random turn by Emma D'Arcy as a nameless addict at the NA meeting Baptiste attends as he searches for answers to Sara's death. (Does Baptiste sleep? I'm going with no.) And the side story of Zsofia's father, Mehmet (Kevork Malikyan), and his kindness towards the would-be hoodlum Balázs (Atanáz Babinchak) who would have destroyed his shop is perhaps a bit on the nose, but also a reminder that this show can be good when it allows the quiet moments to breathe.

Tcheky Karyo as Julien Baptiste and Dorka Gryllus as Zsofia Arslan in Baptiste Season 2
Credit: Courtesy of (C) Two Brothers Pictures & All3Media

But the season's VIP is Fiona Shaw. As some might have suspected, Emma Chambers is a completely terrible person, an emotionally abusive basketcase to her employees and a whole lot of "do you know who I am" to have lived with. And yet, the wordless sequence where Emma goes home and turns on every TV and radio in the house to drown out the silence of her absent family is precisely the kind of heart wrencher that was missing from Season 1. Moreover, the scene in the police station where she's brought in and sees the extremist hostage video where Alex is shot in the head and collapses screaming is grief is a gut punch. It's so solid the scene is miraculously not undermined when the episode reveals that the entire thing is false. 

And that's where the show finally acknowledges what its time jumps are hiding: this case makes no sense. Emma Chambers is no one; there's no reason for Muslim extremists to kidnap her children and shoot her husband. It is bizarre that they execute her eldest with this crazy demand to release Juszt, a low-level nobody. And that's because they haven't and aren't. What's happening here is the work of right-wing loonies, run by a masked figure who calls themselves Gamora. They're trying to use the publicized murder of the British Ambassador's family to inflame the U.K. and inspire those like the hoodlum gang Mehmet is dealing with to start a war against immigrants.

Back in the present, Juszt returns from seeing whoever it was and declared cheerfully he'd made contact. Emma demands to know where is Gamora. I believe this is where we quote Avengers: Endgame. Who is Gamora? Why is Gamora? For that, we'll have to check in next week.


Ani Bundel has been blogging professionally since 2010. A DC native, Hufflepuff, and Keyboard Khaleesi, she spends all her non-writing time taking pictures of her cats. Regular bylines also found on MSNBC, Paste, Primetimer, and others. 

A Woman's Place Is In Your Face. Cat Approved. Find her on BlueSky and other social media of your choice: @anibundel.bsky.social

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