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The Killing – Head Shots Review: Free Peter Sarsgaard!

Even though season 3 of The Killing occupies a more expansive world than seasons 1 and 2, I’m happy to report that the writers aren’t relying on cheap gimmicks and thin characterizations to get through the season, in lieu of, you know, actual character development. That would be an awfully easy, lazy default, when dealing with a crime this big. (The writers didn’t have that option with the Larsen case, which was by its nature intimate and personal.) But so far this season, and I realize we’re not even halfway in, the writers have done an admirable job of making a complex web of killings seem personal, and much of the credit goes to the teen storyline (which I originally maligned, I admit), and the deft portrayals of the actors tasked with making homeless, teenage prostitutes seem relatable and even loveable. Don’t get me wrong – not everything about this cluster of sullen, unhappy teens is endearing, and not everything should be sunshine and roses, but during the latest episode, “Head Shots,” I find myself genuinely caring about them – Bullet in particular – and rooting for their ability to escape a killer bent on their destruction. I suspected from the very beginning that season 3’s success would depend on the teen storyline, and I think the writers, happily, realize this, too. Heck, I even feel sorry for Twitch during this episode, and I didn’t think that was possible.

The KillingFirst, a few notes. Well, a warning to start. This episode is seriously, relentlessly bleak. I know, I know – this is a show about murders, so it’s going to be depressing. I expect that. But even this show, which isn’t exactly known for being sun-drenched meadows and spring flowers, traditionally offers some levity to offset the grim storylines. Holder is especially useful at this task. But this week’s episode is awfully heavy on the sad stuff, with little to balance it. It probably sounds ridiculous to complain about how depressing The Killing is, of all shows. But I like a bit of lightness to keep the darkness from closing in completely. Secondly, not much happens during this episode, when all is said and done. With only 13 episodes (nine left now) in this season, I assumed this episode would feature a lot of action in order to move the storyline along. Instead, “Head Shots” feels like a second-to-last episode, in which the action is nuanced and understated in order to set up the final act. And no, Ray Seward does not get anything to do this week. Stop wasting Peter Sarsgaard, Killing! Seriously!

 

Okay, so unfortunately I have no choice but to discuss the child porn angle of this storyline. I’d try to avoid it (because ick), but it’s wrapped up in every facet of this season. We found out last week that someone (perhaps the killer) is taking, um, unsavory videos of young girls, Kallie included. When I said this was a depressing episode, I wasn’t kidding, but I have to admit that this show does depressing in a creepy sort of way that works. Utilizing Bullet’s extensive knowledge of the homeless teens’ exploits, Linden and Holder identify the sleazy hotel from last week as the video setting, and head over there to investigate. The hotel’s proprietor, Marjorie Dips (played by the awesome Grace Zabriskie, who helped make Big Love the amazing show that it was) is acting awfully shifty and doesn’t seem too keen on cooperating with the Seattle PD, and we see why when Linden and Holder discover a false panel hiding an additional bedroom – the setting for Kallie’s video. And then we pan over the scene in one of those signature creepy moments. Holder finds a teddy bear and for a few seconds, I say to myself, “A teddy bear? Why does he have handcuffs on? What…oh, my.”

The KillingHolder and Linden couple the discovery of the porn room with a hotel raid, during which they arrest a bunch of johns and prostitutes. Mama Dips claims that the kids pay her $20, and she doesn’t ask what they plan to do, but Holder isn’t buying this rather flimsy excuse. I can’t say I blame him, considering that people were making child porn about a foot from her head and she apparently didn’t notice or care. Yeah, sure. Our erstwhile heroes spend most of this episode trying to track down the disembodied voice on the tape, finding little success until (of course) the last few minutes. Linden identifies one of the arrested prostitutes as an actress in one of Goldie’s videos and goes to visit her. But Tiffany won’t give up any information about the filmmaker until Holder shows up and turns on the charm. I really think this scene illustrates the genius of Holder’s police work. Season 1 Holder was a bit bumbling, leaving the viewer unsure as to how he’d even become a police officer in the first place. But The Killing has allowed Holder to grow into an admirable officer, and at the heart of his police work is his ability to form relationships. Another note about this scene: you know, I’ve been watching this show for a few years now. I’ve seen a lot of sadness and heartbreak in that time because, let’s face it, this show traffics in sadness and heartbreak. But I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a more gut-wrenching scene than the one in which Tiffany, defending the filmmaker, explains that he’s “one of the good ones” because he allowed her to sleep in the hotel post-video and bought her a cheeseburger. That’s my heart you’re stepping on, show.

 

While Linden is attempted to track down “the voice,” we’re treated to yet another scene with Kallie’s devoted mother, Danette, who yet again is unconcerned about her missing daughter. She explains, with no remorse, that the night Kallie went missing, she showed up at Danette’s place wanting a place to crash. Danette, occupied with her new boyfriend, ignored her until she went away. Because…that’s totally logical. It’s not as if we’re talking about a 15-year-old girl here. Oh, wait – we are. Anyway, Danette explains that Kallie stole money from her, so her antipathy is justified. Linden isn’t convinced and neither am I. Danette explains that Kallie’s prostitution is a phase, and then she’s gotta jet to do some hair. ‘Cause…yeah. Wow, no one can blame Kallie for wanting to flee that awful home life, huh? Shout out to Amy Steinmetz, real quick. She plays a great Danette: hard, uncompromising, and stubborn. A lesser actress might be tempted to inject Danette with some sadness. And maybe that’ll come later, but for now, Danette is just loathsome, and Steinmetz is rocking detestable.

The KillingHere’s the part where I feel sorry for Twitch. So as you’ll recall, the least likeable member of our teen population, and lousy boyfriend to Lyric, is newly clean and wanting to head off to L.A. to catch his big break. Modeling and whanot. Snicker if you want (I admit I did), but the kid is serious. However, in order to get the heck out of Seattle, Twitch needs to stay clean and obey his probation officer. When said PO shows up in his car to inform Twitch that his urine test has come back dirty, at first I’m rolling my eyes, because of course Twitch is using again. But it becomes clear pretty quickly that the PO is crooked, and the whole thing gets extra gross when he tells Twitch to get in the back seat, sans pants. I’m not sure what the PO’s purpose is here. Twitch protests that he’s not gay, and the PO says he’s not, either. I’m guessing he wants to lord his authority over a powerless teen, and debasing and humiliating him is a good way to do it. I’m not too shocked, then, when Twitch promptly shoots up in order to deal (or not deal) with his pain, nor when he gets his ass kicked by some skate punks because he mouths off. I’m not solidly on Team Twitch here; I still think he treats Lyric badly (though they had a tender moment during this episode), and I still think his willingness to send his girlfriend into the streets to sell her body is revolting, but it’s becoming pretty obvious that Twitch is a product of his environment. There is absolutely no adult whom Twitch can trust, and that’s going to make bettering his situation awfully difficult.

 

Now let’s move onto the Ray Seward storyline. Well, wait. “Storyline” is a generous term. Honestly, this Seward plotline, such as it is, is going nowhere, and slowly. Here’s what Seward does this week. So remember the file in the bar of soap? Well, Seward didn’t just gouge himself with it. He cut a tattoo – something related to his son – off of his chest. We never do find out why, but I’d wager to guess that it has something to do with the dangerousness of being vulnerable in a prison setting. Now, post-tattoo removal, he’s back in his cell, and he does not want to take the antibiotics that will prevent an infection. He’s cultivating a bit of a friendship with fellow inmate Alton, who subjects us all to a godawful diatribe about pus and other glorious infection-related side effects. Still, Seward will not yield. It isn’t until prison guards Francis Becker (the a jaded one) and Evan Henderson (the naïve one; I think I got them confused last week) beat up Alton that Seward gives into their authority (which was, I’m sure, the point). We get a glimpse of Becker’s home life, where Becker spends his nights getting blotto and his long-suffering wife is willing to hit on her husband’s coworker while her own son is in the room.

The KillingI know I flog this Seward storyline every week, but I’m duty-bound to keep doing it until it, you know, improves. Or starts existing, at least. I’m sure the writers didn’t bring Peter Sarsgaard on to do nothing. Okay, I hope that. All we found out this week is that Seward is opposed to antibiotics (or to accepting people in authority, at least) and that the prison guards are as corrupt as the prisoners, maybe worse. Seriously, why do these two talk like a B-list prison movie? The Killing does a reasonably admirable job of making their dialogue feel realistic, even if that sometimes means the dialogue isn’t very pleasant to listen to, but the prison dialogue feels like it’s right out of the 70s. Even the plots (a file in a bar of soap?) are hackneyed. Sarsgaard is a capable actor; there’s no doubt about that, and Little JJ, who plays Alton, is growing on me, but this storyline feels totally disconnected from the main plot, even though Seward’s wife was probably killed by the same person who’s currently stalking Seattle’s prostitute population. Something needs to be done, and fast. We’ve only got nine episodes to go.

 

Oh, and Goldie holds a press conference to protest his harassment at the hands of the Seattle PD. It turns out he’s been arrested multiple times, at least once for soliciting sex from an 11-year-old (by “solicit,” I mean raped or threatened to rape at knifepoint). But dammit, he’s a target of police brutality, and he wants the world to know. Let’s see…the prior crimes, the child porn, the brutal rape of poor Bullet…I’m sure the Seattle public is going to embrace this charmer. What an idiot. Brendan Fletcher works up the right amount of pathos and righteous indignation, and I believe that he really believes he’s a decent guy, or at least not worthless, but I can’t say I share his opinion of himself.

 

We get our trademark epiphany at the end of the episode, after Linden and Holder visit Tiffany, who was featured in one of Goldie’s porn videos and in the raid at Mama Dibs’s hotel. She must fess up the filmmaker’s name (though we don’t see this), because Linden and Holder discover that he happened to be one of the johns in the hotel raid, though they released him hours before. He’s also Danette’s new boyfriend. Sheesh. What are we to make of this revelation? Is he dating Danette to have access to Kallie (even though she’s never there, what with her mother being awful)? Is it just a coincidence that Danette’s Prince Charming is also a child pornographer? I could believe that Danette has horrendous taste. My guess this is another (see Goldie) red herring. Joe Mills is obviously a sleaze of the first order, but since we have two-thirds of a season to go, he’s probably not the killer. Or he is. I’m not so good at making predictions. (Remember how I thought Linden would take forever to rejoin the force? Yeah, sorry about that.)

The Killing
Notes & Quotes

— Reddick about Holder’s police abilities: “Watch Wonder Boy charm the bloomers off her. He’s getting pretty good at it, now that he’s learning from a pro. Finally.” Is that a stab at Linden’s police work? I think so, because Reddick obviously dislikes Linden for some reason. Perhaps he’s afraid Holder would rather partner with her?

— Reddick, about Linden: “I’ve forgotten more convictions than she’ll ever have.” Holder: “Yeah, well you’re a lot, a lot older.” Ha ha.

— Holder offers Bullet some carrots. Bullet: “That’s nasty. Think you got any normal food around here, like chips or something?” Holder: “Might as well be main-lining an eight-ball with that stuff.” Bullet: “I don’t do none of that. My body’s a temple.” Love Holder’s new devotion to healthy eating, and Bullet is quite amusing. I’m hoping she makes it through the season intact (literally).

— Bullet refers to Holder as a big albino Bugs Bunny. Last week’s description of him (Eminem wannabe with a molester ‘stache) was funnier.

— Seward to new friend Alton: “Hope’s the same as faith. That bitch will kill you faster than this place will.” Spare me the prison platitudes, I beg you.

— Linden to Reddick: “Did you ever wonder why you never made Sargent? I’ll tell you why. Because 23 years of experience, and all you are is in the way.” Ouch. Good for her for finally fighting back. He’s been taking shots at her all episode.

Rating
6.5

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