‘The Killing’ – ‘Stonewalled’: All apologies

A review of tonight’s “The Killing” coming up just as soon as I bone up on my Cicero…

“Stonewalled” was a definite step up from last week’s episode, if only for the Linden/Holder scene at the docks near the end of the hour. (It’s the kind of scene we should have gotten weeks ago, but we’ll get back to that in a moment, and better late than never.) And yet Mitch Larsen’s words to Linden kept echoing in my mind throughout the second half of the episode:

“You’ve done nothing.”

What, exactly, has “The Killing” accomplished in 8 hours of dramatic television? Enough that I’m still watching and writing about it, but not nearly as much as it could have, given the opportunity created by this format.

When you stretch a single murder mystery over 13 episodes, you should be able to do the kinds of things that more plot-driven TV shows and movies can’t. You should be able to let viewers really know the characters – the cops, and the suspects, and the victim’s loved ones, and, if possible, the victim him or herself – so that we invest in them as people and not just chess pieces.

For the most part, that hasn’t happened with “The Killing.” We learn little scraps of backstory about Linden, Holder, the Larsens, Richmond, etc., and yet I don’t feel like I have a deeper understanding of any of them than I did by the end of the two-hour series premiere. I may know a little more about Linden’s obsessiveness, but she’s still largely a closed book. We watch Stan and Mitch grieve every week, and we know a bit about Stan’s criminal past, but I still have barely any idea who they are other than grieving, angry parents. With Rosie Larsen, I actually feel like I know less about her than I did at the beginning, since the show stopped telling us anything new or interesting about her weeks ago.

“Stonewalled” at least fills in some large blanks in Detective Holder’s past, and in the process helps clarify some things we and Linden may have speculated about him. The NA meeting speech was a good scene for Joel Kinnaman, and I quite liked Holder and Linden’s sheepish clear-the-air conversation later that night. At the same time, though, I feel like this shaky partnership has been so much on the back-burner this season that their unspoken agreement to work better together didn’t have the impact it could have. I know that keeping them apart so much is a lot of the point, but Holder has been portrayed as such an abrasive clown – and in a way that the sobriety speech didn’t particularly excuse – that it was hard to blame Linden for sending him off on errands. I was glad to not see the guy for a while, myself.

Mostly, the cops and everyone else have just been cogs in service of a plot that hasn’t moved forward in an incredibly compelling fashion. Bringing the FBI and a terrorism angle into things should be intriguing, but mainly I see it the way Linden does: it’s a big waste of time, because what little we know about Rosie suggests she had nothing to do with Islamic extremist terrorism. And if Linden and I turn out to be wrong, then I don’t think Veena Sud and company have done a good job of preparing us for that kind of abrupt left turn.
In many ways, “Stonewalled” was all about showing us new sides of these characters: a Linden who’s agitated and not cool and composed, a Holder who’s eloquent and self-effacing, a Richmond who’s frustrated enough to fight dirty, etc. But all of those turns would have played out so much more effectively if the show had done a better job of establishing who these people are in the first place. We’re now closer to the end than the beginning, and I feel like the show could tell me that almost any character murdered Rosie and I’d buy it, simply because everyone still has so many blanks to fill in that one of them could be occupied by “secret killer.”

Some other thoughts:

• Even within the archetype of the disapproving police authority figure, Oakes has been really annoying these last few weeks. He’s the one who all but begged Linden to stay on the case when she had her bags packed – and, based on what Rick and Reggie have said about her pattern of over-investing in cases, Oakes should know how Linden might respond to this one – and all of a sudden he’s refusing to help her with anything and getting impatient that she wants to keep the case going? He’s a relatively minor character, here mainly being used as a plot device, but it doesn’t track.

• I know “The Wire” didn’t invent the whole “you come at the king, best not miss” adage, but it was still strange to hear Jamie say a variation on a line I now so closely associate with Omar.

• Hi, I’m an FBI agent skeptical of the authority of a cop who seems really eager to touch evidence I’ve been ordered to maintain control of. What’s the best response to this situation? Walking away from that evidence and leaving the sketchy cop alone with it, of course!

• Though the series has been substituting Vancouver for Seattle, the woman who killed Richmond’s wife was the first actor on the show to sound distinctly, extremely Canadian.

What did everybody else think?