WARNING: This recap contains spoilers for the second episode of Absentia.
Episode one left viewers stunned with the news that Emily Byrne’s (Stana Katic) DNA had been found on the body dredged from the lake, which was also revealed to be Robert Semerov, the known sex-trafficker Emily had been tracking down for years before her disappearance.
Episode two opens on the steps of the courthouse, as reporters mob Conrad Harlow (Richard Brake) and his lawyer as Harlow’s murder conviction was overturned upon Emily’s reappearance. He makes a speech directly to Emily through the cameras, claiming empathy and that they “have both been victimized by the same person.” Adam Radford (Ralph Ineson) and Nick Durand (Patrick Heusinger) are off to the side, watching the media circus, not saying a word, but there’s definitely an air of disbelief in Harlow’s sincerity between the two of them.
The next scene introduces a twist into Emily’s story in the form of Kelly Price (Alexandra Weaver), a self-proclaimed witness to Emily and Semerov arguing before he was killed. Detective Tommy Gibbs (Angel Bonanni) takes her statement which renews his interest in the case. Price gives off that “convenient witness” vibe from the beginning, and Gibbs seems skeptical, but listens and does a photo lineup with her, where she points out Semerov.
(And can I say, I love how the titles are done in this series with the word Absentia fading in almost like a memory. A+ art direction.)
The lights fade up on Jack (Neil Jackson) and Emily in Jack’s car, with her trying to remember how to drive so she can take Flynn out. In hindsight, letting a person who’s been tortured for six years and is missing a solid chunk of her memories drive in snow was probably not the best idea, and she almost mows down a car and a pedestrian. The pedestrian gives her a little attitude and slams his hands down on the hood of the car. As the man is walking away, Emily has a brief flashback and sees the mask of her captor on his face, launching her into a panic attack. Katic does an excellent job of portraying Emily’s panic, much like she did for Detective Kate Beckett’s PTSD in the Castle episode “Kill Shot,” for which she won a PRISM award for 2012 (tied with fellow Castle cast member Jon Huertas for the same episode). She manages to escape the car and run back into the garage, leaving Jack to deal with moving the car.
We then cut to Nick at home with Alice (Cara Theobold), where he admits that he can’t be around either Alice or Emily “without feeling like I’m betraying someone.” It sounds like such a soap opera-style line (and what soap opera hasn’t done the “long-dead spouse suddenly comes back from the dead and you’ve remarried” routine), but it’s spoken with such honesty that I don’t mind it. Despite that, he admits that he can’t do this alone and they hug. Like in the first episode, you feel bad for Alice, who has been thrown into this mess. She wasn’t in the picture when Emily went missing or during Harlow’s trial, all she did was marry Nick and become Flynn’s stepmother. She’s handling this admirably so far, but everyone has a breaking point.
After Nick and Alice share their moment, the scene shifts to inside the Boston FBI field office, where the agents are discussing Emily’s case and Harlow’s supposed phone call to Nick. One of the agents reveals that the water in the vase of flowers sent to Emily was the same as the water in the tank she was held in, so three guesses as to who sent those; they are also still trying to track down the manufacturer of the tank and the owner of the cabin with no usable leads. Another agent (Amber Aga) addresses the elephant in the room (Did Emily kill Semerov?) and Nick denies it, calling it a frame job. Adam, rather than siding with either agent, picks the middle ground, saying that if Emily’s case and Semerov’s murder happen to converge, so be it.
Meanwhile, Emily is with Dr. Vega (Bruno Bichir), admitting to beating Semerov’s man senseless on the docks and to her inability to stop thinking about Harlow. Her line “Yeah, well, tried isn’t convicted” and the way she delivers it reminds me very much of Beckett’s no nonsense frank way of looking at facts. I’ve been doing so well so far to keep Emily and Kate separate in my mind, but that moment was very Beckett-like.
Dr. Vega wants to talk about Nick, and Emily attempts to shut him down, saying Nick chose Alice. Dr. Vega gently reminds Emily that there was no choosing, since for all intents and purposes, Emily was dead and Nick was free to pursue relationships with other people. She points out that he could choose between her and Alice now, but later admits she doesn’t know if she’d want her old life back, saying “I don’t know if I’d know how to live it,” a poignant line and indicative of her trauma. She is recognizing that she is not the same person she was six years ago. Nick calls during their session, asking her to come down to the office to answer Tommy’s questions, ramping up the tension by admitting he’s hired her a lawyer.
It’s weird in the next scene seeing Katic on the other side of the interrogation table, but her reactions to Tommy’s line of questioning are still very Beckett in a way. Adam tries to be a mediating body in the room, but ultimately, still must treat Emily like a suspect. They reveal to her Semerov’s death and that her DNA was found on his body. This scene builds on the foundation started at the end of episode one, deepening the suspicion of Emily. Remember the timer from the tank? It’s mentioned again in this scene as Tommy and Adam seem to suggest that Emily could have kidnapped herself, in keeping with the witness statement from Kelly Price. Emily leaves the interrogation upset and tries to contain her emotions when Nick catches up to her. There’s a little animosity between the two of them, which is understandable, but if not a bit cruel on Emily’s part, since Nick is doing his best to help clear her name and protect her.
The next scene is tense when Emily goes to see Flynn. The awkwardness is real between Emily and Alice, neither of them knowing how to deal with the other, and the awkwardness flows into Emily’s time with Flynn (Patrick McAuley) as well. She’s trying her best to reconnect with him, to learn what she missed all those years she was away (Flynn’s changing taste in yogurt, his swimming accomplishments). Flynn sits on his bed, mostly ignoring her in favor of his video game (which comes across as a little cold). One thing that still bugs me is I’m not sure how old Flynn is at this point. He appears to be at least middle school age, and in the videos with Emily and Nick he appears young, no older than 7. Because of this, it’s unclear if Flynn’s awkwardness with Emily stems from him not remembering her very well or just merely the fact that Alice has been raising him, not Emily (and it’s also not clear how long Alice has been in the picture either, at least long enough for Flynn to consider her his mom).
There’s a brief interlude in the domestic drama as Nick and his partner Agent Crown (Christopher Colquhoun) are following Kelly Price to see if she is in fact a credible witness. They watch her outside a diner and Nick runs in once she’s left and snags a fork she used to check her prints.
As Emily is taking Flynn’s used yogurt bowls (cause apparently the kid is allowed to eat in his room) to the kitchen, she overhears Alice talking on the phone about how hard it is being in this situation to her sister Maura. Alice voices her concerns about Emily, despite her husband saying the doctors cleared her and Emily leaves not long after that, now knowing what her husband’s new wife really thinks of her.
We’re back to the FBI where the story twists again when we learn that Tommy’s witness is not who she says she is (called it!). Kelly Price is actually Regina Talbot, who had been arrested in the past for drugs and money laundering. Crown says it best: “So much for the credibility of BPD’s witness.” They start looking deeper into people she’s been associated with and find Jonathan Cooper (David Coburn), who turns out to be a florist, so Crown and Nick suit up to go find him.
Cut back to the domestics for a bit as Emily visits her father Warren (Paul Freeman) in his room at the nursing home. I love Warren. He’s probably one of my favorite characters in the show. He gives Emily exactly what she needs: someone who believes in her 100% no matter what. He gives back her old FBI badge, presumably given to him when she died and echoes Emily’s desire to put Harlow back behind bars. Emily’s scenes with Warren are poignant because he is the one person who hasn’t held her at arms length throughout this whole ordeal. He welcomed her home and gave her some semblance of normal, whereas others have treated her like she’s made of glass or a potential time bomb. He provides the warmth, love and acceptance she needs to ground her.
Nick and Crown go to confront Cooper, who runs as soon as they say FBI. After a brief chase scene that ends in an empty apartment, Nick catches Cooper and does something I did not expect from him. He holds Cooper at gunpoint and holds his upper half out a window above a busy street, demanding answers about Regina. This is obviously illegal (or if it isn’t, it certainly should be) and given Nick’s previously straight-laced attitude towards his work, this is surprising for him, but demonstrative of his determination to solve this case for Emily. Nick gets a little bit of shocking information though as Cooper reveals Price is laundering money for the Russians and for someone in the Boston field office, suggesting a dirty agent. (Yay, conspiracy!) Nick’s interrogating is cut short as Crown comes up the stairs.
Harlow’s message from the beginning of the episode finally finds its way to Emily. Her silence and the camera zooming in on her face as the newscaster discusses Harlow’s release from prison underscores Emily’s resolution to see Harlow convicted again. The next scene finds Harlow taking a swim in his mansion’s pool (cause yes, the creepy kidnapper dude has a mansion with a pool, and he’s surprisingly fit). The music is kept to a minimum at the beginning of this scene as Emily and Harlow meet for the first time since the series started, letting the only sounds in this scene be their voices and the echoes of air in the spacious swimming pool for a while, then the music intensifies the closer Harlow gets to Emily. She asks him point blank who he’s working with and he says she knows. His phone rings and he buzzes in the Boston PD to arrest Emily for trespassing. Brake is so wonderfully creepy in this scene, keeping eye contact with Emily as Tommy cuffs her.
Tommy and Emily have a bit of a standoff in the BPD office, with her claiming she didn’t go to see Harlow to hurt him, just to try and remember what happened to her. She asks Tommy what kind of cop he is, “the kind that closes cases or one who actually solves them?” (Another Beckett feels moment here as she is 100% the second kind). The two of them share a little personal moment before Nick appears to take Emily home. It’s clear that Nick and Tommy don’t really like each other, and Nick drops the little nugget about Price, telling Tommy to look into her himself.
Nick’s fear for Emily comes out in the car as he confronts her about going to see Harlow, but even when prompted, he doesn’t get honest with her, which is a little frustrating. I wanted him to answer her when she asked him “Is this me?” but he chooses instead to tell her about Price, her ties to Semerov, and the dirty FBI agent. Emily remembers thinking that someone was feeding Semerov information during her initial investigation, and Nick decides to investigate that lead. He takes her back to her brother’s apartment. We cut back briefly to Tommy who attempts to contact Price, only to discover her number has been disconnected, before back to Emily and Nick at Jack’s apartment. It gets real for a minute when Emily asks Nick if they would still be together if she hadn’t disappeared and if he’s ever thought about it. He admits that he does think about it, but doesn’t answer her first question, so I’m not sure which is worse.
It’s night and Alice and Flynn are cuddled up together on the living room couch waiting for Nick to come home, Flynn asleep on her hip and Alice nodding off. Their dog whines and barks at something outside, so Alice decides to go investigate, because that’s something you totally should do when you’re home alone with your son and your husband is in the middle of a murder investigation. She does take the dog with her, so that’s at least a plus for her, but the sequence still feels like a horror movie scene where you’re yelling at the characters to not go outside. Thankfully nothing happens to either her or Flynn and Nick comes home. Finally Alice has the nerve to tell Nick how she’s been feeling about Emily, but Nick brushes it off, which doesn’t help. Alice, to her credit, calls him on it, reminding him that “there is no more normal.”
Despite Alice not finding anyone outside, you still get the sense that someone is watching them as the shot of Nick carrying Flynn to bed and Alice turning out the lights is filmed from outside the house, through their living room window. The cinematography and direction in this series is very purposeful and no opportunity appears to be wasted when it comes to building suspense or creating unease, even in these seemingly sweet domestic moments.
The episode comes to a close with Tommy putting an APB out on Price, and then getting a call over the scanner for a possible DOA. Tommy recognizes the address and responds to the call, which turns out to be Harlow’s body floating in his swimming pool.
We’re only two episodes in and already two bodies have dropped, both in connection to Emily. I love though that in this episode, there was more of a focus on the domestic drama and Emily trying to find a place for herself in this family that has largely moved on without her. While this is a thriller and the main story is definitely finding out who kidnapped her and held her for six years, the emotional weight is on Emily and her attempts to reconnect with her family. For her sake, I hope her family warms up to her more, to give her an anchor because with Harlow’s death, things have been set into motion that I’m not sure will turn out well for our protagonist.