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Baptiste: What worked and what didn't

Baptiste

Feature by Rob Carnevale

AHEAD of its DVD release on Monday, April 8, 2019, we take a look back at hit BBC series Baptiste and list what worked and what didn’t.

The series found Julien Baptiste (Tchéky Karyo) in Amsterdam searching for a missing sex worker. He delves into the criminal underworld of the red light district and uncovers a complex web of deceit and lies.

So what worked?

1) Tchéky Karyo (aka Baptiste) – A show named after its leading man had better deliver a good leading man… and in Tchéky Karyo, reprising his role from The Missing, the series had just that. Karyo brought sensitivity, intelligence, decency and resolve to his performance, enabling audiences to both sympathise with and root for the former detective.

What’s more, Karyo continued to prove a worthy opponent for whoever crossed his path, whether trading early games with Tom Hollander’s Edward Stratton in the early episodes, or Alec Secareanu’s vicious gang enforcer Constantin late on. His dealings with the various women in his life, from Barbara Sarafin’s police chief Martha to Anastasia Hille’s current wife, also showcased a man who both respected his peers and cared about their feelings.

Even when the plotting faltered, Karyo ensured that he remained a fascinating presence throughout.

2) Tom Hollander (Edward Stratton) – We’ve long been fans of Hollander. Whether scene-stealing in comedies such as About Time and In The Loop or oozing menace in The Night Manager, the British actor often brings a touch of genius to whatever he does.

Here, his Edward Stratton was a wily underdog… a man who started out as highly deceptive and untrustworthy, who eventually became genuinely tragic. Stratton’s was arguably the most difficult character arc in the series, yet Hollander pulled it off with aplomb, emerging as an unlikely survivor.

Any scene in Baptiste involving Hollander was usually among the show’s best, while his interplay with Karyo offered up most of the highlights. The two men struck sparks off each other and it was great to see Hollander getting another role he could really sink his teeth into.

3) Alec Secareanu (Constantin) – From the moment Constantin entered the home of Stratton Snr and killed him, during the opening minutes of Baptiste, Secareanu oozed menace. He was a formidable villain, whose presence could be felt even when he was off-screen. Whenever he re-appeared, you tended to hold your breath.

Secareanu has already shone in the indie hit In God’s Country, which showed a more sensitive side to his make-up. Here, he was a driven, cold-blooded psychopath and sex trafficker. A scene in which he intimidated Jessica Raine’s detective dripped with tension, while his interplay with Karyo’s Baptiste was also fascinating in the way that the same kind of intimidation found a more strategic – but no less scared – opponent.

[Spoilers ahead]

4) Episode 5 (the penultimate one) For four weeks, Baptiste twisted and turned, keeping viewers guessing, until everything came to a head in the penultimate instalment. Here, the rug was truly pulled out from under us in more than one occasion: not least the fate of Constantin (thrown from his apartment by an unseen assailant), but also that of Stratton’s ex-wife and her new lover. The twists, here, showed some fearless writing and meant that literally no one was safe entering the final episode. It was Baptiste at its most gripping and shocking.

What didn’t work?

Baptiste

1) The women – If Baptiste succeeded in delivering three strong male roles, its depiction of the female characters was, arguably, much less successful. Again, there were three principals. Anastasia Hille, as Baptiste’s current wife, wasn’t afforded enough screen-time to really make the type of impression she deserved, especially once placed into hiding and out of Baptiste’s reach. When she was on-screen, however, Hille provided a sympathetic presence that afforded a peak into a more intimate and vulnerable side to Karyos central character.

Jessica Raine’s cop, Genevieve, also felt under-developed, despite having strong motivation for bringing down Constantin. She had a couple of moments late on that suggested a tougher character than she initially presented but she was forced to exist in Baptiste’s shadow for too long.

Perhaps most frustratingly, however, was the lack of decent writing afforded to Barbara Sarafian’s Martha – arguably, one of the most important characters in the series. Her own tragic story – a failed relationship with Baptiste, a son she had kept secret from him, alcoholism – didn’t really get the time it merited, thereby denying Sarafian the opportunity to really stretch viewers emotionally. By the time all of the revelations involving her character had been made, there was very little time to examine the emotions involved and Sarafian’s fate proved much less dramatic than it really should have been. In that regard, Sarafian was woefully under-served.

2) The final episode – Having built up our expectations in the excellent fifth instalment, the conclusion to Baptiste felt curiously underwhelming. It wasn’t necessarily bad. But the creative decision to wrap things up by way of a conversation between Baptiste and Stratton on a grey, windswept beach actually defused a lot of the tension, while also depriving two of the show’s key characters the emotional pay-off they warranted. And that’s ignoring a coupe of the loose ends, such as what became of the villain with a cleaver seen entering the flat of Raine’s detective and slipping away undetected.

The final half an hour of Baptiste actually felt rushed and poorly executed, offering scant reward for the patience of viewers in getting to this point. Admittedly, the presence of Hollander and Karyo ensured it wasn’t a complete waste of time. But many viewers were expecting a finale with a lot more impact.

That being said, Baptiste remained an entertaining series that worked in spite of its flaws.