‘Thirteen’ Series Premiere: Lost and Found

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The latest from BBC America, “Thirteen” marks the first created series by Marnie Dickens, best-known for her work writing on the popular “Hollyoaks” series. Relative newcomer Vanessa Caswill takes the directing reins on the first three episodes, having cut her teeth on several shorts and episodes of “Love Matters” and “My Mad Fat Diary,” the latter of which featured Jodie Comer, who stars here as central character Ivy Moxam.

The plot revolves around Ivy’s reappearance after having gone missing some thirteen years- hence the title. According to Ivy, she was abducted, also at 13- she’s now 26- by an unknown individual who kept her captive in his cellar this entire time, rarely letting her see the light of day, if ever.

However, as the police locate the building in which she was allegedly held all this time, certain things don’t add up, not the least of which is the fact that there’s a bedroom with women’s clothing in the closet, hairs on the bed, and what appears to be a passport photo found on the ground. Was she really kidnapped, or is there more to the story?

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One thing’s for sure: the man who lives there is up to something. Police also find several credit cards and IDs on the premises, none of which are in the name which Ivy gave to the police. That in and of itself isn’t so surprising- of course he wouldn’t give her his real name- but there’s also a lack of compelling evidence that Ivy was held hostage, save a little blood spatter and the smell of bleach, possibly indicating he cleaned up the house on the fly, before making a run for it.

That said, DNA proves Ivy to be who she says she is, and she certainly acts like someone whose been through a terrible ordeal- at least most of the time. One of the detectives assigned to the case, Lisa Merchant (Valene Kane, “The Fall”) suspects a certain degree of Stockholm Syndrome, which could potentially explain why she was eventually let out of the cellar and allowed into a room.

However, some of her other behavior is a bit off, such her lack of compelling details about certain aspects of the case, and her sometime cavalier attitude, especially with ex-boyfriend Tim (Aneurin Barnard, “War & Peace”), with whom she acts as if no time has passed and seems to want to pick up right where they left off- though she does flinch at his touch, and indeed, the touch of her own father, Angus (Stuart Graham, also of “The Fall”).

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Meanwhile, her family is a bit of a mess, even without everything going on with Ivy. Angus left wife Christina (Natasha Little, “The Night Manager”) long ago to have an affair with his PA, Sofia (Melina Matthews, “Savage Grace”) and is completely estranged from the family and living with her, rarely even talking to his family at all.

Also, sister Emma (Katherine Rose Morley, “Last Tango in Halifax”), is engaged to be married to her boyfriend Craig (Joe Layton, “Tatau”), who lives with her and her mother in the family home. Perhaps the most dubious of them all, Emma isn’t entirely convinced Ivy even is her sister in the first place.

Arguably the most sympathetic to Ivy’s plight is Detective Inspector Elliott Carne (Richard Rankin, “The Crimson Field”), who takes to obsessively viewing her videotaped statements and promises her that he will capture her kidnapper at all costs, though his partner DS Merchant warns him not to get too attached- or to let Ivy get too attached to him.

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The kidnapper in question proves to be one Mark White (Peter McDonald, “The Damned United”), who, by the end of the episode, will have absconded with another little girl, despite his face being all over the news and having every cop in town looking for him.

Almost as bad, White proves have been an employee at Ivy’s former school, somehow escaping the notice of both the police and school headmaster Henry Stone (Nicholas Farrell, “Legend”), who appears to have gotten close to Christina in the meantime, which, needless to say, does not go over too well with her.

The premiere ends with the two lead detectives, Merchant and Carne, beseeching Ivy for help in tracking down White and his latest victim before he disappears for good, which is a distinct possibility, given all those credit cards, IDs and what have you.

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Factor in that passport photo, which Ivy claims was taken the one and only time he ever took her out of the apartment, and it would seem that White has near everything he would need to leave the country with this little girl. This means time is of the essence if they are to catch White before he vanishes without a trace, never to resurface in England again.

If all of this sounds somewhat familiar, it’s because it’s not too far removed from the ABC series “The Family,” which aired earlier this year, though technically, so did this series, at least in England. It’s also pretty close to some true-life cases that happened fairly recently, such as the one in Toledo, Ohio, as well as the one that happened in nearby Cleveland, both of which have inspired various episodes of shows like “Elementary” and “Law & Order.”

That said, this one does have a distinctly different tone than those others, being played very straight (unlike the flashier, soapier, “Family”) and in a quite grim and gloomy fashion, reminiscent of AMC’s “The Killing,” itself based on the Danish series “The Crime” or the BBC’s own “The Fall.”

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Also keeping in line with typical British shows, the first season is a relatively stealth five episodes, with the show functioning more or less like a mini-series, with creator Dickens having already announced it will be a self-contained single season, with no second season planned at this date. In short, as is the case with a lot of shows lately this summer, it’s a low-term commitment for discerning viewers.

As it stands, having enjoyed all the aforementioned shows just fine (save the original version of “The Crime,” which I haven’t seen), I’m in. If anything, Americans could stand to take a lesson from the Brits in terms of these shortened series, as far as I’m concerned, though a lot of shows are going with the 13 episode model, which isn’t so bad, either.

I mean, don’t get me wrong. I’m not completely adverse to a full season of a show, but it always seems to me that show-runners seem to run out of steam towards the middle almost inevitably, which is no good for anyone. I’d rather see a shortened season where every episode counts than one in which some of the shows are meh at best because they were buying for time.

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So far, “Thirteen” is solid enough to garner one’s attention in the short-term, so I can live with that, assuming it keeps chugging along at the same rate. The cast is good, even though I’m not familiar with most of them, save the vets of “The Fall.”

Also, despite the well-worn premise, it’s still intriguing enough to keep one wondering what will happen next and who’s up to what, which is saying something. While I’d probably take a pass on yet another show with the same premise moving forward, I’m hoping this one will take me out on a high note, so I won’t feel compelled to go there again in the first place. We’ll see.

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What did you think of “Thirteen”? Did you enjoy the premiere, too? Are you in for the full five-episode season? What did you think of the cast? Did the premise grab your attention, or have you seen it one too many times? Any ideas on what is really going on here, if anything shady? Sound off down below and join me again for a recap of the final episode!