'Missing' Pits Ashley Judd Against Europe

Lesley Smith

Becca returns to her life of violence for this one last mission. It's one cliché of many here, including as well a cloying sanctification of a very American Motherhood.


Airtime: Thursdays 8pm, ET
Cast: Ashley Judd, Sean Bean, Nick Eversman, Cliff Curtis, Adriano Giannini, Lothaire Bluteau
Subtitle: Series Premiere
Network: ABC
Director: Steve Shill
Air date: 2011-03-15

When a network opts for a mid-evening series that's not sitcom, reality series or family-friendly crime show, it should be a moment for celebration. When the network backs that choice with a first-rate director (Steve Shill), a talented international cast, and a production budget whose generosity glints from almost every frame, the critical equivalent of dancing in the streets should be a foregone conclusion.

ABC's Missing premieres 15 March with just such a pedigree, as well as a bona fide screen star, Ashley Judd. But, despite pacy editing, superb action choreography, and location shooting across Europe, the whole turns out to be yet another re-run of that updated Western, 24, which pits an arrogant outlaw protagonist against friend and foe alike.

This time the hero is Judd's Becca Winstone, a suburban flower shop owner who actually dislikes Europe. Her husband Paul (a barely glimpsed Sean Bean) died there in a car bombing. Now, a few weeks after he arrived in Rome as a summer student, her son Michael (Nick Eversman) has disappeared. After a few cursory scenes as an apparently ordinary Mom-on-a-mission tracking down the location of her son’s last photo, her first, and very brutal, encounter with opposition triggers the revelation that she and her husband were once top CIA agents. She returns to her life of violence for this one last mission. It's one cliché of many here, part of the show's comic-book logic, which includes as well a cloying sanctification of a very American Motherhood.

The show quickly piles absurdity upon absurdity. After 12 years out of the business, Becca switches instantly into assassin mode, leaving a trail of dead and wounded bodies across Italy and France, where just a tiny hint of rustiness might have aided credibility. Apparently carrying no more than a pair of sunglasses and someone else’s gun, she looks chic and well-groomed in every scene, whether she has just dragged herself from the Seine after being shot, or roughed up a deadly Italian intelligence agent. Although she uses CCTV footage to track her son, Becca mysteriously evades the automatic 24/7 surveillance of the modern city, even while openly walking busy streets, entering foreign intelligence agency HQs or being arrested.

It’s just as well she’s untouchable, though, for the script rarely lets her, or anyone else in the show, reach a smart decision. When Becca learns that a private jet leaving Le Bourget, the busy business airport just outside Paris, may be taking her son out of the country, she hurtles headlong to the tarmac. She never thinks of asking her CIA liaison in Paris, Dax (Cliff Curtis reprising Joan Allen’s thankless one-step-behind role in the Bourne movies), to ask airport authorities to delay the plane’s departure, or to gain sight of the flight plan or to organize a welcome party at the flight’s destination. Instead, Dax and his assistant barrel out to Le Bourget in a attempt to stop the plane taking off by saying, “Don’t go” very loudly, in English.

As Becca even tries to run the plan down on foot, the show’s writers and producers clearly subscribe to the CIA’s alternative moniker, Clowns in Action. If this might go over in a feature film, where disbelief need only be suspended for two hours or so, here, in a series scheduled for 10 parts, the burden of credulity already seems a crushing weight.

At the center of this illogic, Winstone’s dueling personae -- crack agent and sacred soccer Mom -- illuminate a more general paucity of imagination in crafting contemporary women characters. She oscillates between behaving exactly like a man in drag and justifying her every heartless action with her sacrifice of her career as a CIA agent to nurture her son. Sadly, the series perpetuates in an extreme form the canard that women cannot balance avocation, in Becca’s case espionage and maternity.

For her, motherhood trumps everything -- law, morality, friendship, loyalty, the sanctity of others’ lives. She embodies so rampant a primal urge to protect her son that she’s willing to let anyone die so she can save her child. The loyal asset Hard Drive (Lothaire Bluteau) she’s protected for more than a decade? Throw him to the wolves. Former lover Giancarlo (Adriano Gainnini), who cherishes her with a tender nostalgia? Let him jeopardize his career and life, to boot.

That Becca Winstone becomes so quickly so annoying, with her wounded wails of “It's my son” whenever she is thwarted, testifies to Judd’s skill. But she can’t infuse intelligence into this act first, think (much) later caricature, who never reports the kidnapping of her son to the police, never alerts Interpol or America’s embassies abroad, and never makes a simple phone call when she can jump on a motorbike, rock a cool safety helmet, and roar down a suspiciously empty road.

All this action helps to create a thread of a paranoid US imperialism that runs through the series. That someone with Becca's apparently superb linguistic skills, more than once immersed in another culture as a professional intelligence agent, would behave as a private citizen with such disregard for national sovereignty and international law reflects what many Europeans see as America’s overweening sense of entitlement to do what it likes, when it likes, and where it likes.

In the first two episodes of Missing, she's able to run amok in the an Italy and France seemingly bereft of law enforcement, where CIA agents pack heat in public and have free rein to search and destroy. The series promises that each episode will occur in a different city, as if Europe were a quaint theme park, designed solely for Americans to prove, to themselves and the world, that only they can protect the innocent. Such a fable is downright dangerous as a primer for the lives we lead in a global society.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.

8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

Next Page

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

Acid house legends 808 State bring a psychedelic vibe to Berlin producer NHOAH's stunning track "Abstellgleis".

Berlin producer NHOAH's "Abstellgleis" is a lean and slinky song from his album West-Berlin in which he reduced his working instruments down to a modular synthesizer system with a few controllers and a computer. "Abstellgleis" works primarily with circular patterns that establish a trancey mood and gently grow and expand as the piece proceeds. It creates a great deal of movement and energy.

Keep reading... Show less

Beechwood offers up a breezy slice of sweet pop in "Heroin Honey" from the upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod.

At just under two minutes, Beechwood's "Heroin Honey" is a breezy slice of sweet pop that recalls the best moments of the Zombies and Beach Boys, adding elements of garage and light tinges of the psychedelic. The song is one of 10 (11 if you count a bonus CD cut) tracks on the group's upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod out 26 January via Alive Natural Sound Records.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.