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'The Killing' recap: In which everybody has a dark past

April 18, 2011 |  9:00 am

KILL_011011_0134 Well, so much for the whole “mystery” aspect of this show.

For the last few weeks, it’s been obvious “The Killing” was trying to turn everybody on the show into a suspect of some sort. And that was fun. Married to the show’s great sense of atmosphere and wonderful sense of personal crisis, the wonderful cast of characters brought an air of mystery that the proceedings needed. But now that Alan Dale –- who always, only, plays evil dudes, like the evil dude on “The O.C.” or Charles Widmore on “Lost” –- has turned up as Gwen’s father, a senator, no less, I think we can all agree that he did it and just move on with our lives, waiting for the other characters to catch up.

I kid, of course (though it would be enormously amusing if the senator did turn out to be the culprit in the end), but Dale’s appearance enlivens what’s been the series’ weakest elements so far: the campaign of Darren Richmond for mayor. It’s obvious that the storyline is here both because it was in the original Danish series and because this series so badly wants to be the British miniseries “State of Play,” but the characters in the Richmond campaign aren’t as compelling as the cops or the Larsen family.

But now that we’re watching Darren kowtow to a rich guy he’d rather not be involved with and seeing Gwen try to get her dad to help her out, the political aspects of the story are picking up a bit. I also liked the twist involving Jamie now being a mole within the mayor’s campaign for Darren, which I didn’t see coming. This isn’t on the level of everything else, but it’s at least more interesting now than it was before.

Other than that, while this wasn’t the best episode of “The Killing,” it was the one that most convinced me that the show could work as a TV show going forward. Every character has a fairly small goal to accomplish (which they all do before the end of the hour), and while the serialized story moves forward, it also makes time for plenty of smaller, standalone interpersonal stories. If this is the structure the show will adopt going forward, it won’t wear out its welcome very quickly.

Let’s take a look at what everybody’s up to:

Sarah: Sarah’s task in the episode is to figure out just who Rosie’s new boyfriend was. After she and Holder find out that the video from last week -– which appeared to feature Rosie being raped –- was a fake set up by Rosie’s ex, his best friend, and her best friend, who was just glad to have the boys paying attention to her and not Rosie. (Even she seems ashamed to admit to this.) Sterling drops a hint, though, that sends Sarah searching: She thinks maybe Rosie was seeing someone else.

Before Sarah can figure out that Rosie was seeing her teacher (I told you guys he was up to no good!), though, she has to deal with the fact that her fiancé is unexpectedly in town, having brought the cake tasting to her, since she couldn’t get away from Seattle. I’m loving the way that Mireille Enos is playing these story moments, with her character really truly loving this guy but also being compelled by the case she needs to solve. The scene where her fiancé realizes she’s gone and challenges her son to a cake-eating competition was rather heartbreaking. And all the same, Sarah’s digging up a cache of love letters, hidden away in a globe lamp.

Possibly cryptic hint at Sarah’s dark past: Her fiancé mentions he can’t compete with a ghost.

Holder: Holder’s task this episode, given to him by Sarah, is to ride the bus Sterling saw Rosie getting onto when she was going off to meet her secret boyfriend. He doesn’t take too kindly to this, grousing about how Sarah always makes him do the worst jobs. But after whining for a while, a new bus driver lets him know that, yes, Rosie used to ride that bus to the end of the line.

And when he gets to the last stop, he follows a couple of conveniently placed teens in Fort Washington High letter jackets to a basement gym, where Darren Richmond’s all-stars program meets to practice basketball (the game being a subtle motif throughout the episode). And who should be the coach, as seen in a photograph, but … our friend the teacher! (Told you guys he’d have a connection to the Richmond campaign!) There’s not a lot to this, but I love how Holder can’t quite deal with the mundane nature of some of this police work yet continues to get results.

Possibly cryptic hint at Holder’s dark past: Kris asks him how long he’s been off  drugs.

The Larsens: Rosie’s parents, meanwhile, have to deal with the prosaic nature of moving forward, of planning a funeral, of gathering Rosie’s stuff at school. These scenes continue to be the darkly moving soul of this series, the part that constantly reminds us that when a murder happens -– as so often happens on TV shows these days –- people have to live with the residue of violence the rest of their lives. There’s a too-clichéd scene in a church (where Mitch asks the priest where God was when her daughter died), and even if Michelle Forbes plays it beautifully, it’s a scene we’ve seen a million times before. 

Better, then, is the scene in which Mitch and Stan see the graphic images of their daughter’s corpse or the moment where Mitch unexpectedly runs into Sterling and the woman and the girl comfort each other. (I also really liked the moment before Mitch’s church outburst, where she saw flashes of her daughter’s wounds in the wounds on Christ’s body up on the cross.) The Larsens are still my favorite part of this, particularly when one of the other story lines intrudes on their lives, and we feel just how nakedly they want the world to leave them alone. It’s all good stuff.

Possibly cryptic hint at Stan’s dark past: OK, not so cryptic. Stan was once involved in the world of organized crime? Buh?

All in all, this was a solid episode of “The Killing,” and it showed that, yes, this show can tell individual stories within an episode or two. Now let’s hope that the show doesn’t dispense with Bennett as a suspect as quickly as it did Jasper and Kris. 

Photo: Darren Richmond (Billy Campbell) has to grovel before a potential donor when his campaign runs out of money. (Credit: AMC)

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--Todd VanDerWerff (follow me on Twitter at @tvoti)

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