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BBC’s ‘Thirteen’ Explores Reentry of a Long-Missing Child
June 23, 2016  | By David Hinckley

Television’s fascination with disappeared children takes a dark, intense turn in Thirteen, a show titled for the number of years that young Ivy Moxam was held prisoner by a kidnapper who imagined her to be his girlfriend/partner.

The five-part BBC drama, which premieres Thursday at 10 p.m. ET on BBC America, picks up the story as Ivy escapes, and actress Jodie Comer (top) gradually makes her into one of the most compelling and intriguing characters on TV this year.

Ivy was kidnapped at 13 by Mark White (Peter McDonald), whose almost tangible creepiness is thinly coated with a veneer of ultra-civility. He’s the classic television pervert, making the viewer’s skin crawl in a way that intensifies everything we can imagine Ivy went through.

Still, the story doesn’t focus on what she suffered with White. Rather, it details what she suffers once she escapes, since her family and much of the world have no idea how to act or how to reengage this person who spent half her life in, quite literally, a black hole.

Her early teenage crush, Tim Hobson (Aneurin Barnard, bottom left with Comer), is now married. He tries to hide this from Ivy when they reconnect, and that doesn’t work out real well for anyone, including Tim’s wife.

Ivy’s parents, Christina (Natasha Little) and Angus (Stuart Graham, both left with Comer), try different clumsy tactics. Christina tries to put the world back together as Ivy would remember it, despite the inconvenient fact that she and Angus have separated, and Angus has a new girlfriend.

Angus is still beating himself up for not saving Ivy in the first place, so when it turns out her ordeal with White may not be over, he starts getting impulsive.

The reemergence of White also seems to put a second girl in danger, forcing a skeptical police department to turn to Ivy for help after they have raised a series of questions about inconsistencies in her original story.

The cops, notably Detective Inspector Elliott Carne (Richard Rankin) and Detective Sgt. Lisa Merchant (Valene Kane), have their own battles inside the department, as their superiors don’t like the way they’re running the case.

At the same time, Carne and Merchant have an intriguing “will they/won’t they” personal dance that plays in subtle parallel to the show’s other couple relationships.

The bottom line seems to be that no relationship anywhere is what we’d define as normal and uncomplicated, though that doesn’t excuse White for the demented fantasy he tries to impose on Ivy.

In any case, what holds Thirteen together is Comer, who can glide easily from relief to apprehension and trust to isolation as each new development or realization washes over her.

She doesn’t always do what we want or what we know would be smart, accurately reflecting the fact that even if her last 13 years were screwed up beyond description, they were still half her life.

She can’t just say “nevermind” and move on, nor does she have an easy way of explaining those 13 years to a world that has no framework for understanding them.

Almost incidentally, it could be noted that the core drama of Thirteen could be told in an hour. Fleshing it out enables the writers to poke into nuances and dark corners, and they justify extra hours. They also seem to know when to stop, and five episodes feels about right.

It also takes us to the same clear point: Finding what was lost isn’t the same as putting them back together.

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