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'The Killing' Season 1, Episodes 1 and 2 Recap (Season Premiere)

by Maureen Ryan, posted Apr 3rd 2011 11:01PM
['The Killing' - Pilot and 'The Cage']

"At least you've got a bad guy." - Stephen Holder

"Yeah? Who's that?" - Sarah Linden

One of the best things about the two-hour premiere of 'The Killing' is how it unobtrusively introduced intriguing questions.

Of course, a big question hangs over the entire series -- as the show's marketing campaign asks, "Who killed Rosie Larsen?"
But I appreciated the ways in which 'The Killing introduced some smaller questions without hanging a neon sign on them. Some of the mysteries relate to details of the murder investigation, and some of them relate to the (possibly) innocent people caught up in the wake of Rosie's death.

For instance, when Mitch was talking about being questioned by the police, she said, "They just asked me a bunch of bull****, as usual." Hmmm, "as usual"? Is being questioned by the police a common occurrence for Mitch or members of her family? Did Rosie get in trouble prior to that fateful weekend and had the cops had reason to call on the Larsens because of those previous scrapes with the law? Or have other members of the Larsen family had dealings with the cops?

Presumably we'll learn more about that in the next 12 weeks, but I like how the comment just slipped out. It left you with a question, but it was a satisfying one.

Same goes for Darren Richmond's "trips." Apparently he took some trips that were not part of the public record. Where? Why? And who was calling him and telling him to be on his guard about that information? We're also not exactly clear on how the councilman's wife died. There's a lot to be learned about the candidate; apparently there are a number of secrets buried under that intentionally unruffled facade.

We did learn a little more about Stephen Holder, who seems to have a lot more going on than his brash manner indicated at first. One of my favorite moments in the premiere is just after he learns about "the cage" from the high school girls. Gone is the skeevy older dude hitting on unworldly teenage girls. He was clearly putting on that party-dude persona to get a result. Once he got that result, there was a tiny moment in which he shifted into professional mode. It was as if he took off a mask, once his goal was accomplished. Once he got the information he wanted (with methods that were more effective than Sarah Linden's), he went back to being a cop.

That was some excellent work by Joel Kinnamon, but as I said in my review, Mireille Enos is the one who really wowed me when I watched 'The Killing's' opening episodes for the first time. Her character, Sarah Linden, doesn't so much watch things as she bears witness to them. There's a stoicism about the character that is deeply sympathetic and strangely charismatic. Her eyes and face tell you that she has borne witness to tragedy many times in her career, and that it has not gotten any easier for her to bear. But she bears these awful scenes (the Larsens at the morgue, discovering Rosie's body, learning about how she died), because that is in the job description. She's a professional, she keeps her promises. And it looks to me like when she opened that car trunk, she made a silent promise to Rosie to find the person who killed her.

Because this is cable and not a broadcast network, none of that was -- hallelujah! -- spelled out in great detail in the dialogue. One of the great strengths of this show lies in what it doesn't say. No detective charges around saying, "Damn it, we've got to find this animal!" The parents don't sputter cliches about finding justice for their daughter.

In fact, the almost silent depiction of the Larsen's grief is one of 'The Killing's' most potent elements. Very few television shows have the courage to depict what kind of effect death has on the living in a realistic, messy, complicated ways. Television is far more afraid of that kind of thing than it is of its favorite mainstays, sex and violence. What was really effective about the scenes of Mitch, Stan and their children were the emotions that played over their faces: Mitch's raw devastation at the morgue and her blank pain on Rosie's bed; the kids' wide-eyed fear of the truth their parents were finally sharing with them; and Stan's face when he caught sight of Rosie's childhood drawing. We didn't need that much in the way of conversation to know what these people were going through.

The real consequences of violence on real families are usually avoided; most crime procedurals are about the team finding the killer, not the loss felt by those who loved the victim. What's interesting about 'The Killing' is that it appears to have two goals: Digging into the who and why of Rosie's death, and also seeing how her violent end reverberates in her world. The success on the series may well ride on how well it guides us through both those territories.

As Alan Sepinwall noted in his review of 'The Killing,' this new AMC show is reminiscent of 'Rubicon,' another drama that was at its best when it was showing how difficult truths affected well-intentioned but flawed people. 'The Killing' delivered opening episodes that were much more focused and dramatically compelling than the first two episodes of 'Rubicon,' but the latter show quickly introduced a host of characters with whom I simply wanted to spend time. Right now, Richmond and his aides, Sterling and various other characters are not quite fully sketched in, but I'm intrigued enough by the moody world 'The Killing' introduced to want to learn more about all of them.

We may know the most important thing there is to know about Sarah, however. The fact is, she's burned out. She wanted out of this job, even though she appears to be quite good at it. Just because she's able to quietly put up with the worst parts of the job doesn't mean she wants to do it any more. Yet something is keeping her from joining her fiance in Sonoma.

But even before she caught this final murder case, Sarah may not have been convinced that moving to Sonoma was the right move. Just after she told (or retold) her fiance, "I do," an expression of doubt flickered across her face. Being a good police is a way of life for many cops, and despite her desire to get away from the pain and the rain, no doubt Sarah wondered if her new life would be as great as she kept telling her son it would be.

A few final observations:

• Given that a certain amount of this story is set at a high school and that Sarah has a teenage son, I'm praying that we aren't subjected to a S.T.P. (Stupid Teenager Plot). If the role of Sarah's son is merely to act as an obstruction and an annoyance and that aspect of things veers into cliche, I will be aggravated. But it's early days, let's hope those teen stories don't got to the Bad Place.

• Again, we don't know how this will play out in the long term, but for now, both Jasper and his dad come off like prototypical d-bags.

• Given how sure most of us were that Rosie's body would be in that car, it was still a heart-rending scene. Stan's raw pain packed a powerful emotional punch, and the sight of Mitch clutching a phone and calling her husband's name, willing what she knew to be true not to be true, was even more effective. Amazing work in that scene and many others by Brent Sexton and especially Michelle Forbes.

• In its opening minutes, 'The Killing' played around with our expectations: The jogging woman did not discover a body on the beach, and later, Sarah did not find a grisly body in that spooky factory (it was her work colleagues, surprising her on her last day). And when Mitch told her husband to get home "now," the crisis involved a leaky faucet. Let's hope that 'The Killing' keeps going out of its way to avoid or otherwise play around with crime cliches (without getting too gimmicky about it). I didn't mind these near-jokes, however, because they almost seemed to be saying, "We know what the procedural cliches are, and we're not going to use them." Let's hope not.

• Of course, the scenes of a terrified Rosie running through the forest concluded, much later, with a shot of the dead girl in the trunk of a car, so it's not as if the show is going to avoid every procedural trope. Nor does it need to. As long as it keeps surprising us in other ways and building a world full rich characters, it'll keep my attention.

• I'm wondering if there's a lot more to learn about Rosie's relationships with her parents and I wonder if there are a lot of things they know but haven't revealed yet. As Mitch's sister (or friend? I'm not clear about the woman helping out the Larsens) asked, why didn't her parents talk to her all weekend? Why were they out of contact with their daughter for that long? That does seem odd, thought I suppose it might have been standard operating procedure for the Larsens.

• When I watched 'The Walking Dead,' I felt sorry for the actors, who were clearly soaked with sweat for much of that shoot (it was filmed in the summer in Atlanta). I similarly feel a little bad for these actors, who appeared to be damp from the rain about 50 percent of the time.

• If the mole in Richmond's campaign isn't Gwen -- or the cyber-detective Richmond hired -- I'll be very surprised.

• I may be beating a dead horse here, given that I mentioned this in my review, but I really enjoy how the show is giving us an enjoyable mismatched-partners story line, not a clunky, cliched one. There was a priceless look from Sarah to Holder after he promised the Larsens to find Rosie's killer. She's been around long enough to know that you don't say to the family of a murder victim.

• By all that is holy, I hope this show gets better ratings than 'Rubicon' did. I don't think it'll get 'Walking Dead'-style monster ratings, but I have no idea how this show will do when it comes to the Neilsens. I mean, I obviously dig the show, but it's fairly grim subject matter without the added fun of a zombie apocalypse.

• Aesthetically speaking, chalk up another winner for AMC. On Twitter the other day, @SkinnyBlackGirl made a great observation: "I love how AMC has a formula, but manages to make each show feel different." Exactly. That formula extends to both storytelling and aesthetics. The leads on AMC shows are often stoic and resourceful, but no matter how hard they try to manage their lives, events often spin out of their control. Yet Don Draper, Walt White, Sarah Linden and all the other AMC leads are very different people. And like its brethren, 'The Killing' looks and sounds great. The network didn't just take its house style and slap it on 'The Killing'; it gave the show a very specific, melancholy, autumnal look, atmosphere and score, all of which give added weight to the tragedy at the show's core.

• I'm thrilled that one of my favorite networks made the lead of its newest series a woman. It's depressing to me that the most ambitious networks are typically the ones with the fewest female leads in their drama series. Even if 'The Killing' is merely following the example of the Danish series it's based on, that's OK by me. Given how often I've lamented the fact that there are so few truly complex and nuanced lead female characters on cable television (actually, on all of television), I'll take what I can get.

'The Killing' airs 9PM ET Sundays on AMC.

Follow @MoRyan on Twitter.

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Detail, liked that you could see effects of humidity on hair. Seattle is a tougher town than I give it credit for being :) Linden is quietly powerful in dealing with Richmond. Water everywhere, major player in the show. Not much to be gained from body in flooded trunk, cage provides a dry crime scene. Holden was very creepy with the high school girls. Solid first two hours. Looking forward to more. Took me until Wed night to watch. Thanks for the recaps, Mo. Would not have known about the show without your heads up.

April 07 2011 at 11:29 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

In case no one's mentioned it already, I think the woman helping the Larsen's is Mitch's or Stan's sister. Also, didn't Sarah ask Mitch when she had talked to her daughter last? Mitch said on Friday before they left for their camping trip and added that they were out of range and couldn't call while they were gone. I guess I accepted that answer and didn't find it strange that they didn't talk to Rosie all weekend. What I did find strange was the fact that they didn't immediately call when they got back or wonder where she was.

April 05 2011 at 10:30 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I still need to watch the second hour so I haven't read the review or the comments. I loved what I was so far with one small exception. Sarah's flight is at 9:00 pm. She is talking with her boyfriend who is in LA and he want to get pizza when she arrives. It's a 2 1/2 hour flight from Seattle to LA. What is he talking about? All she will want to do is get some sleep.

April 05 2011 at 7:40 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

What a great 2 hours of TV!! I agree with all your comments.

You're right about all the subtle questions left unanswered. I was grabbed right from the first one between the new partners:
"At least you've got a bad guy." - Stephen Holder
"Yeah? Who's that?" - Sarah Linden

Holden really creeped me out with the teenage girls, but I loved seeing his transformation back to cop mode.

The parents finding out about Rosie was very Twins Peaks-ish, but it was knocked out of the park, and brought me to tears.

The ratings were very good, so lets hope they stay that way. I can't imagine anyone abandoning this show, but I've been stumped before.

Thanks, Mo!

April 04 2011 at 5:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I decided to watch the show because I saw an advertisement about it. I knew absolutely nothing about it and I am so glad I tuned in. It was such a surprise just how much I liked it. I do too hope that it continues to be as good or even better as last night's showing. I do agree with the writer who compared Sarah's character to Melissa Leo's in "Homicide, Life On The Streets". Who I am always amazed by is Michelle Forbes. What was most heartwrenching was what the writer of the review stated in watching Rosie's family react. Truthfully the body language and the silence were most effective excpt when Rosie's Dad Stan realizes what has happened and Mitch is on the phone listening..OMG..being a mother my heart sank. Anyway kudos to AMC for once again giving us well written and well acted drama. What I loved the best that most of the cast were seasoned character actors who shined..

April 04 2011 at 4:38 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I'd like this show... if I had to kill hours and hours of my life.
It's just WAAAAAAAAAY too slow.

I appreciate what they were doing by introducing all the characters and playing on crime drama cliches. But come on, a series about a murder that doesn't even get to the murder until 50 minutes into the pilot is just excruciatingly slow. I think Dan Harmon (from Community) said it best on Twitter, "There must be a guy at AMC that stops you after one sentence of your pitch and says, 'whoa whoa, save some of this for season two!'"

You can tell me that I'm an idiot with a minuscule attention span, just don't be upset when this thing is canceled because no one else is watching...

April 04 2011 at 3:56 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Silence really was golden in many places in the premiere. Here's hoping the strong writing and acting continue throughout the season.

April 04 2011 at 2:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I agree with you about that great scene with Holder and the girls. After the scene in the Pilot (I *think* it was in the pilot) where Holder needled Rosie's homeroom teacher about being attracted to underage girls -- and teetered scarily between pedophilia and entrapment -- that second scene really cemented his character. Clearly he picked up some unsavory (to say the least) but effective methods during his time in vice. If I was the father of a teenage girl, though, I'd have needed a stiff drink after that scene.

April 04 2011 at 1:52 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

It could be a very good show; it reminds me of several others. Sarah's character reminds me of Melissa Leo in "Homicide: Life on the Streets." The story itself is reminiscent of "Twin Peaks" and "who killed Laura Palmer?" I wonder if we will see more of the murder, more of the sensational details, as the series progresses, as "Damage" did in its first season? But seeing the body in the trunk filled with water was distressing enough. The detail of the water in the trunk was excellent and one I don't think I've seen. I'm a mystery buff and will be patient. "The Killing" is definitely worth sticking with. Thanks, Mo, as always, for your excellent column!

April 04 2011 at 1:18 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Skinny Black Girl

You quoted me! That's awesome.

I fell asleep during the second episode, but I want to go back and re-watch both. I passively watched, so I didn't pick up on some of the things you mentioned here and I want to go back and find them. (Though I did notice Mitch's remark about the cops asking her "BS as usual"). I also found it strange that the Larsen's hadn't heard from their teenaged daughter in more than 24 hours and weren't concerned.

April 04 2011 at 12:52 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

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