Posted Monday, May 9, 2011, at 11:06 AM
There are spoilers ahead!
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I think I've developed a case of Stockholm Syndrome when it comes to The Killing. It's an inherent risk when you write about a show episode-by-episode, as Josh Levin noted in his recent Slate piece on TV recappers : When you "[sit] too close to the screen," it's harder to see (or admit?) a show's overarching flaws. I just got back from a trip to Asia, and on the long New York to Tokyo flight I ripped through the first six episodes of the British sci-fi series Torchwood . It got me thinking—as I have a few times in the past few weeks—that I'd rather be watching The Killing that way, too. Just mosey through all 13 episodes some hungover Sunday, rather than investing the energy in being a dedicated long-haul viewer and puzzler-outer of clues. I worry: Is this show actually kind of ... boring?
The wicked jet lag may be contributing to my crankiness, as is Nancy Franklin's recent New Yorker pan . (Though I'm not the only weekly watcher who's feeling frustrated at this point .) I still really like these characters, in the sense that I want to hear and see more of them—particularly Linden, Holder, Stan, and Mitch. But the show isn't giving them much room to breathe or expand because it's so committed to the mechanics of the murder mystery, which is starting to feel tedious in and of itself.
I felt this most strongly in last night's Linden storyline, in which she misses her plane to California and then spends the rest of the episode trying to get her fiancé, Rick, on the phone so she can apologize. I've complained in the past that the will-she-make-it-to-Sonoma? subplot feels forced, but last night I was genuinely curious about Linden's relationship with Rick. Why, exactly, is she drawn to him while at the same time feels compelled to push him away? What's keeping Rick attached to a woman who treats him with such little regard? (Really, she forgot she was moving that night?) I wanted to see how Linden would handle the conversation when she actually got Rick on the phone; it had the potential to be a really rich exchange, character-wise. Near the end of the episode, I thought we were going to get to see that play out. When the detectives arrive at 106 Renton Avenue (where they'd been directed by a very convenient note dropped in Linden's empty shoe at the mosque), Linden walks away from Holder and down a dark alley to make yet another call to Rick. But rather than stepping away from the investigation to allow us a closer look at her private life, it turns out Linden's just trying to get closer to her target: the back entrance to the store. I get that, at this point, she's more committed to the case than her soon-to-be-husband. But then why tease us with this potentially complex and interesting relationship?
That said, there were some great moments of character development. I thought the two scenes where Stan and Mitch try, haltingly, to be intimate with one another were very honest and moving. Michelle Forbes does some great acting with her hands—note the way she keeps them held tight against her body when Stan starts kissing her neck, or the way she holds her cigarette when confronting Belko. (I want more of that ferrety guy!) I'm still trying to figure out what I think about Stan's refusal to get violent with Bennet. On one hand, it seems like a perfectly believable and correct character choice. But I hope the show doesn't just drop that angle, like it's dropped so many others (for the time being, at least). These are just moments, though; I'm hungry for more. I wish the show's narrative conceit allowed for some more flexibility in terms of episode structure. Wouldn't it be kind of interesting to, say, spend an entire day following one of the Larsen boys? At least for a change of pace?
Finally, last week there was suddenly a lot of talk about Bennet's background ; that angle got expanded in this episode, in which it's revealed that Bennet worships at a mosque and studies the Koran regularly with a fellow named Muhammad, whom Amber doesn't feel very comfortable around. The development of this storyline felt clunky to me. Do we really need Mitch's mother to come in and spout some audience-baiting stuff about how "nothing good can come from all that mixing" of "blacks, yellows, whites" in the public schools? Or a bloviating radio talk-show host to further emphasize that People Are Prejudiced? Richmond's strong speech about how guys like Bennet wrongly get "railroaded" all the time is appropriate for the character, I guess, but it draws too neat a line in the sand: It makes the discussion feel too obvious. Things should be a lot messier. Feelings should be messier. The one moment that felt authentic to me was at the mosque, when Linden notes that Imam Gelabi has a point—the police haven't been paying attention to a missing girl from their community—and Holder jokes, "The guy's right, but he was wearing a dress." It's an awkward, offensive—and believable—utterance. I'll be interested to see how this storyline progresses, but then again, I also fear that we'll be abandoning it by this time next week.
Photo of Tom Larsen (Evan Bird) and Denny Larsen (Seth Issac Johnson) by Carole Segal/AMC