The story of THE SISTER is a familiar one: a woman, Elise (Simone Ashley), disappears without a trace after a night out on the town. Years later, no progress has been made and her family, although moving forward with their lives, is left without any closure.
But there is someone who knows what happened to their missing daughter and sister. And he’s been right under their nose the entire time.
The thing about Hulu’s newly acquired miniseries THE SISTER is that the story doesn’t belong to the missing woman’s family. It doesn’t even belong to the missing woman. Instead, the story revolves around a man named Nathan (Russell Tovey). Nathan, as it is revealed early on, played an active role in Elise’s disappearance, and, a few years after the fact, knowingly pursued a relationship with Elise’s sister Holly (Amrita Acharia) —and married her. After years of building a life with Holly, Nathan’s accomplice in Elise’s disappearance, Bob (Bertie Carvel), reconnects with him because they need to take a few additional steps to ensure that their secret remains hidden.
While THE SISTER acknowledges Holly and her family’s pain stemming from the sudden loss of Elise and the unsuccessful investigation into her disappearance, the series really only focuses on Nathan’s emotional journey. His guilt, his anxiety, his paranoia, his remorse. Because, you know, he did a truly terrible thing and continues that pattern by building his entire marriage on a foundation of lies and deceit.
I guess we’re supposed to root for Nathan. Or at least sympathize with him. At best, he was a witness to a crime and was pressured by his friend Bob (who is a caricature of a sketchy, paranormal-obsessed researcher type) into covering it up. At worst, he was the facilitator of said crime and made matters so much worse by, again, pursuing a relationship with the sister of the woman who was victimized.
Despite an admittedly fantastic performance by Russell Tovey, I found myself actively rooting against Nathan. Maybe it’s because, globally, millions of women go missing and are often never found. In the United States and Canada, for example, the specific epidemic of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women is particularly severe; in 2015, the newly-elected Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, launched a national inquiry to address it.
So given the fact that missing (and murdered) women is a real-life problem in every country, and given the fact that in many, if not most, of these cases these women met their ends at the hands of men, I found it exceedingly difficult to empathize or even sympathize with the protagonist of THE SISTER. Nathan is wracked with guilt and remorse but seems to think that, despite everything, he’s a decent person. That a mistake he made years ago shouldn’t define him or ruin his life.
But the truth of the matter is that the actions he took do define his character.
THE SISTER’s saving grace is in its ending. Kind of. If the goal of the series, which was based upon the novel Burial by Neil Cross, who also had a hand in the television adaption, is to force the viewer to confront their own sense of ethics and morality, then it might be successful. But that really depends on who the viewer is.
In essence, THE SISTER is the story about a missing woman, written by a man (Neil Cross), directed by a man (Niall McCormick), and told entirely from the perspective of the man who is responsible for her disappearance.
If you’re in the mood for a British miniseries that can be described as a thriller with a twist of the paranormal, you can catch all episodes of THE SISTER on Hulu starting January 22nd.