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The Killing: "El Diablo"

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After last week’s premiere of The Killing, there was a spirited debate among commenters over how much the show has in common with Twin Peaks. Were the similarities merely superficial, or was The Killing a David Lynch rip-off? Having watched this episode, which took a decidedly sinister turn in its last few minutes, I’m thinking this series may draw more inspiration from another David known for making creepy films: David Fincher.


So far, The Killing doesn’t offer much variety in terms of mood; it’s pretty much unrelenting gloom, with some moments of overwhelming menace thrown in for good measure. If it’s possible, tonight’s episode was darker and more disturbing than the premiere last week. The first order of business for Linden and Holder is tracking down the janitor at Rosie’s high school who has the oddly presidential name of Lyndon Johnson Rosales and is the only person other than Principal Meyers who had a key to “the cage." It turns out that Rosales is a sex offender, and, for about a minute, he is the prime suspect in Rosie’s murder—especially after he leaps out a third-story window in a futile bid to avoid capture. But, almost instantly, he’s eliminated as a suspect. It turns out he was in the drunk tank on the night of Rosie’s murder, and, just like that, we’re back to square one. Rosales is at least able to offer up some valuable clues. He tells Linden he saw Rosie with Jasper’s best friend, Kris Echols, in the cage during the school dance (presumably this was well before he wound up in the drunk tank). He also whispers two words in Linden’s ear: “El Diablo.”

Later on, we find out just what Rosales is referring to. Kris, having been expelled from Rosie’s school, wore a devil mask to hide his identity at the dance. The episode culminates with another frightening discovery: cell-phone footage of Jasper and Kris, taking turns in the devil mask, raping Rosie in their school’s dank old storage room.  This, to me, was where things got decidedly Fincheresque. The level of perversity, cruelty and sadism in this episode seemed over-the-top. All that was missing was Gwyneth Paltrow's head in a box. Yes, this is a show about the murder of an innocent teenage girl, so I suppose I can’t get too Pollyannaish about it, but this episode laid it on a bit thick, didn't it? The “El Diablo” tape also seems more gratuitous, given that there’s little chance that Jasper or Kris will be revealed as the murderer. So just what else did Rosie have to endure before she was drowned alive? I, for one, am scared to find out.


As I say that, I’m also troubled that what I find really disturbing is not Rosie’s murder, but her rape. (Based on what we saw, I'm calling it rape.) If you'll allow me a brief digression: A few years back there was a great episode of This American Life which profiled three people whose parents had been murdered. One of the subjects talks about the strange obsession with murder in American popular culture. No one would ever hold  a “rape mystery party,” she argues, so why are murder mysteries considered “fun”? Anyway, this inconsistency really struck me at the time, and I continually find myself thinking about this as I watch The Killing. Am I a hypocrite for eagerly tuning-in to a show about murder but objecting to its sensationalistic depiction of rape? Quite possibly.

One thing The Killing has done quite well is create a general air of suspicion. Virtually everyone in the show seems capable of doing terrible things, and there are lots of subsidiary mysteries that heighten the overall level of suspense. The most obvious example is the identity of the mole in the Richmond campaign. Darren discovers that Jamie leaked the news of Ruth Yitanes’ endorsement—or, to be more precise, that an email was sent from Jamie’s account. Gwen and Darren fire Jamie, but there are reasons to believe he may have been framed. Who, least of all a campaign staffer, would send incriminating emails from a work account in the year 2011? Gwen also seems conspicuously eager to give Jamie the boot. Could she have framed him? If so, why? After firing Jamie, Gwen and Darren steal his plan and promise Yitanes’ husband a lucrative plumbing contract in exchange for her endorsement.  I doubt Rosie’s murder was politically motivated, but the mere fact that the show has spent so much time with Darren and his operatives suggests that the connection to Rosie’s death must be more than circumstantial. It’s going to be a long while before we know exactly what the link is, though, so for now our only choice is to suspect the worst of everyone. And why shouldn't we? This is a world inhabited by drunken sex offenders, masochistic teenage boys, and venal politicians.

By comparison, Holder is beginning to seem harmless. Yes, he’s creepy, and yes, he uses some unorthodox investigative techniques, but mostly, he’s just kind of funny, charming hospital nurses with stories of childhood bouts with pica and plying loose-lipped teenage girls with fake joints. Holder’s not exactly a Boy Scout, but he's growing on me pretty quickly, and on a show as bleak as this, some personal investment in the characters is going to be essential to keep audiences tuning in.

So far, Linden is the only character we trust implicitly, but she’s so inscrutable that it’s hard to really feel attached to her. Slowly, though, we’re coming to understand her better. Woven into this episode is a delicate subplot about Linden's distant relationship with her son, Jack. Consumed by the investigation, she's been neglecting him and arrives home to find him passed out in bed after a marathon session of "Halo." This was a fleeting mention, but I couldn’t help but think it portended something—especially since Jasper, as we learned last week, is also a big gamer. Not that I think there's any connection between these characters, per se, or that Jack is necessarily going to wind up a predatory creep like Jasper. But I do expect that, as Linden delves deeper into the lives of troubled teens like Rosie and her friends, she’s going to feel even more anguished about her son’s future and her role in shaping it.


Male detectives never seem to have these problems, do they?

Stray observations:

  • For the record, Holder dresses nothing like Justin Bieber.
  • I feel like there must be a reason the janitor was named “Lyndon Johnson,” but if there is one, I haven’t figured it out. Any theories? Is there some symbolism I’m missing here?
  • I thought the Larsens’ grieving was portrayed quite effectively. It’s rare for television shows or movies to really delve into the experience of mourning. We’re usually more interested in the detectives than in the survivors, so this was a nice touch, and the extra place setting was especially poignant.
  • This exchange between Holder and Kris’s mom seemed pretty loaded: “Tell him he has a mother that loves him and prays for him every night.” “They all do.”