In “Donnie or Marie,” the show whittles the suspect pool down to two candidates: Richmond’s campaign manager Jamie Wright, and Richmond’s campaign adviser/ex-mistress, Gwen Eaton. It’s a “final two” scenario set up by last week’s closing shot, focusing on Gwen and Jamie, unnoticed amidst the crowd of onlookers following Richmond’s campaign speech.
It’s an episode meant to keep us on our toes, and I’d argue that it does, for the most part. The opening minutes see Linden storming into the Mayor’s office and strong-arming him into a deal that will nullify her arrest warrant and keep her lieutenant off her back until she can solve the Rosie Larsen case. With their newfound freedom, Linden and Holder visit Chief Jackson’s right hand lackey, Roberta, to implore her to turn over the security tapes from the night of Rosie’s murder, suggesting that Chief Jackson will eventually use Roberta as a fall guy should the police come sniffing around – a betrayal Jackson perpetrated upon her previous second-in-command. It’s pretty standard police work, but it pays off in the varied, back-and-forth implications that the evidence suggests throughout the episode.
Indeed, for every piece of evidence Linden (Mireille Enos) and Holder (Joel Kinnaman) discover implicating Jamie, the detectives eventually come across a detail implicating Gwen, and vice-versa. The bloody keycard was likely Gwen’s, but it was probably stolen by Jaime before all that pesky blood got on it. But then again, no, because Gwen was proven to have been driving the campaign car Rosie’s body was discovered in, on the night of the murder. But no again, because Jamie was shown on the security footage following Rosie up to the 10th floor on the night of her murder, along with Chief Jackson of the Wapi Eagle Casino and Michael Ames (businessman and father of Rosie’s ex-boyfriend, Jasper Ames). It’s a tightly-wound episode that doesn’t give us any answers, but does a better-than-average job getting us to the point where we will. Except, what should our expectations really be going into next week? Showrunner Veena Sud has all but promised that the killer would be revealed in the season finale, though I suspect we’re likely being misdirected about the motives for why Rosie was murdered. If that’s the case, we might well be in for another bait-and-switch.
A lot of people were angry about last season’s bait-and-switch finale, in which it was posited that Richmond was the killer, only for the episode to end on a twist that not only seemed to exonerate him, but also to implicate fan favorite character Holder in a far-reaching conspiracy to frame the mayoral candidate. The ratings for this season have shown that not many viewers have returned, perhaps feeling that the show did not offer up what was promised. Looking back, the first season’s entire ad campaign was centered around the central question of “Who killed Rosie Larsen?” Not “Who will win the election?” or “Will it ever stop raining?” but “Who killed this girl we know almost nothing about?” We only really know Rosie through the stories of her friends, her teacher, and various footage from security cameras and super 8 film reels. This evidence doesn’t paint much of a picture, leaving Rosie’s family as the primary vehicle through which we might get to know her.
Mitch Larsen, Rosie’s mother, has always been a problematic character, in the sense that she seems immovably tied to her grief, as if misery somehow her in the world. In tonight’s episode, Terry accidentally lets slip about the house Stan bought and was renovating before Rosie’s murder. Mitch gently confronts Stan about the house, and he reveals that he intended it as a surprise at the time. And hey, that doesn’t mean they can’t still move there! It’s a nice house, Stan argues, with a yard and everything! He all but breaks out into “Somewhere That’s Green” to sell her on the idea that the family desperately needs a change of scenery if they’re ever going to move on. But, of course, Mitch shoots him down, equating “moving on” with “forgetting Rosie ever existed.”
Mitch is perhaps television’s most exhausting character, even though you know you’re basically wrong for feeling the way you do; since each episode is a day, that means it’s only been about three weeks since Rosie’s murder, and how can you expect a mother to get over her daughter’s murder in three years, much less three weeks? But Mitch hardly seems to want to even try to move on. Her arc this season has been troubling, and generally puzzling, from the affair with a random stranger, to the young, Rosie-esque girl she tries to mother. The events aren’t puzzling in and of themselves. What’s puzzling is the notion that we somehow needed to see them. As adored as Michelle Forbes is, critically, for this relatively thankless role, I can’t imagine anyone was really clamoring for more of the same from last season. Mitch seems married to the grief, and more interested in preserving it than preserving the family she still has left to her. We know all this about Mitch, and yet we know hardly anything about Rosie, and it’s understandable, in a certain way.
Rosie is a cypher, not really meant to exist as an individual, but simply as a MacGuffin to give this show a reason to exist.
So, ultimately, why do we care who killed this girl?
I’m not entirely sure I can answer that question. Maybe we want to know just so we don’t feel like we’ve been wasting time better spent watching other shows, or reading a book, or doing any number of things that don’t involve being jerked around like a Goodwill rag doll. However, the show has made such a dramatic improvement in portraying Linden and Holder as competent detectives that perhaps the reason we care is simply because we want to see all their hard work pay off.
A murder mystery is a strong, yet iffy basis for a TV series solely on the level of difficulty involved in maintaining a narrative that doesn’t appear to be arbitrarily spinning its wheels to drag out the mystery. Next week, the wheels stop spinning. The result will determine whether the wheels come off altogether.