If it isn't obvious from all the whiplash, The Killing is racing through this twisty, foggy road to a sudden end, caution to the wind. "Bulldog" spends a good amount of time building the motivation to get off the couch and solve some crimes— it takes a while for the institution drugs to wear off—but when it gets going, it flies full-speed past grinning psychopaths and sudden violence and some serious girl-on-girl. Finger-crunching, that is. I'm still wincing from the impact of that close-up (and sound effect!), and it hits that much harder coming right on the heels of the series' biggest fist-pump yet, a smirking Linden presenting the bloody City Hall keycard to the elevator camera—a foolishly early move, but she gets away with it.
And speaking of whiplash, that fist-pump is a surprise after Linden pretends to have found nothing in her last-ditch attempt to find damning evidence and corroborate her story, now tainted by psychiatric insinuation. "Bulldog" is such a mess that the only semblance of control comes from the obvious manipulation of every plot point. Adams gives Richmond until 9 p.m. to resign from the race, as if that were a feasible ultimatum—it would scream bribery or blackmail to a slobbering Seattle press, and it would come after working hours and during trick-or-treat time—and not instead timed to coincide with the climax of an episode structured after the day. The tiresome mobster story is back, making this at least the seventh iteration of the "Once I'm Out" trope in this series alone, and it's so bizarrely timed that Janek's clearly just here to complicate the final arc further and to wrap up loose ends so that it all Means Something. And the big climax takes an absorbing public confession from Richmond about his suicide attempt, the kind of serious dramatic beat that sucks you in with its breathless silences, and drains all the drama out of it through the cuts back and forth to Linden and Holder investigating City Hall, which at least keeps Richmond's politicking from upsetting my bullshit meter. The sequence wants to heighten suspense by stretching the two segments out, but the tonal mismatch—from Mad Men to Scooby Doo—curdles instead. So was all this intelligent design worth it?
In the case of that Richmond speech, definitely maybe! If he killed Rosie Larsen, and I seriously hope he did, it means that smiling, inspiring power-seeker may not be the honest politician the show has been overselling. Maybe, just maybe, he has serious flaws, and not interview-flaws like "cares too much" and "succumbed to depression after a tragedy or two." Maybe he's the kind of psychopath who would do anything to win office, and he just happened to have the perfect heartwarming alibi. The crowd goes wild for his Halloween Hail Mary, and the goosebumps arrive on cue. That emotional whiplash, er, chiaroscuro, the juxtaposition of this serious horror with a festive environment (as in such moving climaxes as Some Came Running, Blow Out, and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire), is unusually sophisticated and all the more chilling. Of course, we've been here before, and we've seen how creepily grave Richmond can be when he's against the wall and how obvious he can be with his Greek allusions. But for this individual episode, the revelation that Richmond could be a killer has enough power to thrill, plotholes be damned.
The killer could instead turn out to be Gwen or Jamie, who stand there nervously in a brilliant final shot that masters the tightening anxiety that the rest of the episode sacrifices. They're basically blank but ever so slightly nonplussed, the better for the audience to project onto. Is one of them a murderer, or both, or did they just witness the impressive charisma of a murderer that they've been helping all along? Because she's the last suspect we see, the episode wiping to black thanks to a passing Richmond supporter, and because the show's feminism might prefer making a woman the major actor, Gwen is a likely candidate. It would undercut some of her emotional progress, though, and she goes above and beyond in her mission to help Linden gain access to the casino and in turn the damning evidence.
Speaking of which, it turns out Adams did stop at kissing her when she was 14, not to minimize the impact of such an act. Just because I over-inferred the past two weeks doesn't change the effect of a woman coping, and Kristin Lehman has made Gwen's recent journey exhilarating. Watching her throw her weight around with Alan Dale, a one-man TV trope, almost makes these electoral distractions worth it. As for Jamie, when Richmond tells him he's resigning, I was sure Jamie was off to assassinate Adams, shouting, "It's all for you, Darren!" at the cameras as he's hauled away by the cops. Instead, he has no ulterior motive. It's just that Jamie acting resigned looks a lot like Jamie secretly up to something. Which might be a clue, but he is awfully incredulous at the end, asking a question that everyone in the audience is answering at their television. Obviously, Richmond isn't resigning. Haven't you been paying attention? They're going for the Guinness record in bait-and-switch tonight. Which is why, once all the excitement wears off, this zeroing in feels suspicious. Hasn't this whole hour been about not trusting what we think we know? All we really know now is that a Richmond campaign keycard was found bloody at the probable location of Rosie Larsen's capture. If that's supposed to implicate Richmond, Gwen, or Jamie once and for all, then it comes at the end of the wrong episode. It's also likely that whomever Chief Jackson calls about the keycard was present at the scene of the crime. Has anyone checked on Yitanes lately?
Stan spends the day playing marionette, doing whatever the writers ask of him for maximum drama. Just before Mitch makes it back home, Stan tells Terry that he wants her to raise the kids if something happens to him. Awkward. She recoils with an expression that so resembles Michelle Forbes I suspect Winklevoss-style digital face replacement, but even ignoring Janek's calling, Stan has some serious jail-time coming up, so someone's going to have to look after the kids. Janek's return is heralded by the titular bulldog suddenly getting up and growling toward the camera, situated outside Stan's office, which is already a bit of an unsettling environment in the dark without a dog snarling at us.
Janek sends Alexi out to walk the dog, which takes all of two lines because Alexi has to be back inside for the audience to see him react to Stan talking about killing Alexi's father. The scene is so emaciated you can see every single bone. The hit scene is another bumpy one. First it's all depressed eye-rolling, as the Stan who's become so fascinating is sucked back into season one. Then he sees a baby in the backseat, which is its own eye-rolling convention, but at least it seems to spare Stan more sin. Psych! Stan goes in for the kill, but actually he was just going to intimidate the guy into leaving town all along. Extrapolate a little and it looks like Stan is in the clear, settling his newest account with Janek to the satisfaction of his conscience, but really he didn't do as he was told and will only blame himself if something now happens to his children as a result. Back and forth, back and forth, this is one creaky roller coaster. In the very next scene Janek gets into his car without checking the backseat—another character who could stand to pay more attention to the universe he lives in—and finds a gun there. He suspects Stan, which according to the laws of "Bulldog" means it's not Stan, and then we see Alexi, who finally lives up to his tattoo. My eyes watered to see the kid commit murder, and at last The Killing shows some restraint (panning to Alexi) while confronting the grisliness (the blood-splatter across his face). It's possible this whole story is designed simply to tie up loose ends, imposing on Stan because otherwise it would just focus on two tertiary characters. But it's hard to imagine this show of all shows letting Alexi off the hook for his vengeance.
It wouldn't be The Killing without a front-seat chat between Linden and Holder, and it's always fun to see what each director does with it. Somehow, those tight quarters are more expressive than many sitcom apartments, and Ed Bianchi turns it into this greenish haze where the camera tracks between the two faces. Linden's addled, and even after she makes off with the keycard she behaves a little, um, touched, but by the time the dynamic duo show their hand to Carlson in a parking lot, Linden's back to playing the shark. Although he's been written with impressive plausible deniability, Carlson has been a slave to cop show convention until last week. Now he's playing along with Adams while doing what he can to cover Linden and Holder's final few tracks. They're surprised to find the keycard doesn't open Adams' office, his mustache being so well-twirled and all, but earlier he talks on the phone about taking care of something getting traced back to him, so he's likely at least part of the cover-up. Instead, they wind up at the Richmond campaign, red, white, and blue looking tawdrier than ever. It makes for a riveting climax, but the lesson of "Bulldog" is never to buy what the writers are selling. I almost wonder if Linden isn't still in the hospital, dreaming up a tidy resolution to the unsolvable mystery.