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'The Killing' recap: The walk-in freezer of DOOM!

May 9, 2011 |  9:00 am

KILL_020911_0156

So, wait? Is this supposed to be some kind of political commentary on the war on terror now?

"The Killing," now veering wildly from nearly gripping installments that give us plenty to ponder and boring installments that seem to have nothing going on, is a good show, but it's also a show that isn't really gelling. I don't regret watching it each week, but I always leave it wanting it to be better. And it's hard to explain just where it falls down. The mood and atmosphere is terrific, enough so that it gets me through episode after episode, barely even noticing how slowly things are moving and just how little is happening. And outside of the Richmond campaign, I like most of the characters and the little, human moments we get to see between them.

No, if I had to pin down just what it is that's not working for me about this show, it's that I don't really care who killed Rosie Larsen. Writing a murder mystery is a tough trick to pull off because you have to essentially distract from the fact that the most important character in the story is already dead. If Linden could find some way to communicate with Rosie from beyond the grave, the case would be solved and we wouldn't have to do any of this. But instead, Rosie is an absence at the center of the story, someone whose loss kicks off all of these other events.

There are any number of methods designed to get around this problem. You can try to make Rosie's life seem more lurid and interesting than it was at first glance. The show tried to do this back when it was suggesting that Rosie was wrapped up in a bunch of horrible habits, but it's mostly dropped this approach. You can have us really get to know the dead person, in the hopes that we'll come to feel the loss as much as those who loved the dead person. "The Killing" also tried this, by showing us bits and pieces of Rosie's short film or by having those who knew her best talk about how wonderful she was. Or you can just crank the plot up to maximum speed and hope that the sheer number of crazy twists distracts from the lack of a character core. "The Killing" occasionally seems to feint in this direction, but it moves so slowly that it can't really be a success.

"Vengeance," despite having a lot of really nice moments, is the episode that drove home for me just how thoroughly "The Killing" is coming up short in terms of being both a plot-driven story and a character-driven story. In some ways, I wonder if the "every episode is a single day" conceit isn't hurting the show just a tiny bit. Doing an entire episode based around Stan wondering if he should kill or harm Bennet, and Bennet trying to convince Stan that he was innocent, could have been great. Linden and Holder could have desperately searched for the two. Richmond could have stood up for Bennet to Adams more forcefully (in fact, wrapping the debate into that episode might have been awesome).

Instead, because we need to cut to the next day, the Bennet-and-Stan situation is resolved -– with Stan not doing much of anything (as he must if he’s going to stay in the show and not go to jail) -– and Linden and Holder go off to something else. Richmond, realizing he's botched the debate, yet again stands up for Bennet's innocence with his staff, then finds himself the subject of a smear campaign based on his decision not to call for Bennet's dismissal from the school system (a city council member would have that much power?).

All of this bumps along well enough until the end, when Richmond finds himself called in for a surprise city council meeting (which totally happens all of the time) designed to shut down the All-Stars program at the behest of the mayor. Sure enough, the vote goes through, and Richmond finds himself outfoxed by Adams again. (At this point, if he wants to have any prayer of winning, he'd better hope that Adams is the killer, however improbable that would be.) Linden and Holder, meanwhile, have followed a new lead involving Bennet's friend Mohammad, who won't even look at Bennet's wife, Ashley, and sounds like a real charmer. The lead brings them to a creepy, abandoned space, complete with giant freezer, but just as soon as they can get into the freezer ... the FBI bursts in and throws them to the ground. Is Mohammad under investigation for terrorist leanings? Seems that way.

But, honestly, this was pretty much everything that happened in the episode. That would be fine if the character beats were going somewhere interesting, but they're just not. We keep hearing about how Linden is throwing her life away for this case, but I don't really buy that she's so into it that she would avoid going to Sonoma. The show keeps dropping hints about her dark past, but they're becoming kind of snooze-worthy at this point. At least we learned that Richmond’s wife (whose mother was the mayor of "Everwood"!) was killed in a drunk-driving accident and that he's been unable to forgive the other driver. And the scenes between Mitch and Stan were, as always, very good.

But I can't shake the feeling that the show is just marking time until the next plot revelation every episode. The characters aren't so much developing as constantly showing us the same side of themselves, over and over and over. What do we really know about any of them that we didn't know from the first two episodes? Nothing. And that means the plot has to be a lot more interesting and exciting than it actually is. I don't regret watching "The Killing," but I'm starting to wonder when it's going to start getting juicy and stop feeling like an extra-long episode of "Cold Case."

Photo: Linden (Meirelle Enos) and Holder (Joel Kinnaman) discover a strange walk-in freezer, but they're interrupted before they can find out what it contains. Credit: AMC

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-- Todd VanDerWerff
Twitter.com/@tvoti

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