After the conclusion of the first season, “The Killing” endured a healthy round of vitriol from critics and audiences alike for indulging in red herrings and wheel-spinning. Season two has gone a long way toward rebuilding its reputation, though the final minute of “Bulldog” works as both an exhilarating development and an eye-rolling twist.
It’s Day Twenty-Four of the investigation into Rosie Larsen’s murder, and in an ironic bit of business, Det. Linden (Mireille Enos), after having been fired by Lt. Carlson two weeks ago, is now doing some of the best police work of the season. Alongside Det. Holder (Joel Kinnaman), Linden confronts Gwen to beseech her Senator father to use his connections to get the detectives one last crack at the Wapi Eagle Casino. The ploy works, as Gwen confronts her father about the night Mayor Adams sexually abused her at age 14, with his knowledge.
The investigation into the Wapi Eagle Casino has been one of the more dire plot threads of the season, sending Linden and Holder in circles, in search of a vague shadow conspiracy that sought to put Rosie Larsen in the ground for something she might have seen regarding Mayor Adams and his waterfront business proposal. However, the casino led to some of the episode’s most entertaining output, with Linden searching the mysterious tenth floor for the bloody City Hall key card she’d spotted several episodes ago, hastened by the time limit on the search warrant. Though it initially appears that Linden’s search has turned up fruitless, she is given a fairly badass moment in the elevator, as she smugly flashes the bloody key card to the casino’s security cameras, where season-long villain Chief Jackson (manager of the Casino and chief of the Wapi tribe that controls the reservation) can only look on and scowl in a bit of comical, Pacino-esque overacting.
Yet for every reason to praise the episode, there is a storyline like Stan Larsen’s. The plot with Janek, Stan’s ex-mob boss, has never been a particularly promising narrative avenue. Yet showrunner Veena Sud seems intent on portraying Stan as a reformed, low-rent Tony Soprano who is, at all times, under threat of being asked to perform one last hit, as he is tonight. Though Stan does not go through with the hit, relying upon the trope of “hit man spares target because the target is with his child,” it’s still well-worn territory, and awfully trite.
Less trite is the culmination of the Alexi Giffords arc. The Janek underling, who was a friend of Rosie Larsen and brief suspect in her murder, overhears the old mob boss taking credit for ordering the hit on Alexi’s late father, a hit over which Alexi confronted Stan several weeks ago, detailing how he’d have had his revenge against Stan if Rosie had not dissuaded him. With vengeance deferred the first time, Alexi follows through on this instance, killing Janek.
Though the implication is that Stan is now free of his debts from Janek, we do not linger too long on Alexi’s deed. The truth is, Stan is still facing prison time for the attempted murder of Bennett Ahmed, Rosie’s teacher, and he still appears to have an awkward, stress-induced chemistry with his sister-in-law, Terry. Adding to Stan’s pile of complications, Mitch is finally back in town after her aimless, grief-driven sojourn. Michelle Forbes is a terrific actress, but I would be lying if I said I’d missed Mitch, little more than a cypher for parental grief, at all.
The election plot also heats up this week, with Mayor Adams discovering where Richmond really was the night Rosie Larsen was killed, and threatening to expose it to the media if he doesn’t drop out of the election by 9PM. Though it’s fairly obvious from the first that Richmond will preempt Adams and reveal the truth himself, the show still manages to wring a few choice moments of drama from Richmond’s initial decision to concede the mayoral race. Despite the ruthless absurdity of the election rally, where Richmond details how he allowed bitterness and grief over his wife to lead his suicide attempt on the night of the Larsen murder, the scene still works because of Billy Campbell’s sincere delivery. It’s been a problem with the series since its inception that simple questions aren’t asked, and certain alibis are taken at face value, yet it never seemed quite so silly as it does with Richmond’s suicide attempt.
The audience understands that public knowledge of the attempt will inevitably lead to the ruin of his political aspirations, but it beggars the imagination that he would allow himself to be implicated for the Rosie Larsen murder to such an extent before revealing his true alibi, election be damned. The stakes for the election ultimately ring hollow because we don’t know exactly why Richmond wants to be mayor, or even what he really plans to do as mayor. Yet, tonight’s scene at the rally worked because of Campbell’s sincerity in the role, portraying Richmond as a man in search of redemption, to make something of his fractured life in the wake of his wife’s death and his own paralysis. This is a man who seems intent on upending the corruption of Seattle politics, until that final twist at the end of the episode, where it is revealed that the bloody key card does not, in fact, open into any of the rooms belonging to the Adams campaign, but instead to Richmond campaign headquarters.
This brings me back to the double-edged sword of the episode’s final minute. The structure of a series like “The Killing” tells us that anything that does not immediately concern the murder of Rosie Larsen is suspicious. Thus, season one spent a considerable chunk of time on an election that seemed only tangentially connected to the Larsen case. Once the evidence appeared to exonerate Richmond, we had little reason to continue following the campaign. Yet we still did. The implication, then, this that Rosie’s murder must be in some way connected to the mayoral race, an implication borne out in the season one finale, in which new evidence seems to finger Richmond as the clear-cut killer. However, as this show so often does, the revelations at the end of one episode are revealed to be false in the opening moments of the next. As we came to discover where Richmond truly was on the night of Rosie Larsen’s murder, we were prepared to put the Richmond-as-killer motif behind us. That the possibility has returned at the end of this episode is both exhilarating for its Machiavellian potential, and insulting for telling us that we’ve essentially spent an entire second season getting right back to where we were at the end of season one. Though the bloody key card could implicate anyone from Richmond to campaign coordinators Jaime and/or Gwen, it remains that the series only got us here through artless misdirection.
With each week, it seems less likely that “The Killing” will win itself a third season, with recent ratings dipping as low as a 0.03, which would seem to indicate that audiences don’t much care who killed Rosie Larsen anymore, much less why. And that’s a shame, because this season has shown a greater amount of focus, and less of a reliance on red herrings. It’s still not a truly great show, but I have no problem stating that “The Killing” is quality television. Episodes like “Bulldog” are part of the reason why.