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'The Killing' recap: The strange saga of Belko Royce

May 30, 2011 |  9:00 am

Well, that was … better.

Look, if “The Killing” pulls off something miraculous and nails its final three episodes, coming up with a finale that makes us question everything we thought we knew about the show and brilliantly brings the season to a close, the weird misstep into the overly elaborate and eventually silly Bennet plot line is going to hang over the season, spreading its stench everywhere. It’s as if the show wandered down one alleyway and couldn’t find its way out, with all of the major characters repeating the same basic beats for four or five episodes, without an end in sight. But now that the Bennet story is more or less over –- with Bennet resting in a hospital in critical condition and Stan having turned himself in and residing in jail -– it feels like the show can get going again. And although there were stupid things in tonight’s episode, this was the most I’ve enjoyed “The Killing” in a while.

Let’s start with the obvious plus here: Freed of pursuing Bennet, Linden and Holder cast their net more widely and end up investigating Belko Royce finally. And what they find makes young Belko the most intriguing and fascinating suspect yet. A man who still lives with his mother -- a lingerie-clad, overly flirtatious woman in her elderly years -- and sleeps in a bedroom that appears to have been decorated the same since he was 11, Belko just longed for the simplicities of a normal family life. Thus, he decorated his bedroom ceiling with photos of the Larsen family and snuck into their house when they were away, acting almost as if he lived there. (My favorite moment from this storyline: Holder tossing Belko the basketball so he could get a look at the hand Belko was hiding away.)

And that’s why Belko was home when Rosie came home from Bennet’s on the night of her murder. (The moment when Holder points out that the light to the Larsen house flicks off when Rosie arrives in the cab is one of the more chilling moments the series has come up with.) Now, we’re still three episodes from the end, so that means Belko didn’t do it, but he at least provides another solid lead: the name Adela. Adela hooks up with the note Linden and Holder found in the Koran they got from Bennet, and at the end of the episode, Linden realizes it’s a ferry, a ferry that would have taken Rosie to a casino out on one of Seattle’s outlying islands.

But even more importantly, the Belko revelations show a way that the series could have had its cake and eaten it too. The biggest problem with “The Killing” is that it’s had neither solid character development nor forward plot momentum. If the plot is hurtling forward in interesting and inventive ways, a show can be forgiven a certain amount of character flatness. And if a show is digging deep into its characters and their motivations, then if the plot moves glacially, so be it. My greatest fear when watching the pilot of this show was that it would sink into a series of barely motivated character decisions necessitated by the plot, making it something very similar to something enjoyably trashy like FX’s “Damages.” I wanted character development. I would have taken plot momentum. Instead, I got neither.

But the Belko storyline gives an example of how the show could have engaged in something vaguely irritating –- raising suspects and dismissing them in the space of one episode -– but made it more interesting. Belko isn’t just a suspect who’s dismissed right away. The little journey into his life is both creepy and fascinating. If the show had done this with more suspects -– with people we’ve still barely gotten to know 10 episodes in -– then each episode could have been like a mini-mystery, with Linden and Holder probing into the weird, potentially crime-ridden lives of the suspects, then clearing them after making certain discoveries. It might have gotten formulaic, but I’d have rather had something like that than the endless wheel-spinning of the Bennet arc.

In fact, now that we’ve moved on to Belko (and whomever Rosie met at that casino), it’s as if the rest of the show can move forward too. We don’t get a single scene of Mitch and Stan grieving tonight. Instead, Stan ends up in jail, contemplating how he landed there, while Mitch abruptly realizes that the family’s finances are circling the drain. She also takes charge of the moving business for a brief time while her husband is gone, and we finally start to get a sense of who this woman was before Rosie died, before her life was set in shambles. Similarly, seeing the sadness on Stan’s face after what he’d done tells us more about him than we’ve gotten from weeks of scenes where he helps little girls ride bicycles or the like.

And while the Richmond stuff remains the least interesting thing about the show, it’s finally tied back into the Rosie investigation, which means there’s stuff going on, at least. The unexpected vindication of Bennet has made Richmond look like he possesses integrity, and he’s flogging that revelation in every media appearance he can, castigating the mayor for canceling the All-Stars program (in that completely ridiculous City Council meeting) and suggesting that everybody should have listened to him in the first place. It’s a canny bit of politics, but who knows what the revelation that he’s shaken Rosie’s hand would do to his campaign. (Isn’t it ironic that she was found in his campaign car when they’ve met? So says a campaign aide in the week’s most crushingly on-the-nose dialogue.) Sure, he’s shaken lots of hands, but Gwen sure seems to see something more in the photo (or maybe she’s just staring dramatically because it’s the end of the episode and they need her to).

Again, this wasn’t perfect, but at least it feels like we’re going somewhere. It’s all but impossible to see “The Killing” as anything other than elaborate misfire at this point, but at least we can hope for a solid ending. And at least we won't have to hear more about Linden moving to Sonoma when we knew she wouldn't. This was a step in the right direction.


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

Photo: Linden (Mireille Enos) and Holder (Joel Kinnaman) make a disturbing discovery in Belko Royce's bedroom. (Credit: AMC)