"72 Hours" feels caught between what The Killing was and what it has recently become, which is admittedly a false dichotomy. There's an obviousness, though, that can't entirely be chalked up to pulp's habit of sorting characters into situational conventions. Personally, I get a kick out of lines like, "This goes all the way to the top." Every time Carlson says, "My hands are tied," I smile. We're on solid ground here, even if it isn't that of the plausible, predictable outside universe. Maybe that's what's so great about Carlson refusing to be surprised when he gets into his car and Holder tries to startle him from the backseat, a rare pulp convention busted. But the speed with which Linden acts the mental patient in the primary plot of "72 Hours" weighs on the serious narrative and thematic heft of those sequences. In the moment, as an isolated segment of Linden's story, "72 Hours" is colossal. As a piece of a whole, it's a little discordant.
Purely as a tactical maneuver, a stall that adds some tension and gravity to the week, particularly at each act break, Linden's stay at the hospital hits all the right notes. The cold open mirrors Richmond's nightmare with an unsettling walk through a hospital hallway. Mireille Enos is unusually skinny without a sweater and a raincoat, and her feet are bare. It feels like a dream because of the elliptical editing, odd focus (close on hair, a tracking shot of feet), and the way nobody looks at Linden. The locked door feels so metaphorical that it has to be a dream, so the revelation that Linden's in a psych ward is especially disorienting. Then there's the atmosphere, full of strangers like the nurse and the orderly who are watchful but unresponsive. The audience gets a morsel: The drawing that scares Linden away from her apartment comes from that earlier case that drove her crazy, drawn by a boy whose prostitute mother was murdered. And another complication that may or may not tie into this season's case but will surely affect the long-term direction of The Killing in some capacity: That earlier case resulted in the arrest of a man Linden believes was framed. And after all of that, there's this tremendous shot of Linden on the verge of some kind of breakthrough and then swallowing it and walking out. "72 Hours" wrings a lot out of its asylum conceit.
Another electric moment is when Linden tells Holder, "Don't leave me here." But why is she suddenly acting like this? Certainly she's shown signs of monomania before, above and beyond the stories about what that earlier case did to her. It's just that a few hours before this, she was making progress in a murder case that involves the mayor who's up for election in a few days, and now she's staring out windows instead of collaborating with her partner on what to do next. This situation is an actor's dream, and Mireille Enos chews up a storm, for better or worse. Unfortunately it requires Linden to play up a part of herself that is normally subdued while ignoring every part of herself that would support the work she's so obsessed with. There are too many cross purposes to keep up with.
That said, as written by Eliza Clark and directed by Nicole Kassell, "72 Hours" taps into such a deep thematic well, and with such pulpy aplomb, that the characterization is almost excusable. Feminism often feels more latent than active in this story of women wielding power in civic environments typically controlled by masculine force, but The Killing is increasingly clear about its perspective. The mayoral storyline this week is all about men getting their panties in a twist and invading a woman's sexual history. Richmond stops Gwen before she tells the whole unspoken story—at least, I assume Mayor Adams did more than kiss her when she was 14—but the damage is done. She is outrageously forced to confess or at least suggest a traumatic event in order to prove her loyalty is not in question, even though she's clearly the mastermind behind the only successful late-game campaign tactic Richmond has going for him (and speaking of, the camera-phone shot is a nice touch). Richmond quickly realizes he's wrong to question her because he's such an honest politician, a trope that could use some seedy darkness if only to accommodate the show's otherwise boundless skepticism of authority. But Gwen has already accepted her lack of privacy and decided to power through. Endurance is her only course. In murder stories like this, endurance is everyone's only course.
The Linden plot is even more explicit, what with the history of men locking up women for behaving independently. It's funny that Carlson claims his hands are tied while Linden is literally locked up and under surveillance. True, there's a Yellow Wallpaper aspect that just because Linden is wrongfully admitted doesn't mean she couldn't use the help, but that hardly excuses anything. Now Linden, too, must accept a lack of privacy in order to show her psychiatrist that she's not a suicide risk. She, too, must let someone pilfer through traumatic memories in order to prove that there was no initial reason for that person to pilfer through traumatic memories. Not that there wasn't, necessarily. Crazy yet? The twist that Linden's nemeses are all women only underscores the theme. Chief Jackson succeeds through violent force. The nurse and the doctor are ultimately Linden's allies who just don't have the full picture, but they, too, succeed vis a vis Linden purely through physical force, the restraints confining Linden to the hospital. By contrast, Linden and Gwen and Mitch and Terry derive power from not only competent professionalism but also from being mothers and lovers. Their power tends to be more coercive than physical, more emotional than financial. True to its procedural bones, The Killing isn't an argument so much as an illustration. The critique is implicit.
That non-physical power would have worked, too. Linden was exceedingly close to being released on her own through sheer endurance and obedience. Holder prevailing upon Linden's psychiatrist ex to release her simply spares her further abuse, and at a moment so thrillingly developed the audience has two simultaneous, opposing desires. As much as Linden might need someone to help her deal with her past, the way her discretion is taken from her is infuriating. The audience wants Linden to be healthy but not at the command of powerful interlopers. Linden may walk off without confronting her demons, but at least she has her independence.
Long-term serialization naturally leads to situations where one or two storylines take a step and a third just fills time. This week the Stan segments are especially scattered, though not glaringly so considering his state of mind. He visits everyone's favorite teacher to try to apologize, for which he can barely summon the words, but the sequence doesn't emphasize either the good-will gesture or the old-fashioned struggle with awkwardness as one tries to do the right thing. The bigger takeaway is how rattled Bennett Ahmed looks, and how barely concerned the actress who plays his wife does. Later Stan buys the boys a dog in a strong light scene that would just glance at the heaviness motivating it, but that heavy subtext is constantly fighting to become text. An early conversation with Terry goes all the way as she counsels him to find some way to move on even if the murder of his daughter remains an unsolved mystery. "Maybe you fix what you can, and I don't know, maybe then you forgive yourself." It doesn't come close to the bathos of episodes past, but it's closer than recent weeks. The restraint is there—nobody's crying or flailing—but the on-the-nose psych evaluation recalls the writerliness of the early going. It's a testament to Brent Sexton that Stan remains compulsively watchable, a detailed tapestry of fidgets and intonations. It's probably for the best that he tries to find some internal means of coping rather than pinning all his expectations on the punishment of his daughter's murderer. With just three days left in the case—allegedly—Stan's going to be tested sooner rather than later.