‘The Killing’ – ‘Missing’: The long detour

Senior Television Writer
06.05.11 210 Comments

A review of tonight’s “The Killing” coming up just as soon as my password is “funyuns”…

“Some things you can’t fix. Maybe they just stay broke.” -Holder

At first glance, “Missing” almost seems like a parody of an episode of this show. Whatever plot advancement there is – and there really isn’t any, since the end of the previous episode already all but told us that Rosie had been to the casino – takes place in the opening and closing scenes, while the episode’s very long middle section features Holder and Linden going around in circles, not accomplishing anything. (They don’t even find Jack; he just comes home.) I’m assuming that, as with most primetime dramas today, the producers didn’t have every actor under contract for every episode, and decided to get the entire supporting cast’s absence out of the way in one go, and came up with a side story that would provide an excuse for not checking in on Richmond or the Larsens for a week.

So in terms of the larger story this show is telling, “Missing” was absolutely pointless, and yet another reminder that it’s very hard to stretch a single mystery out over this many weeks. And yet…

… I enjoyed “Missing” more than most of the last two months’ worth of episodes.

Yes, I rolled my eyes when it became clear that the case was going to be put on pause while Linden waited to get a warrant for the ATM footage(*). And I briefly worried that the writers were going to try to tie Jack’s disappearance into the investigation, with the real killer improbably abducting the son of the lead investigator to throw her off the non-existent scent. The whole thing could have easily gone the way of Kim Bauer with the cougar, or Teri Bauer’s amnesia – ridiculous story ideas designed to fill time on shows that had more hours than plot to fill them with.

(*) I know that the long wait for the warrant was just a byproduct of the writers needing the cops to do something other than chase Rosie’s killer for an episode, but at the same time, the whole “one episode equals one day” format hasn’t been working for a very long time. A few weeks back, the writers could have easily squeezed an entire episode out of Stan having Bennet Ahmed in his van while the cops tried to find them – and it would have been better than the actual episode in which that was just the opening sequence – but the formula doesn’t really allow for something like that. Richmond, meanwhile, has to keep changing personalities after just a good night’s sleep, etc. I’m not saying that format can’t work – it’s borrowed from the Danish show, which everybody loves – but this creative team hasn’t figured out how to use it effectively.

But here’s the thing: for most of the season, the writers have been falling down on the job both in terms of moving the story forward in interesting ways and in letting us get to know who these people are and why we should care about them. I could deal with a briskly-plotted show with thin characters (that’s what “24” was at its best) or a show going nowhere fast where I develop a quick attachment to the people involved (“Treme,” “Men of a Certain Age,” “Rubicon”), but this wasn’t turning out to be either, and atmosphere only gets you so far. (Especially when the atmosphere itself starts to feel like self-parody with the frequent monsoons and utter lack of umbrellas.)

And for at least this hour, I found myself enjoying the company of Linden and Holder, getting to know them better both as individuals and as a partnership. The scene of them at the fast food place, with Holder trying to explain his convoluted moral philosophy, then transitioning into a more sincere discussion of his meth addiction, was a really strong moment for these two characters, who too often have felt like just another pair of chess pieces in this not very exciting game.

If the writers had to spin their wheels earlier in the season, I’d have much rather we got more scenes like that – the two reluctant partners getting to know each other while waiting for a witness to turn up or a piece of evidence to be analyzed – than the campaign nonsense, so much time devoted to Bennet, etc.

In all, “Missing” felt like an episode of an entirely different show, but it was probably a better show – and one I’d be much more likely to watch next season than the version of “The Killing” we’ve been getting all spring.

This is one where I’m especially curious for everyone else’s reaction. Were you glad to spend more time with the cops, or did the search for Jack feel like an even more egregious time-waster than the Bennet stuff?

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