Episode 9 of "The Killing": "Undertow"

Slate's Culture Blog
May 23 2011 9:20 AM

Episode 9 of "The Killing": "Undertow"

[Caution:  There are spoilers ahead!  So ifyou haven't yet watched "Undertow," come back when you have and shareyour thoughts and theories. If you need a refresher, read our write-ups ofepisode  three four five six seven ,and eight .You can also check out AMC's  helpfulplot recaps .]

Last night, The Killing burned through whatevergoodwill it had earned from me theprevious week with an episode full of eye-roll-worthy plot contrivancesand some really dumb police work. Its "shocking conclusion" may be enough tokeep me going till next week, but just barely.

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The episodebegins with Linden and Holder thinking they've finally nailed Bennet which, ofcourse, means that they haven't in the slightest. It's so obvious that thedetectives have made an error in judgment that it's doubly annoying when, inthe next scene, Linden tells a distraught Mitch who asks her if she's arrested"him" yet that "it'll be over tonight." WHY? WHY WOULD YOU DO THIS ? First of all, it's incredibly hard tobelieve that a tough, seasoned detective like Linden would be swayed to makesuch an emotional, rookie move. Plus, the exchange (in the rain, always in the rain,the driving driving rain) foreshadowed the conclusion so strongly that therewas no pleasure in its arrival. It was like the writers took Chekhov's proverbial loadedrifle and turned it into a grand piano, dangling over the characters' headsby a fraying shoelace. Mitch tearily telling Stan that it's over and that "they'rearresting the teacher" only made things worse.

Meanwhile, last week I expressed hope that Richmond's turn to the dark side wouldrepresent a genuine shift for this static character. No such luck! Richmond'sback to choirboy mode, earnestly expressing his solidarity with the Muslimcommunity, asking douchebag Drexler for $5 million (not for his campaign, butfor philanthropy , you see), andrefusing to pimp out the memory of his dead wife. The other characters in the storyline didn't fare much better. Mayor Adams comes off like a cardboard, cartoonvillain of the " you mustpay the rent !" variety, spouting platitudes to a reporter and then turningaround and barking to his aide that they need to double the girl's payout andget a doctor to backdate his medical records. Drexler continues toconfuse me doesn't the rich asshole with a thing for coke and hookers feel like an incredibly datedtrope? Besides, this is Seattle, not Los Angeles.

Then we have our big reveal, which commenter OmnipotentMLE called lastweek: Bennet and Muhammed weren't kidnapping Rosie, they were helping Aisha themissing Somali girl the imam mentioned backin episode seven escape an arranged marriage and a forced femalecircumcision. It was a clumsy, Law andOrder: SVU -style plot twist (right down to the flatly delivered expositionfrom the translator) made even more clumsy by the fact that it took Linden andHolder so long to put two and twotogether in their interrogation scene with Muhammed. In his piece this morningon "how The Killing killed itself," Salon'sMatt Zoller Seitz makes a convincing argument that theAisha plot twist was more than just annoying :

That "The Killing" would tossoff a twist like this suggests a racist mentality more troubling than anythingexplored in the show's pat images of discrimination against Seattle's Muslims.Female genital mutilation is a political and cultural powderkeg that deservesto be placed at the center of a series, or at least a multi-episode arc withina series, rather than treated as a handy way to strike a character from a listof murder suspects.

At the very least, that briefshot of Aisha, standing there in the doorway of her hiding place, made her a farmore vivid presence than Rosie Larsen, that cipher we're now going to abandonher for.

Finally,let's discuss that conclusion. Stan had gotten all teary-eyed watching a littlegirl ride off on a bike (seriously, I preferred Mitchand her Bits n' Pieces ), so we know he's particularly vulnerable. But Ireally thought he'd abandoned his vigilante plans, and it felt jarring to swingback to that plotline without more buildup. But then I started feeling slightlyoptimistic about the decision, and not just because we finally got a chance to see just how creepy and pent-up Belko is. As the credits rolled last night, I found myselfthinking, I really hope Bennet dies .Not because that's the way I get my rocks off, but because I felt like it mightpush the series to take a narrative stand to write itself into a situation itcouldn't just explain away in the first ten minutes of the following episode.Now, in the cold light of this drizzly Monday morning, I suppose Bennet doesn'treally need to die to accomplishthat. Even if he survives, he's bashed up enough to get Stan, Belko, and Lindenin a heap of trouble next week. Besides, even if he does die, do I really believe that the show won't just forget abouthim by the first commercial break? Wikipedia tells us that, in the next episode," asurprising individual turns himself in ." That might be just enough to pusha dead man off the air.

Photograph of Brent Sexton as Stan Larsen courtesy of James Dittiger/AMC. 

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Nina Shen Rastogi is a writer and editor, and is also the vice president for content at Figment.