There are many fair criticisms to be made about “Undertow,” but “nothing happened!” certainly is not among them. After three episodes of red herrings, general throat-clearing, and increased Bennet Ahmed accusing — sprinkled, of course, with intense periods of pink-T-shirt identifying and illegal-fight-club attending — viewers could be forgiven if they were thinking of throwing in the towel on The Killing. (The strongest argument against doing so: Without the towel, how would we stay dry?) The pace was torturously slow, the suspense nonexistent — and, worse, it’s not as if the show was spending its soft middle-of-the-season episodes on character work. All of the assorted players/suspects remained frustratingly blank: Linden is an inexpressive workaholic, poor dead Rosie a cipher sadly cut down before she could experience happiness with her true love, a giant rift in the Colorado Plateau. Only Holder has grown on us and that’s because his history of drugs-and-family abusing was revealed in a tasteful, interesting way and, at the very least, he can be counted on to say nutty things about “Virginia farmboys” pulling “crazy rendition shit” on the asses of perps at least once per week.
So, you’d think we’d welcome an episode like this — one that featured a chase scene in a farmers’ market, a $5 million basketball shot, and, at the end, a moment that finally earned the present tense in the series’ title (up till now, it could have just been called The Killed). You’d think so. But, unfortunately, you’d be wrong.
First, the recap: Linden and Holder listen, rapt, to the phone conversation between Bennet and Mohammad. Thanks to the help of their lovely Somali translator, they can understand even the parts that weren’t important enough for Bennet to say in English. They are ready to make an arrest! But first, Linden has to go see cranky Darren Richmond (the Mayor, we learn, is playing defense on the mistress story like the 1976 Steelers — forging vasectomy documents, blaming his rival for going dirty, and generally owning the debate) and demand some papers or something, but really we thought it was because the two sides of the show missed each other and wanted to visit. Worse, she takes a call from an apologetic Mitch Larsen and, for some reason, Linden decides it would be a good time to guarantee that the case will be “over tonight.”
Of course, it won’t be: Holder visits his judge buddy while he strides, walruslike, on a treadmill, only to have his warrant run-around slapped down. The Patriot Act, according to Judge Zoidberg, is for terrorism, not a “cure all for sloppy policework.” Which this certainly is! As Larsen and Holder get reamed by Harried Lieutentant Oakes, the very much not-arrested Bennet gets ready for work and natters on about a new Chinese-food place he’s dying to try. Mrs. Ahmed, spooked by the passport conversation, isn’t buying it, though. While Bennet primps, she snags his cell phone and copies down Mohammad’s number. Of course, the phone rings while she’s doing so, thus alerting Bennet to her duplicitousness and us to the fact that there are actually two adults in The Killing who have no idea how to use the “vibrate” function on their cells.
Other stuff: Stan and Belko are back at work, giving Stan a chance to help a little girl with her bicycle and the producers a chance to slam us over the head with the heartbreaking significance of it all. Dark Darren’s reign of effective campaigning is over as he’s now angry at Jamie and more concerned about a defaced mosque than his imminent defeat. Oh, and Terry left some pasta in the fridge for Mitch to heat up later. (DETAILS!) While Mrs. Ahmed shows up at the police station to
rat-out her husband give the cops Mohammad’s number, her husband, inexplicably, shows up at school, where he is treated the way most presumed child-murderers are. “If you think I’ve done something wrong, then fire me!” a defiant Bennet says to the disapproving Worst Principal of All-Time. (“Look here, Mr. Ahmed, having a torture-rape dungeon operating in the basement under my watch is one thing, but having your name in the press is another thing entirely” she doesn’t say, but probably should.) Anyway, it goes badly for the former Power Ranger: He tells his class about “false rumors” but no one listens: One by one they get up and leave the room, flashing him the stink-eye as they pass. On the whiteboard behind him, in red ink, someone has written: KILLER. (The same person in the same red ink has also written “KILL MUSLIMS” on a mosque. Someone, arrest that vandal with the colored marker!)
Meanwhile, Holder and Linden triangulate the cell signal (?) to the downtown market and head there, although not until after Mitch Larsen gets to hector them one more time. While Holder makes Deadliest Catch jokes in the seafood aisle, Linden squeezes some particularly delicious juice from her overactive mindgrapes: Why not take an escalator to the second floor, call Mohammad’s number, and then see who picks up? And then stay on the phone with him long enough for him to see you coming down the stairs with no backup, thus allowing him to run away? (Wait, don’t answer the second part.) Anyway, they catch him and our new No. 1 Suspect doesn’t do himself any favors by closing his eyes and praying instead of obeying Holder’s commands. (We felt tension here — would it be suicide by cop? Spoiler alert! No.)
So Holder and Linden go into a classic routine of good cop/Swedish cop — with the only hitch being all of their tough blather has to be translated into Somali. Mohammad seems uninterested in cooperating until both his family and his friendship with Bennet are threatened. Then, not only does he start clucking, he also becomes miraculously fluent in English. Yes, a girl came to the house. Yes, he and Bennet had to take her because she kept crying. Now, though, she’s safe and almost ready to go to Canada with her new passport. As Nate Dogg (R.I.P.) would say, “Hold up — wait!” It turns out that Mohammad and his pal Bennet were just helpfully hiding Aisha — the other missing girl — from her parents, thus saving her from ritualistic female circumcision. Classic The Killing. Everything we knew was a lie! Where do we go from herezzzzzzzzzzz. Sorry — dozed off there. Anyway, Mohammad — whose English is so good now he can finish the Sunday New York Times acrostic and get all of the jokes on “Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me” — takes Linden and Holder to an apartment where they see young Aisha herself. This? This has bad consequences.
But first: It’s Drexler time! Dark Darren has given way to steely, focused Darren — a couple knocks at Seattle’s only bebop bar will do that to a guy. (That and having his current lover suggest using his dead wife as a campaign Hail Mary.) And so he lets himself into the penthouse apartment of our favorite, totally plausible ne’er-do-well billionaire, Tom Drexler. (Let us reiterate: He let himself in. Because there is clearly no one else home and Drexler is too busy having his nightly single-malt fueled solo game of HORSE. Classic billionaire!) Anyhoo, Darren wants $5 million, which seems totally reasonable to us. But instead of making Darren do something Mega-Drexler to earn it — like devour six still-beating cobra hearts or put on a vaudeville act called “The Aristocrats” — all Darren has to do to get his extra five mil is sink a free throw. We don’t actually see the swish, but we can all guess what happened, right? It’s not like we’re talking about potential Mayor Nick Anderson here.
Anyway, all of this was buildup. When Mitch finds out Bennet is still a free man, she goes full Lady MacBeth, berating Stan for letting the suspected killer go when he had a chance. So Stan, as all loving husbands do, grabs his buddy Belko and the two of them hijack Bennet, drive him to a dusty road, and
talk about the ending of Freedom viciously beat him to death. In great, excruciating, “it’s not TV, it’s AMC” detail. Belko, in fact, gets so excited about the whole thing that he spends half the time wildly punching some rocks — which only reaffirms our belief that he’s the bed-wetting bad guy here, not the poor pile of broken bones and dreadlocks that used to be Bennet. Meanwhile, back home, Mitch scrubs the blood from her hands discovers Rosie’s Grand Canyon T-shirt in the washing machine. (Two teenagers in love with the Grand Canyon? Get Hollywood on the phone — we smell rom-com!)
So. How do we feel about this? Not great! What this episode taught us, above all else, is that these are all pretty lousy, unsympathetic people: They are vengeful, uncommuncative liars, violent murderers (even the ones who are supposed to be the victims), and, above all else, terrible cops. Had The Killing built up any empathy in the audience for Sarah Linden — other than the fact that she never got to taste any of the cake that she’ll never have at the wedding we’ve always known she’s not going to — maybe we’d feel for her frustration and impotence here as the entire case falls apart around her like so many fat, Seattle raindrops. But we don’t. She shouldn’t have been talking to Mitch Larsen and now look where we are.
Yes, things happened this episode. But they felt cheap and unearned — and left us feeling exhausted. Furthermore, all of the momentum built up in the case — the T-shirt, the FBI, the terrorism, the Ahmeds — is now dashed. The entire thing will have to reset next week, including the anguish meter at the Larsen household. We’ve actually grown tired of railing against The Killing’s pacing, its lack of believable dialogue (Richmond to Linden: “To what do I owe the pleasure this time, Detective?”), and the way its soggy storytelling has leached all suspense out of what should have been at least a gripping mystery. But, heck, this episode at least had another Killing. So we’ve got that going for us, right?