TV Review: 'Absentia' Season 1

Absentia Season 1 Emily Byrne Stana Katic Amazon
Oh, “Absentia.” This 10-episode thriller opens with two captivating back-to-back installments. The premise is as dramatic as they come. Emily Byrne (Stana Katic) is a wife, mother, and FBI agent, who disappeared chasing a serial killer. She has been missing for six years when she is found clinging to life in a tank filled with water. Her husband, a fellow FBI agent, is the one who finds her.

If you think this is the beginning of a grand reunion, think again. Emily’s husband Nick (Patrick Heusinger) is remarried and raising his and Emily’s son with the seemingly sweet, Alice (Cara Theobold). Emily and Nick’s son Flynn calls Alice “mom.” They were living a picture-perfect existence until Emily came back to her life.

Emily receives a frosty reception from everyone. This is not an exaggeration either. From her husband to her son to her brother, everyone is devastated by the news she is alive. The only person happy to have her back is her father, Warren (Paul Freeman).

As Emily tries to get used to the changes that have occurred in her absence, she has to battle suspicions from everyone, right off the bat. For whatever reason, her former colleagues believe she faked her disappearance and committed multiple murders.

This is the point, where you think they have all lost their minds and will quickly realize the depth of their mistake, but no. This goes on for the entire first season.

Emily’s husband claims he believes her, only to continually scrunch his face with doubt when he is pushed to affirm it. His wife Alice champions his suspicions and the man, who has shown no loyalty to Emily in her absence, continues his treacherous momentum when she returns.

As the series progresses, anger turns to outrage. Emily is a sympathetic protagonist at all times. Yet the series tells us everyone hates her, without giving us a reason for why.

She responds to this with apologies and tear-filled eyes, actress Stana Katic transmitting Emily’s emotional cuts with brilliant nuance. Emily is vulnerable, lost, confused, and hurt, but never angry. That is where this viewer gladly picked up the slack.

In the opening episodes, Emily and her father/sole defender Warren are the only characters worth caring about, and that remains true throughout the entire run of “Absentia.”

Emily’s husband is not only dumb; he is a self-righteous, arrogant jerk. He is in all truth, one of the least likable characters to ever hit the television medium. Vying for second place is the character of his second wife, Alice.

Nick claims to have sympathy for Emily and betrays her at every turn. He is a rotten person, and he makes it obvious. Alice is a little more deceitful in the way she goes about it.

She only makes slight attempts to sympathize with Emily, who she passive-aggressively castigates for wanting to reunite with her own son. Alice always claims to have Flynn’s best interest at heart, when it is clearly her own.

“Absentia” is a compelling 10-episode marathon watch that is heavily impeded by Emily’s husband and his wife. As the series progresses, it becomes clear these despicable characters are supposed to be the “moral centers” of the show. That's when the wheels come off the cart.

How Emily can have low enough self-esteem to accept this level of treatment only adds to the frustration. The series seems to think she deserves it too.

Watching Emily endure the personal side of her tragedy is like walking on broken glass. Even though it is torture, you feel like you owe it to her to stick it out. Especially since only one person on the show is doing that.

“Absentia” has its moments. As a mystery, it is hard to follow. As a personal drama, it is infuriating to watch. Few shows can make you feel this viscerally about its characters, which is a pretty strong testament to the series. Were it not for Stana Katic’s fantastic turn as Emily, “Absentia” would have been easier to turn off. In the end, it proves to be a wild ride worth taking.

Rating: 7/10

“Absentia” Season 1 is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

[Featured Image by Sony Pictures Television/AXN]