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The Killing – Recap: Pastor Present

Recap video and review of The Killing – Season 3 Episode 7 – Hope Kills:

At first glance, “Hope Kills” is an episode that’s mostly about protection, and how people tend to define themselves by what they can do for others. In the past, Linden (Mireille Enos) has tied up so much of her self-worth in her ability to help people through her police work that she often does damage to her own psychological well-being when it turns out she can’t save everybody.

In much the same vein, Holder (Joel Kinnaman) attempts to make a personal connection with witnesses, victims and other people he’s trying to help, which is part of why he’s so effective in getting people to talk (although money always helps, as in the case of one witness tonight). Even Bullet (Bex Taylor-Klaus) gets some measure of validation in her role as protector for Lyric (Julia Sarah Stone). However, “Hope Kills” is one of the more subtextual episodes of The Killing in recent memory. The episode appears to be much more about authority, both real and illusory, than about the lengths to which people go to protect and help others. Of course, the episode can be validly read either way. This is part of what makes the show so rich in its third season, as the series is telling much more nuanced, complicated stories that, on the surface, appear relatively straightforward. “Hope Kills” is yet another episode that makes the case for why The Killing is among TV’s better serialized crime dramas.

Credit: Carole Segal/AMC

Credit: Carole Segal/AMC

So the investigation into the Pied Piper isn’t exactly going well, since several persons of interest are currently nowhere to be found. The cops still haven’t found Joe Mills (Ryan Robbins), and Angie (Laine MacNeil), the escaped victim from last week’s episode, is similarly AWOL. To make matters worse, the execution date is nearing for Ray Seward (Peter Sarsgaard), of whose innocence Linden is fully convinced. And so the episode focuses on Linden and Holder’s continued investigation, as the duo searches for Angie following a tip that places her at the shelter run by Pastor Mike (Ben Cotton). The issue of authority is apparent in this part of the episode when it becomes clear that Pastor Mike gets a certain amount of gratification through the influence he exerts over his troubled charges. In much the same way, Holder seems to enjoy needling Pastor Mike about the Pied Piper, implying that he and the killer share similar sentiments, such as when Pastor Mike states that he cares for the young girls in the shelter because “nobody misses them.” As the episode rolls on, it seems like Pastor Mike is almost too good a suspect to actually be the killer, especially once Bullet tells Holder that it couldn’t be Pastor Mike since he’s “the only guy in Seattle who isn’t a pedophile,” a telltale sign that we’re supposed to find Pastor Mike far more suspicious than the relatively naive Bullet.

Credit: Carole Segal/AMC

Credit: Carole Segal/AMC

But while it seems like misdirection on the part of the show, the evidence keeps piling up against Pastor Mike. When Danette (Amy Seimetz), Callie’s mother, gets a note on her car windshield warning her not to trust Pastor Mike, she takes the evidence to Linden and Holder, who trace the note back to a frightened regular from the shelter. She states that she saw Angie, or someone who looked like her, outside the shelter, all slashed and bloody. When she went to get Pastor Mike, she caught sight of him and ran in terror. Later, according to the witness, Pastor Mike returned to the shelter covered in blood. Adding to the suspicious nature of Pastor Mike, Linden and Holder learn that “Mike” isn’t even his real name. The person whose identity he’s using died several years ago. While the police trace Pastor Mike’s true identity, Linden and Holder stake out his place and discover that he’s currently driving a rental car, implying that his real car has evidence worth hiding. It would seem the incriminating evidence has Pastor Mike’s fate all but sealed, except for the fact that Holder overplays his hand. When Pastor Mike catches the detectives on his property, Holder makes a big show of intimidating the pastor with intimations about everything he and his partner know about the killer. As we soon learn, Holder inadvertently tipped the pastor off, letting him know that the police were getting uncomfortably close to the truth. By the time the cops get enough for an arrest warrant, Pastor Mike has skipped town — but not without taking somebody with him…

Credit: Carole Segal/AMC

Credit: Carole Segal/AMC

In one of the more heartbreaking developments of the season, Pastor Mike has abducted Lyric, who came to the pastor seeking help obtaining government housing. What’s crushingly ironic about this development is the chain of events that led to it. Bullet has been over-the-moon since she and Lyric have more or less become a couple, relishing in her new role as Lyric’s protector after Twitch (Max Fowler) kicks them out of his run-down flat. It’s the only bit of authority or agency that Bullet has in her life — more poignantly, it’s the only emotionally substantial connection she has in her life right now, as revealed when she confesses to Lyric that she’s been in love with her forever. However, when Holder suggests that the homeless commune in the streets is no place for Bullet to keep Lyric safe, a domino effect occurs. Suddenly, Bullet is desperate to keep Lyric from having to return to the squalid place they’d been staying, and in doing so pleads with Pastor Mike to help them out. But Bullet doesn’t know that “Pastor Mike” is really Mark Elwood, a former youth pastor arrested for an attempted kidnapping. The charges were dropped when the victim overdosed just before the trial. Elwood quickly relocated to Seattle and took on the identity of Pastor Mike, all of which would have been great to know before the girls went about placing their trust in him.

Credit: Carole Segal/AMC

Credit: Carole Segal/AMC

But it was too little, too late. As she innocently ate ice cream in his house, Pastor Mike regaled Lyric with the tale of his childhood and how people aren’t what they seem. In many respects, it’s Pastor Mike’s origin story, as he basically explains why this authoritative role has become so integral to his sense of identity. Lyric picks up on the sinister nature of Pastor Mike’s monologue, though I imagine his shadowy silhouette and eerie cadence did much of the work for her, on that score. By the time Linden and Holder arrive on the scene to arrest Pastor Mike, he’s absconded with Lyric. Holder blames himself for tipping off the suspect, while Bullet is understandably devastated. And it only gets darker, as police later discover Pastor Mike’s real car — the back seat of which is bathed in blood. And on the subject of back seats, as Linden gets in her car, we see that Pastor Mike is hiding in hers. He places a knife to her throat and orders her to drive, and suddenly, even the tiniest shred of doubt that Pastor Mike isn’t a complete psychopath goes flying out the window. There’s no telling what he actually plans to do, or why he doesn’t just off her right then and there (aside from the obvious reason that we wouldn’t have a show otherwise, although that never stopped George R.R. Martin), but this is one of the few moments in the show’s run where one of the lead detectives has been put in such direct, serious danger. In any case, it should make for some gripping TV.

With that said, the show is already doing some pretty compelling stuff with Ray Seward, whose stoic facade is slowly crumbling in the face of his impending execution date. As if rattled by Alton’s death last week, Seward suddenly doesn’t seem as ready to die as he once was, particularly since he knows at least one cop on the outside thinks he’s innocent. However, there isn’t much Linden can do with her suspicions, as Skinner (Elias Koteas) reminds her that even if he does agree with her that Seward is innocent, they don’t really have any link between the Pied Piper and the murder of Seward’s wife. And so Seward remains behind bars, at the mercy of Becker (Hugh Dillon), the prison guard with a massive chip on his shoulder. It’s clear that Becker exerts and abuses his authority at work because he lacks any agency in his home life, which we learn when he confesses to his colleague, Henderson (Aaron Douglas), that his wife is cheating on him. Becker wasn’t present during Alton’s suicide because his son had called him, despondent over the disappearance of his mother. When Becker tracked her to a bar, he found her with another man, and his handling of the situation left his son with a changed, diminished opinion of him.

Credit: Carole Segal/AMC

Credit: Carole Segal/AMC

Of course, this is a reason for Becker’s behavior, but not an excuse, and the narrative is smart to portray it as such. He taunts Seward about the sound of the hammers in the distance as they build the gallows for his execution, and then later refuses to allow him to speak with his lawyer, telling Seward that it’s too late to change the execution method. As Seward lashes out in an anguished outburst in his cell, the beginnings of a smile seem to creep across Becker’s face. No matter how crummy his home life is, he’ll always be king of the castle here. It’s sick, but understandable, in a way. In Becker’s mind, this is a man who brutally murdered his wife in front of his young son. Why shouldn’t he be a jerk to the guy? But the show does a tremendous job in contrasting the domineering authority of those in power with the vulnerability of those upon whom that will is exerted. It’s no surprise that, even as Seward is falling to pieces, nearly breaking down at the prospect of being weighed for his execution, Becker is gaining his son’s respect back by sneaking him in to see the gallows and boasting that he’ll be the person to put the noose around the killer’s neck. Power is an aphrodisiac for some, but the real aphrodisiac is in what power and authority does for those that wield it, as Becker can simply show off to his son in order to earn a quick infusion of respect.

“Hope Kills” is one of the strongest episodes so far. The season is past the halfway point, and the tension has increased exponentially, as it should with an investigation that showrunner Veena Sud promised would be solved by season’s end (unlike the Rosie Larsen case, which spanned two seasons). The series is delivering some of its best installments as the stories grow more nuanced, even if they occasionally lack surface complexity. This is thanks, in large part, to the talent of the cast in elevating material that might not always be exemplary. But even from a storytelling standpoint, the writing is much more assured and layered. The Killing has had a hell of a third season so far, and this episode gives me no reason to expect that its streak of solid episodes won’t continue.

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2 comments
Noelle
Noelle

What's the name of the guy in the glasses? He looks very much like Pauley Perrette's fiance to me haha.