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'The Killing' recap: World's worst teacher

April 25, 2011 |  8:00 am

For an episode of television where quite a bit happened, didn't it sort of feel like nothing happened in the latest episode of “The Killing”? Sure, we start the hour thinking maybe Bennet did it, and we end the hour really thinking he might have done it. And there are a few big developments on both the campaign and Larsen fronts. But by and large, this was a pretty listless hour, and I'm left wondering why.

The thing is, it's an inherent problem when telling a murder mystery over the course of a season. We've talked about this before, but no matter how much the series is trying to make Bennet seem like the ultimate bad guy, there's pretty much no way he can be because the series isn't going to be about Linden and Holder fingering the perp in Episode 4, then spending the other nine episodes slowly building a case against him. This isn't “The Wire,” where we pretty much know who's on which side from the get-go and the series is all about how the chips fall once they begin to do so. 

By its very nature, “The Killing” has to keep Rosie's killer shrouded in mystery. And that means it needs to figure out a way to kill time as the story goes along. In the tradition of mystery novels since the beginning of the genre, the show is mostly delving into the characters and figuring out what makes them tick. For instance, we find out this week that Bennet used to write emotional letters to another student -- and now he's married to her. She's pregnant with his baby, and even though she's his alibi for Friday night, the two weren't actually together. Furthermore, the chemical Sarah finds in Bennet's apartment, the one he's using to clean the floors, is the same that's all over Rosie's body. And the lab tech she talks to about it doesn't just suggest that someone who'd know to use this chemical to destroy evidence is a smart one, but he also says any such criminal would have done this before.

So there we have a fairly interesting portrayal of a character, theoretically. Bennet, who seemed to be so well-meaning and such a good teacher, is actually the type of teacher who seems to have a slight pattern of flirting with his female students, especially the pretty ones who show an interest in poetry. Plus, if the chemicals theory is correct, he's someone who's hiding far more beneath that surface than he seems to be at first.

So why is none of this connecting?

It's possible that the atmosphere of the show -- all gloomy angles and rain and dark clouds -- is making it seem like everybody has a dark past. And for the most part, that's accurate. When everybody's hiding something, it makes it that much harder to get invested when dark secrets come out. I mean, this is a show where the father of the dead girl is revealed to have some sort of history with organized crime, where the lead cop on the investigation has a mysterious past the depths of which we've only begun to plumb. Long stares into the distance and furrowed brows are great, but they eventually need to be backed up by something, and I fear “The Killing” is saving far too many big revelations for the final few episodes. Although those may end up being explosive, will anybody care if the show squanders its goodwill on the way there?

Or it could just be that this was my least favorite episode yet because it didn't really have much to do with the Larsens or with Linden and Holder's investigation and, instead, spent a lot of time within the Richmond campaign. I have come to grudgingly appreciate the Richmond campaign as a way to examine how a sensationalized crime like this affects a whole city's culture, but I still don't like the actual questions of how they're doing in the mayoral race, who the mole is, etc. (As it turns out, Richmond's up in the polls a little bit, and Jamie susses out that Nathan -- the guy in charge of the mole hunt -- is the mole, since he's somehow involved with Yitanes.) The machinations of the campaign just aren't as compelling as the other stuff, since they don't often dovetail with the story of who killed Rosie Larsen. They seem like ways to waste time.

Over in Mitch and Stan's house, however, there's much, much more grieving to be done. I realize that plenty of people have long ago lost their patience with seeing these two work through their utter sadness at the loss of their daughter, but I'm still tremendously impressed with both the acting and the rawness of the writing and directing. Can this go on forever? I don't think so (though the idea that Stan is somehow going to look into the investigation himself seems a little silly to me), but I'm still moved by scenes like the one where Stan breaks down in a gas-station bathroom or the one where Mitch has an abrupt freakout over seeing her son in a filled bathtub. These two are flailing, and they don't have anything to grasp hold of. 

Another scene that worked for me here was Darren approaching Mitch in the grocery store to tell her that all of this will get better. Sure, it's a bit too much of a leap that he would guess Mitch was holding Rosie's favorite cereal, but I liked the idea that there's a kind of connection between Darren and Mitch, the connection that would exist between any two people who've lost someone.

And yet as the episode ends -- with Linden pinning up still frames from Rosie's student film, which gives the episode its title, and Darren hanging out with his All-Stars -- I still find myself wondering if that's it. There's a thin line between a slow-building story that gathers steam and a directionless story that's, ultimately, rather boring. “The Killing” is struggling to stay on the right side of that line.

Photo: Stan Larsen (Brent Sexton) decides to take matters into his own hands in the investigation of the death of his daughter, Rosie. Credit: AMC

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--Todd VanDerWerff (follow me at