Like Councilman Darren Richmond’s floundering political fortunes, The Killing is taking a hit in the public opinion polls (and ratings) as the AMC murder mystery struggles to find dramatic traction in the middle episodes of its rookie season. Perhaps this was inevitable; serial dramas that mount year-long campaigns of story often spin their wheels right about now. But that doesn’t make the dawdle any less disappointing. The Killing does have its unique frustrations. The show has irked many viewers by doting on the anguish of Rosie Larsen’s parents; “grief porn” is a phrase I’ve read here and there. Others, like critic Alan Sepinwall, have been lamenting the show’s formulaic approach to each episode’s investigation narrative, wherein (and I’m paraphrasing Sepinwall’s analysis here) nothing much happens until the discovery of a seemingly significant clue in the last scene, which is then quickly processed or forgotten the following week. (More on Rosie’s alluringly cryptic super 8 movie! Please!) And then there is the political subplot of Seattle’s mayoral contest, which is beginning to strain credulity, and the ongoing matter of Linden constantly delaying her move to California to start her new life with fiancé Rick, although that doesn’t bother me as much as it bothers other people.
The Killing’s storytelling structure – each episode covers a day (or so) in the life – justifies a slower pace and rationalizes whole episodes devoted to minimal-gain grunt work and multi-episode arcs showcasing suspects who may or may not be dead ends. Still, being pseudo-realistic can come at the cost of being genuinely riveting. Last night’s episode – entitled “Vengeance” — was the first time The Killing grated on me. Nothing much happened, and the things that did served to nourish some storylines that I’m starting to max out on, specifically the fixation with Bennet Ahmed, who is simply not compelling enough to warrant the screen/story time given to him. It appears The Killing wants to make some points about the demonization of anyone with an Arab-sounding name in post-9/11 America. I appreciate the point; nonetheless, I’m growing weary of Bennet. I might be more forgiving of “Vengeance” if not for the irritating cliffhanger: We saw Linden and Holder bust into a creepy back alley butcher shop and break into a darkened locker. I think they saw something (maybe the body of the missing Muslim girl they learned about earlier in the ep?), but they were wrestled to the ground by a raid of FBI agents before we could get confirmation. If The Killing is going to commit to a formula where nothing much happens until a final, revelatory scene, well… okay. But at least stick to the damn formula!
THE KILLING CASE FILE
EPISODE SEVEN: “VENGEANCE”
OLD LEADS: Stan Larsen — encouraged by Belko to believe that Bennet killed Rosie — brought the accused teacher to the waterfront with the intention of executing some eye-for-an-eye street justice. But the former mob goon couldn’t go through with it. Bennet returned home to find pregnant wife (and former pupil) Amber spilling some beans to Linden. Contrary to what the neighborhood loony told Linden, Amber claimed she wasn’t home on the night of Rosie’s murder. Why wasn’t Amber at her sister’s house when she should have been per her alibi? Because she was parked outside Bennet’s school, spying on her husband and making sure he wasn’t cheating on her with some hot, not-pregnant student at the Halloween dance. Who was the other person at the house when Rosie stopped by after the dance to drop off a book? Amber said it could have been a man named Mohammed who had been teaching Bennet about The Qu’ran. Bennet had become close to Mohammed and had even given him a key the house. Amber may have said more, but Bennet shut her down by telling Linden he was lawyering up.
NEW LEADS: Linden and Holder followed the Mohammed lead to a mosque near Green Lake. They were rebuffed by the mosque’s leader, as he was frustrated with police’s lack of attention to the case of another missing girl, a member of their religious community. As Linden was putting on her shoes to leave, she found a note. Written on the note — left by a woman, per my careful review of the background action in the scene — was an address. The location was hard to find, but Linden found the street number on an alley door. Inside, Linden and Holder found a bloody table saw, meat hooks, and a locked room. Before we could see what was inside, the FBI barged in. Arrrrgh.
THEORY: Bennet’s peeping tom neighbor also told Linden last week that he saw Bennet and someone else carry a body-shaped something out the front door shortly after Rosie’s late night book drop. Could it be that the “someone else” was Mohammed, and the girl wasn’t Rosie, but the missing girl from the mosque, and the book she was dropping off wasn’t “something Victorian,” but that edition of The Qu’ran that Linden found in Bennet’s home? It could be that Bennet really did participate in a murder at his home on the night of the Halloween dance – but not Rosie’s.
EVERYONE HAS A SECRET (AND OTHER DEVELOPMENTS)
BELKO: Again, Belko spoke of his “contact” at Rosie’s school. Said contact told him that Bennet killed Rosie after taking her down to the secret party spot known as “The Cage” in the bowels of the school. Assuming Belko wasn’t lying about any of this: Who is his “contact” and why is he or she (the principal?!) so eager to finger Bennet for Rosie’s murder? SPEAKING OF “THE CAGE”: I find myself really missing the aspect of the story that focused on Rosie’s friends and the school. There has to be more to Sterling, Jasper, et. al. Hopefully, we’ll get back to them soon.
STAN AND MITCH LARSEN: We learned that Mitch had initially refused to have children with Stan until he renounced his mob ways and days. He did, and never looked back. The marriage — and family — flourished. In fact, Stan told his wife he couldn’t kill Bennet because it meant going back to being the man he used to be, and he didn’t want that for himself. Yayyy Stan! And Mitch was proud of him. But then the grieving mother was badgered by her own mother — a judgmental, strong-willed, imminently unlikable matriarch — to demand more forward-moving action from the police and Stan. Mitch tried to resist her mother’s needling, but after she herself badgered Belko for his (flawed) narrative of Rosie’s death, something changed, and that night, she resisted Stan’s advances for physical intimacy. Has Mitch been bitten by the vengeance bug? Does she, too, now want more “action” from her husband? (LOADED SYMBOL ALERT! “Vengeance” was less about specific acts of retribution and more a snapshot of a culture wired for vengeance in the aftermath of 9/11. Look no further than the most popular superhero of our times: Batman, the so-called “dark knight,” who became a lawless vigilante (albeit in a corrupt city with an ineffectual police force) in the wake of his parents’ murder. Did you catch the kite that the Larsen kids wanted to fly in the scene where Stan explained to his boys how Rosie really died? It was the Batman icon — a black bat against a yellow background.)
TERRY: Mitch’s sister — a great source of support to Mitch and Stan and the kids — also felt the brunt of Mom’s prickly parenting. Mom felt Terry could have been doing even more to help. After all, it wasn’t like Terry was doing anything else with her wasted life. Ouch! Last week we saw Terry flash shiny eyes at Jasper’s father. No development on that front this week. The Killing seems to be messaging that Terry has squandered her life with some bad choices. How significant is her backstory to Rosie’s murder?
LINDEN: She missed her plane to Sonoma. Again. Now Rick won’t return her calls. What’s interesting, though, is that she won’t book herself on the next flight out until she hears back from him. Why is she waiting for his permission? Why doesn’t she just freakin’ go already? Of course, we know. She can’t give up on the case. And maybe she never wanted to leave in the first place. I know some of you find this tension lacking… well, tension. She can’t abandon ship — she’s the star of the freakin’ show! (But would it hurt the season if she spent an episode in Sonoma and then got called back or decided she couldn’t stay?) I think the ongoing will-she-or-won’t-she is designed to draw Linden (and us) deeper into the mystery of her unresolved self, linked to this other case in her past about a missing, murdered child. I’m eager to know more about it, and by extension, more about Linden. I have faith that this subplot will really pay off, either in a chilling way or uplifting way. Chilling: What if Rick never calls back — and Linden just lets it go? There’s something sadly haunting about the prospect of Linden allowing this relationship to slip away — killing her chance at love by just… doing nothing. And it never gets talked about again. Uplifting: Why the hell doesn’t Rick just move to Seattle? How can he begrudge this woman for being such a valiant, dogged agent of justice? Surely he isn’t so jerkish. And I don’t think he is. Which is why I think the last scene of the season will have Rick showing up and announcing that he’s given up on her moving toward him — and that he’s moving toward her.
JACK: Linden’s son went to a paintball party. She spied on him and saw that her son wasn’t all that popular with the other boys. He also didn’t know how to work a gun. So Linden taught him. Upward mobility via violence!
HOLDER: Linden’s partner was pissed that she wouldn’t, like, leave already, dammit! He’s desperate to prove himself by solving the Larsen case and accused her of messing with his career by continuing to stick around. Many of you think Holder knows more about Rosie’s murder than he’s telling. I don’t think he had anything to do with the killing, but I am coming around to the view that he’s connected to a conspiracy tied to it.
DARREN RICHMOND: We learned that the woman who killed his wife — a drunk driver — was getting paroled from prison. I suspect the theme of forgiveness will become the defining emotional idea of Richmond’s remaining storyline and compliment Linden’s own arc about coming to grips with her past. What I’m hating about all things Richmond right now is this idea of Bennet as political albatross. It’s not that I don’t think this mess wouldn’t hurt his campaign. I just find it ridiculous that Mayor Adams would pursue the angle so ruthlessly. Last week, Adams all but publicly accused Bennet of Rosie’s murder while attacking Richmond’s unwillingness to distance himself from Bennet, the spokesman of Richmond’s All Stars after-school program. This, even though the cops haven’t named Bennet as a person of interest and even though Linden and Holder’s boss won’t even give them a search warrant for Bennet’s home until they get more solid evidence. In last night’s episode, Adams manipulated the Seattle city council into suspending its funding of All-Stars until Richmond called for Bennet’s resignation. Mayor Adams has become so transparently diabolical that I find it hard to believe that the media or the voters would be letting him get away with his immoral, maybe illegal, certainly politicized rush to judgment. Is the Emerald City of The Killing so profoundly 9/11-scarred that no one gives a s— about Adams’ grotesque gamesmanship? Maybe the residents of the real Seattle have an opinion on this.
Hopefully next week, The Killing comes back with a creative vengeance. So to speak.