Three hours into a 10-hour season, The Killing shows no signs of either loosening its grip on the audience’s attention or lightening up. The show has staked out its territory and committed to it: Murdered children, missing children, emotionally bruised children; callously inattentive parents, loving but remorseful parents; a man rotting away in a death cell, the past squatting like a bill collector in people’s living rooms. Trailing through the rain-swept streets, holding up pictures of lost kids in front of equally lost kids and getting nothing but attitude for their trouble, Linden and Holder make the depressed hero of Wallander look like Nick Charles on New Year’s Eve. I’m beginning to wonder just how far this show is going to redefine the accepted definition of the term “entertainment,” but any thriller that can make the line “He’s drawing again” resonate and chill the marrow like “Fire walk with me” has to be doing something right.
The drawer in question is Adrian, the son of Ray Seward, who is cooling his heels on death row after being convicted of the decapitation of his wife. Linden and her old partner Skinner put Ray away, and Linden was still shaken up about the case when we first met her, a couple of seasons ago, just before Rosie Larson came along to give her something new to lose sleep over. Adrian’s compulsive drawings of a wooded area lead Linden to a dump site, where the bodies of 17 teenage girls have been turning to mulch in “what used to be a retention pond.” The scene isn’t as meticulously art-directed as the killings on Hannibal, but considering how long some of the corpses have been there, it’s in that neighborhood in terms of both grisliness and implausibility, and Skinner, who is now a lieutenant in charge of the investigation, makes the connection for his detectives: “I’d like to disabuse you of some notion that we’re out searching for Hannibal Lector. We’re not going to find any skin suits. He’s not going to be sending us some lady’s head in a box.”
One way you can tell the difference between Hannibal Lector and Ray Seward is that, whether he was in or out of jail, homicide investigators were always up for a chat with Hannibal Lector. Here, the cops seem to have little curiosity about Seward’s connection, or lack of same, to the corpses that have been piling up since his arrest. Of all the curious approaches to police work on view here, I actually found this the most plausible. From some angles, those bodies might cast doubt on whether Seward is an innocent man, or at least complicate and impede the countdown to his execution. It figures that the cops wouldn’t be too crazy about anything that would open up that line of inquiry, and might even be openly in denial about it.
This is especially true of Skinner, since the case seems to have made his career. (Last week, Seward tricked a guard into letting him make a phone call to Skinner, in which he invited him to “bring the kids” and witness his hanging. This, Skinner told Linden, is not the behavior of an innocent man. But as we know from hearing the testimony of cops and prosecutors in such documentaries as The Thin Blue Line and Capturing The Friedmans, there’s nothing like making up your mind that an innocent man is guilty of something to seriously constrict your notion of what an innocent man would or wouldn’t do.) As for Linden, it’s always looked as if the Seward case left her a jangled mess, and got her thinking about ending her career, because of the horrible things she saw. It’s now apparent that she’s also been unable to shake some of the things she did—which may include being privy to some questionable police tactics, and definitely include an affair she had with the married Skinner. This gives Holder’s current partner Reddick one more thing to be ungallant about, while Holder sits next to him, staring straight ahead while steam pours out of his ears.
As Reddick, Gregg Henry continues to buck for MVP status for this season; his boorish outbursts give this episode its only traces of humor, except for a street kid’s description of Holder as “some Eminem wannabe with a molester mustache.” Reddick could easily have seemed as irritating to the audience as he is to the people who have to sit in parked cars with him, but the character quietly expands in interest as evidence accumulates that, beneath all the surface noise and appearance of shallowness, he’s actually a good, skilled detective, who may even care about justice. He puts his piggishness to work for him when he’s playing good cop in an interrogation of Goldie, the repulsive pimp who raped Bullet last week. In the strangest scene of tonight’s episode—stranger even than the one where Ray Seward acquires a razor blade that the suicide fairy must have left for him—Bullet interrupts Holder and Reddick when they’re parked outside Goldie’s building, trying to conduct surveillance. After Goldie looks out the window and gives them the finger, they complain that it’s Bullet’s fault that he made them. I’d put the blame on whoever taught them the best way to put a secret tail on a suspect is to assign the job to the two cops whose faces he knows best, and have them act as if they’ve taken out a mortgage on the parking spot directly beneath his front window.
Likely suspects aren’t piling up as fast as they did in the Rosie Larson case (where, you may remember, the killer turned out not to be a very likely suspect at all), and in general, this season seems more interested in raking up the past than in moving into the future. It’s also more interested in the characters than the plot—something that I may be more forgiving of than some people. (I should probably mention that, except for the pilot, my favorite episode of the first season was probably the one that mostly consisted of Linden and Holder just hanging out, often in their parked car, wondering what the hell was going on with her son. That was a very divisive episode, especially in my living room.) Right now, none of the murder-mystery elements is generating more suspense than the question of when Linden and Holder, who are no longer officially working side by side, will get to have another scene together. And the show is grim. But sometimes, as Lou Grant once said, I like to get stinkin’ gloomy.