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'The Killing' recap: Collision course

May 2, 2011 |  9:00 am

Killingbennet

The best episodes of “The Killing” create the sense that the Darren Richmond campaign, the investigation into the death of Rosie Larsen, and the Larsen family grieving Rosie’s death are all in imminent danger of collision, where everything could go haywire thanks to one ill-timed event or moment. The previous episode of the show, easily the series’ weakest so far, was far too involved in the idea of who the mole in the Richmond campaign was, and thus felt distanced from the murder at the story’s center. This episode felt like a nice step up from that episode, and it was the first in a while where all of the pieces fit together into a climax that was legitimately thrilling.

The man hooking all three of these stories together continues to be Bennet Ahmed, Rosie’s increasingly shady teacher, whose alibi for the night of Rosie’s murder falls apart more and more by the minute. What’s more, in this episode, his wife's alibi similarly crumbled, to the point where both Linden and Holder were wondering if she didn’t kill Rosie in a fit of jealousy, and then asked her husband to help her cover it up. Not everything adds up completely -- I still don’t think the show would have introduced the specter of a serial killer only to ditch that idea as quickly as it seemed to -- and it’s too early for us to take Bennet’s guilt as anything other than a red herring, but he’s by far the most compelling suspect on a pure character level at this point, a teacher with a longstanding and creepy fascination with his young female students, who keeps “forgetting” to give key facts to the police.

But Bennet’s not just the main focus of Linden and Holder’s investigation this week; the Richmond campaign and the Larsens also become aware of his existence. This nicely ramps up the tension in two very different ways in two very different storylines. Richmond has to figure out a way to distance himself from a man who was, after all, involved in his Seattle All-Stars program and now looks like a very likely murderer without convicting the man in the court of public opinion. And Stan’s motivation is far more simple: He wants revenge, and now that he knows Bennet’s the one who might have killed his daughter, he’s going to offer the teacher a ride home from the post-funeral gathering, then just “happen” to miss Bennet’s exit.

One of the reasons I’m so much more willing to buy the twists in the Larsen storyline than I am in the Richmond storyline is because the Larsen storyline feels more and more like an escalation, and it’s very well acted. When Stan was revealed to have ties to the mob, it could have been a breaking point, a point where the show left behind its carefully constructed sense of kitchen-sink realism and become a crime-fiction potboiler. Instead, Brent Sexton and the writers have made this seem like something that’s informed Stan’s actions all along. Of COURSE he has these ties. Of COURSE he’s killed men who could have put him behind bars. Even if he seemed like a big, lovable lug in the pilot, those darker undertones somehow seem like they’ve always been there. It’s a canny bit of writing and performance, to take a guy who seemed so gentle at one time and make it seem utterly terrifying to imagine what he might do to Bennet as he and the teacher drive off into the rain at episode’s end.

The Richmond storyline, on the other hand, has often felt like it has constantly gotten distracted by bright, shiny things, like the mole story, for instance, which didn’t really tell us much of anything about who Richmond is or his quixotic attempts to simultaneously distance himself from a dead girl being found in one of his campaign cars while making sure the best chance he has at making that separation permanent isn’t convicted before his trial. When the show focuses on how the Larsen murder investigation affects Richmond, his character becomes 10 times more interesting, and all of the notes the series tries to hit about how Richmond’s ideals keep running up against his ambitions are that much more powerful. When it tries to do just about anything else with the character, it feels exactly like what it is: a story designed to cut away from the Larsen murder investigation from time to time. The story seems to want to emulate some of the better British crime miniseries, like the original “State of Play,” where the local politicians were intimately tied into the tale of the police investigation. So far, it’s struggling to do that.

At the same time, though, watching “The Killing” is all about the fascinating little things around the edges of the story. Take, for instance, all of the great little grace notes in the midst of the tale of Rosie’s funeral, like the scene where the oldest Larsen boy crushed the millipede that seemed to be heading for Rosie’s open grave, a tiny little moment of character development and symbolism that probably wasn’t strictly necessary but gave a much better sense of who that young kid was than anything he’s said in the series so far.

Or, for that matter, take the scene where Holder tries to get to the bottom of Bennet’s alibi by talking to his sister-in-law, trying to make common cause with her when he sees she has a cross necklace by showing her his similar tattoo. And yet when she reveals that she mostly doesn’t like her brother-in-law because of racist and xenophobic reasons, he’s forced to sit there and nod along if he wants any better information. It’s scenes like this that make this show work, scenes where the detectives and those around them have all the best intentions of solving this crime by finding themselves stymied by that most basic of obstacles: the people they’re trying to ask questions.

Photo: Stan Larsen (Brent Sexton, left) learns that his daughter's former teacher, Bennet Ahmed (Brandon Jay McLaren), is one of the chief suspects in her death. Credit: AMC

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-- Todd VanDerWerff 

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