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While I was watching the two-hour season premiere of The Killing last week, I had a minor realization. We know that the writers have committed to solving this season’s mystery in one season, rather than dragging it out over two seasons and listening to the howls of the fan base, whose members are bored by endless red herrings and a nonsensical plot. They’ve promised us one season and one season only. This is, as we know, a good thing. But I didn’t know, until last week, that this season is only 12 episodes long. That means the writers have exactly 10 episodes, counting tonight’s, to introduce us to the new characters, explain their motivations, and then solve the mystery of who, exactly, is killing teenager hookers in the Emerald City. Am I the only one who’s impressed with the writers’ moxie? This is, after all, a group of (admittedly talented) individuals who couldn’t solve the simple murder of one girl until the end of the 26th episode, and refused to do it without boring us all senseless by detailing the inner workings of Seattle mayoral politics. So I’m impressed. This is quite a feat the writers have taken on, and we know from last week’s two-parter that this season’s murder is actually a web of murders, and likely more complex than the Larsen case. Let’s get to this week’s episode and see if the writers are up to the task.
After last week’s (necessary) setup episode, a character-driven episode with little plot to speak of, I was hoping for an action-packed outing this week, with lots of tidbits to drive the plot. I was somewhat rewarded. The Seward plot is still moving at an excruciatingly slow pace. All we know after this week is that he might not have killed his wife but he’s still a bastard, which is…exactly what we found out about him last week. Anyway, before we get into the nitty-gritty, I’m duty-bound to point out that it didn’t rain once during this episode! We saw some wet shots: droplets on cars and damp grass and whatnot, indicating that rain had occurred, but no actual rain! Really! It’s almost as if the writers checked out a weather forecast for Seattle!
We’re continuing the same three threads from last week: the actual murders, Seward on death row, and the trials and travails of Seattle’s homeless teenage population. This little bit of continuity gives me hope that this new, improved Killing outing is going to be a less convoluted one. Don’t get me wrong: I’m still anticipating lots of twists and turns, but the less we hear about the local Indian reservation, the better. Last week, Linden used an old drawing done by little Adrian (son of Tricia, who supposedly died at the hands of her husband, Ray) to locate a crime scene: bodies wrapped in plastic bags and floating in a lake. To wit: there are 17 bodies, all of them female, between the ages of 13 and 17. They’ve all had their throats slashed, some of them so violently that their heads have been severed from their bodies. This MO sounds like a lot like the ones in the murder from last week, that of Ashley Kwon, and of course resembles the Tricia Seward case. It’s also worth noting that the murdered girls weren’t killed right away; Police Chief Skinner believes that the killer kept them for awhile before he offed them. This gives me hope for poor Kallie, who may not be dead (but is most certainly in the unsavory company of the killer – whoever he is).
17 dead girls equals a huge case, one that requires the manpower of the entire Seattle Police Department…and one former member of the police force, who again becomes an existing member 10 minutes into this episode. There goes my prediction that Linden will spend a few episodes skulking about on her own. Can you quit the police force and then just rejoin again whenever you feel like it? At one point, Skinner asks Linden if she’s comfortable working with him, and Linden assures him she is. A few scenes later, Holder’s classy new partner, Reddick, gleefully informs Holder that Linden and Skinner had an affair at one point. Sigh. I was hoping we weren’t going down this road. Honestly, this show is at its best when it doesn’t focus on the interpersonal relationships of its cops. How many hours did we waste last season with Linden’s finance?
We found out last season that Holder is terrific at slipping into street lingo (even if it is unintentionally hilarious), and that he’s genuinely good with kids and teens. So it’s no surprise to find him attempting to win over Bullet (who does seem to be the nicest of the homeless teens we’ve met so far, and the most genuine). Bex Taylor-Klaus plays Bullet with an endearing combination of sweetness and hardness, and the portrayal is really effective. No one can blame a street kid whose family abandoned them (I’m guessing) for feeling reluctant to trust anyone, but it’s painfully obvious that Bullet wants desperately to connect with someone. She and Kallie have clearly bonded, and this desire for human interaction is most certainly what causes Bullet to tell Holder that a pimp named Goldie might have Kallie. She leaves out a few details – the fact that Goldie raped her and that she still bears the bruises on her body – but her confession has the desired effect. One battering ram later, and Seattle’s finest are inside Goldie’s apartment. Yet another scene with lighting that’s too freaking dark. Why do the editors do this? Waiting for an important scene and then ensuring that viewers can’t see it? Here’s what I got from the dialogue I could hear: Goldie is a connoisseur of heavy metal and child porn. He makes a half-assed attempt to escape, but to no avail. Kallie isn’t there, but Holder and Reddick aren’t buying his pleas of innocence. You see, folks, Goldie is a pimp, but he’s not one of those bad pimps. No, no, we shouldn’t judge him. See, he takes care of his girls. They need him. Yeah, that makes it all better. Linden notes that they can hold Goldie on the possession charges, but that isn’t good enough for Skinner, who wants to let him go and then tail him in hopes that he’ll lead them to Kallie. I hope this season isn’t going to be an endless loop of suffering for poor Bullet. ‘Cause you just know Goldie isn’t going to be too happy when he finds out that she’s the one who turned him in, and there’s no one to protect a homeless teen from his wrath.
Most of this week’s action focuses on Bullet, but we get some insights into Goldie (obviously). Props to Brendan Fletcher for playing Goldie with just the right amount of oily indifference. Most of the characters on this show, over the past couple of seasons, are not entirely good or bad. Like most interesting people, almost every Killing character has a mixture of decency and evil, some tilting more towards one end or another. But Goldie is a new breed. He’s just a straight up sleaze. Oh, I know – we’ve got 10 episodes to go. Maybe he’ll save a kitten or help a nun cross the street at some point. But for now, he’s just a piece of filth, and it works in the show’s environment of prostitution and murder. We spend some time with Lyric, who we first encounter, um, servicing a john. The particular john is named Joe, and he treats Lyric as part-sex doll, part-daughter, which is…stomach-turning. After she’s done, he offers her a sandwich, tells her to get some mittens, and then calls her “kid.” Oh, ew. I’m glad I had a light dinner. She takes some of the offered food home to Twitch, who, for this scene, remains either asleep or dead. I was hoping for the latter, but later scenes dashed my hopes. She pours her heart out to her deadbeat boyfriend, telling him about the dead girls, and you can just tell she wants him to tell her not go out for awhile, for her own safety, but of course he doesn’t. I gave Lyric a lot of flack last week, for being naïve and annoying, and she is those things, but a more detailed look at her current circumstances gives us some insight into why she is the way she is. Providing sexual services on the cheap for sleazy men and then returning to a depressing, furniture-free apartment in which her loser boyfriend ignores her pain is a pretty bleak existence. I can’t really blame her for seeming needy. Anyone would be in her circumstances. I have a nasty feeling she’s going to end up as the killer’s next victim. I really hope I’m wrong. Much of the credit for my newfound concern for Bullet belongs to Julia Sarah Stone, who has a beautiful, haunted look in her eyes as she accepts a greasy bag of hash browns from Joe, and then begs Twitch to take her to L.A., even as he ignores her. Please, writers: give us more Lyric background. Stone is an effective actress. She needs more to do.
As is par for the course, two of this week’s story threads are reasonably compelling, and the third is disappointing. I’ve made no bones about my love for Peter Sarsgaard, and I haven’t changed my opinion, but the Ray Seward character just isn’t very interesting as of yet. Ray doesn’t get much to do this week. We see him showering, in a cage, with some other inmates, who want to know more about Seward’s son, and about how he cut off the poor kid’s mother’s head. Which brings me to another question. Whenever prison is portrayed on crime dramas, we see this sort of “honor among thieves” storyline. You know what I mean: no matter how vile and unrepentant the criminals, there’re always other criminals on whom they look down. I don’t know enough about prison to do much more than ruminate about whether or not this is an accurate depiction of prison life, but it seems a bit strange to have death row inmates looking down on other death row inmates. They're all killers, right? And I’m not sure whether it’s realistic that Ray was hiding a file in his bar of soap, a file he snuck into his mouth for later use, but let’s go with it, because at least it’s something. This Seward storyline is so slow; heck, I’ll even accept that prisoners can smuggle items onto death row, as long as we get some kind of plot related to the file. An unnamed inmate, the one was yapping with Ray in the shower, returns a few scenes later, wanting to know more about Ray’s son. This time he doesn’t seem taunting, just curious. He suggests the state shouldn’t execute the kid’s only father. Er, that’s a logical argument. Seward takes the opportunity to torment naïve prison guard Francis Becker, launching into a long, disgusting spiel about how he removed the eye of Becker’s cousin during a riot at another prison. For a moment, I’m afraid Becker is going to cave and end up a victim of the still-hidden file, but he coldly informs Seward that his own son will likely end up in that prison. Something about that thought unnerves Ray, who whips out the file and uses it…on himself. This time I’m grateful for the dark lighting, because even though I only have a base understanding of what’s going on, it still looks pretty revolting.
Oh, and Linden visits little Adrian at school, because apparently anyone can walk into a schoolyard and chat with a kid. She wants to know more details about his drawing, but he just wants to see his dad. I’m not sure how we’re supposed to take this. Should we assume that Adrian did not see his mother’s attacker, or that he did see the killer, but it wasn’t his father? I can’t say for sure if this is a significant plot point or not. One would assume that a little kid who saw his father nearly decapitate his mother wouldn’t want to hang out with the murderer, but kids who’ve been through trauma act in strange ways. Or maybe I’ve totally misunderstood the Seward case, and Adrian wasn’t even there, but then that means he stumbled upon his mother’s body later, and then sat there for days, which seems unlikely.
This isn’t a perfect episode of The Killing, not by any means. We don’t get nearly enough Peter Sarsgaard, and if I have to spend next week’s episode watching him exchange meaningless platitudes with other death row inmates revealing that he may or may not have killed his wife, I’m going to throw something at my TV. But “Seventeen” achieves an important objective: it virtually forces me to care about the cluster of homeless teens who, for better or for worse, are a vital component of this season’s mystery. We’re gifted with necessary, important insight into Bullet and Lyric, and, by extension, Kallie (whose mother tells Linden quite defensively that she has no idea where her 15-year-old daughter is, and can’t be expected to keep track of her). I’m confused as to why the teens (lead by Twitch, who’s unfortunately still with us) choose to visit the crime scene at the end of the episode, because it makes perfect sense for a bunch of teenagers who are ideal prey for the killer to return to his dump site, but otherwise, I appreciated the subtleties and intricacies of the teens’ day to day lives, and the refreshing lack of stereotypes. Linden’s return to the force feels rather unceremonious, but we knew it was coming, and I’m thrilled to see her trading barbs with Holder, even if they do seem a bit uncomfortable around each other. And unlike some unfortunate moments during last season, I’m genuinely looking forward to next week’s episode. I think I’m going to find it frustrating but ultimately enjoyable, which is more than I could say a year ago.
Notes & Quotes
-- Upon finding Linden at the crime scene, “What the Hell, Linden? Next time you decide to work my case, you mind givin’ me a head’s up?” Some residual resentment here from Holder here? I’m guessing so. He probably feels like Linden abandoned him. Of course, if I had to deal with Reddick day in and day out, I’d probably feel frustrated, too.
-- Skinner, while discussing the discovery of 17 dead teens: “This case is gonna be solved with good, solid police work.” God, I hope so.
-- Reddick, at the crime scene: “The department’s best guys out here chasin’ pimps with pants around their ankles.” Okay, that’s funny, but Reddick ruins it moments later when he tells Holder that Skinner and Linden “used to bang.” Wow, what a charmer. Reddick says he can’t wait ‘til he retires. Yeah, me neither.
-- Holder to the poor prostitute he intercepts while he’s looking for Kallie: “You are done bobbing for apples for the day, baby girl. You’re gonna have to find some other way to pay for them braces.” Ah, a welcome return to the Holder of old.
-- When Linden is searching for Bullet, Lyric’s friend refers to Holder as an “Eminem wannabe with a molester stache.” Somehow, Linden does not find this a hilarious as I do.
-- “You know, it might he helpful if we were on the same page with this, Linden. You lnow, no man is an island, not even you?” This homage to literature leads Linden to confess that she found the bodies using Adrian’s drawings. She and Holder agree that these killings seem familiar to the Seward killing.
-- Linden asks where Reddick is. Holder: “Punched out. To get his beauty sleep. Me? I’m already beautiful, so…” Truer words have never been spoken.