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The Killing Recap: Cigarette Break

FORECAST: Isolated thunderstorms. Extremely isolated.

The Killing is an exceedingly strange show. By our math, only three episodes remained at the beginning of “The Missing” — a time when most murder mysteries would be hurtling toward the finish line with momentum, suspicion, and dread crackling in the air. But, as we know all too well by now, The Killing doesn’t hurtle. And so, instead of tightening the screws on an investigation with more dead ends than a maze in Highlights magazine, we had a stand-alone hour that featured only two members of the cast: Linden and Holder, spending a day discussing dietary restrictions, foster care, and spirituality while searching for Linden’s missing son, Jack.

It was, in the parlance of sitcoms, a sort of bottle episode (though not stuck in one room), or in the nouveau terminology of adult cable dramas, a suitcase: a tonal pause button that serves to intensify our focus on certain characters and, hopefully, allow us to understand them better. Now, it could be said — no, should be said — that The Killing needed a pause as much as Bennet Ahmed needed one for his ventilator. No one, except maybe the heavily medicated, would argue that the show was anything but slothful in its storytelling. And yet here’s where “The Missing” worked in the show’s favor: unlike in other densely plotted serials, we were thrilled to have time away from Mitch Larsen’s punishing, show-boating grief, sad Stan’s bearish resignation, and Belko’s mommy issues. “But what happened this week in the mayoral race?!?” said absolutely no one. Weirdly, by pumping the brakes on an already stalled-out car, showrunner (and episode writer) Veena Sud gave us an hour of The Killing that we actually found ourselves enjoying.

Of course, “The Missing” was bookended by the Rosie Larsen investigation and, honestly, the show seemed as bored with it as we are. At the open, Linden strolls through a casino floor populated exclusively by Mrs. Belkos. It seems the joint is run by two wildly unfriendly Native American ladies who seem to be hiding something and also seem to have received character notes from the director consisting of one word: “asshole.” Anyway, it’s an Indian casino so no jurisdiction, yada yada. The ladies toss Linden out, partly for her nosiness and partly for the crime of wearing jeggings (fine, running pants) near a baccarat table. But our heroine is nothing if not a cop: Once outside, she smartly notices the one other thing that is also outside: an ATM. Not only that: an ATM with a full-color security camera inside! She arranges a warrant to gain access to all the casino’s ATMs. Very good! Still, the whole thing seems a bit flimsy: Rosie is now connected to this heretofore unheard of casino solely because she had a keychain with a bird on it? Maybe she just spent a lot of time in Portland?

But Day 11 is not concerned with Rosie (that makes two of us!). Rather, it’s all about Jack Linden, whose quick descent into delinquency reminds us of those TV movies where valedictorians take a quick sip of schnapps on prom night and show up at graduation with a needle in one arm and a newborn in the other. Jack, you see, hasn’t been to school in three days. Even worse, he’s left his cell phone (with the ringer on, naturally — the kid is a Linden, after all) behind in his motel room/prison. At first we were confused: Wait, is Jack the killer? Or maybe Rick has returned from Sonoma, drunk on first press Pinot, to kill again? But, no: This was its own thing and for that, we were grateful. As Jack’s absence grows and grows — his friend’s mom hasn’t seen him and, not only that, she accuses him of being a bad influence; his 3:30 post-school curfew comes and goes — Linden’s slow-boiling panic finally pushes her closer not only to Holder but to revelations: We learn that she was a foster child with an unhappy youth spent moving from home to home; that Regi was her lifelong social worker; and, most telling, that the previous case she had become too involved with wasn’t about a dead child, but about a boy similarly cast into the system with all hope of a real family life ruined.

Holder, meanwhile, has balloons problems of his own. He’s finally ready to make amends with his sister and her kids and plans on attending some sort of parade they are participating in, despite the monsoon currently, and inevitably, raging outside. Yet as Linden’s situation worsens in gradual, graceful ways — there’s a really wonderful moment where a report of the attempted abduction of a minor crackles over the radio and Linden simply turns down the volume — Holder decides his first obligation is to his partner. And so he ferries her from place to place: We learn there’s another potential torture-rape dungeon in the greater Seacouver metroplex, this one called “The Tunnel” and full of Lost Boys extras; we witness the playground where, in happier times, Linden and Jack danced to a random song on the radio. Best of all there’s an extended jag at a fast-food restaurant in which Holder, after ordering a filet-o-fish sandwich and a hamburger without the burger, explains not only his unified theory of vegetarianism (pork rinds are okay because they are snack foods and thus, “don’t count”) but also the universe. “My body is a temple,” he explains, in between bites of meat-free bun, “my mind is the control tower. ... Wisdom’s all around, Linden. It’s like air. You just gotta breathe it.” Not even our normally sallow-faced lead can resist a smile at knowledge-bombs like that one.

Actually, up until the emotional ending, it seemed like Mirielle Enos was holding back a smile throughout the episode because, for once, she was allowed to be a human being. Look, it was still The Killing: The actors at times had to battle through some truly head-scratching dialogue and if Joel Kinnman were just a fraction less Swedish charming his over-the-top white-boy-isms would be intolerable instead of just amusing. (“Damn, yo, is there one day a month you ain’t PMSing, Linden?” Honestly, the guy is one “-wiggedy” away from a Das EFX tribute band.) But we enjoyed it, mainly because it reminded us of the slightly off-kilter, enveloping show we thought we were signing up for at the start. We don’t mind long, digressive, even potentially pointless television journeys as long as the company is good. Even the heavy-handed (and quick!) resolution didn’t bother us too much: Holder, after passing up a day with his family to look after Linden, cracks Jack’s cell phone (Password: Funyons. Classic password!). There’s an APB about a dead boy in a park, stakes are raised, cigarettes are smoked. Linden experiences a Stan Larsen breakdown before the identity of the victim is broadcast loud enough for everyone at home to know that it isn’t actually Jack. (Jack, of course, was just spending time with his father. HIS FATHER IS THE KILLER! Whoops, sorry. Old habits die hard.)

At the end, Holder is left with his nephew’s unreturned gold coin, watching remarkably high-quality security tapes while Linden gets to have the (admittedly bumpy) family time that he so desperately wants. Of course, Rosie “Zelig” Larsen makes a well-lit cameo in one of the tapes. So she was at the casino, after all. The creaky revelation machine grinds back into action. But the success of this episode unfortunately only highlighted the failure of the show as a whole: It was actually disappointing to see Rosie’s blank, pretty face again. The thought of diving back into the boring puddle of Gwen and Jamie, of noble Muslims and inept police work is downright exhausting. Once again, we’re cast back to the show we know, the one about dead girls and dead ends. But, for a week at least, The Killing allowed its characters to breathe. And, in doing so, it brought our interest back to life.

Photo: Carole Segal/AMC