Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Killing: “Keylela”

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Now do you see why the Rosie Larsen case needed a second season? Season one just laid the groundwork for the mysterious, protective Kalimish tribe, the angry parenting of Stan Larsen, the fantasy political campaign that will succeed through honesty, the poor domestic decision-making of Sarah Linden, and the stupid bickering between Linden and Holder that gets them both in trouble. Season two is all about, well, laying more of that groundwork. But eventually it’s all going to pay off. Episode 13 of season six is going to be a doozy!

If it didn’t feel like the scent had been lost for no good reason, “Keylela” would actually be one of the more interesting episodes of the season precisely because it’s so atmospheric as written by Dan Nowak and directed by Nicole Kassell. Nothing happens, but a lot of that nothing is creepy and evocative. Season two already had its hospital nightmare, its sudden power outages, its unsettling juxtapositions of childlike whimsy with very adult warnings. Now the season’s back to the ancient Native American burial ground and the haunted house, er, casino built on top of it. Linden comes upon plots in the ground as she traipses alone through a Washington forest, and suddenly, there’s a figure who’s been watching her. Meanwhile, Holder goes from under-the-table casino dealings to a hotel elevator that doesn’t go to a certain floor, also stalked by guards who don’t take kindly to an outsider.

Operating in melodrama mode, The Killing so often gets mired in incomprehensibly bad decisions, and after Walter White has worked so hard to justify outsized pulp to ordinary Joes, no less. The goal is to say that murder is profoundly sad or moving or at least not so commonplace as to be totally inconsequential, but the methods don’t quite succeed. The crying and yelling don’t make the murder of Rosie Larsen (and the suicide of Belko and the paralysis of Richmond and the list goes on) any more tragic. The melodrama might help underscore the gravity if there were much in the way of character depth, but the cast are left with pop psychology pattern repetition straight out of Lost instead. The weather alone turns the gloom from evocative to histrionic.

But when it’s focused on horror, The Killing has proven its value, outpacing American Horror Story and then some. The goal here is to say that murder is unsettling, and after that hospital nightmare, it’s hard to argue. When the lights go out in Linden’s hallway, it’s worth at least a gasp. That picture on the fridge taps into horror fiction’s love of creepy children, but it also demonstrates that not only is Linden’s workplace crawling with enemies, but even her home isn’t even a safe space. “Keylela” isn’t exactly scary, but it certainly feels like Linden and Holder waltzed right into the cabin in the woods and picked their poison. The Killing has such a knack for twisting its basically grounded narrative into something more grotesque that I wish it would indulge that side more often. At the very least, if you genuinely engage with a show, it's harder to reject its sudden danger than it is to reject its slow-burning self-destruction.

Case in point: Jack and the agents from Child Protective Services. Apparently those people following Linden were from CPS, which presumably has nothing to do with the crayon warning and everything to do with her ex-husband suing her for custody. Which is the latest bug-eyed cliffhanger to be farted away, not that it should be surprising at this point. Still, the immediate danger to Linden’s parental rights is chilling. She certainly hasn’t been the most attentive mother, but it’s worrisome to see her potentially dethroned so suddenly and easily nevertheless. However, when Jack signals that it’s time for a Sonoma Shuffle, it’s hard not to scream at these idiots, one of whom is in this mess precisely because she’s so tied to the state. Is it still eye-rolling if it doesn't stop? The scene goes from immersion to frustration to immersion to frustration again. I’d worry about Linden and Jack as they drive off into the night, evading agents ever so temporarily, unable to get a hold of Holder, but cliffhangers are like marketing on The Killing, much ado about nothing.

It’s not strictly accurate that nothing happens in “Keylela,” but what does happen in the subplots is barely sketched, like a game of Connect The Dots used as diary paper for a particularly dramatic teen. Stan forces Terry to come clean about her boyfriend Michael Ames and Beau Soleil, after which Stan agrees to publicly exonerate Richmond at a press conference and lays into the media for their tabloid treatment of a recently murdered human being. Mitch leaving is the best thing that ever happened to Stan. Now that he has to take a more active role in his life, which is to say he can’t spend every scene sitting there moping, Brent Sexton has done as much as anyone on The Killing to deepen his character. He can come off as James-Gandolfini-lite, especially as he paces around the kitchen like a bear and orders his family members around like lieutenants, but if he can’t overcome the shallow dialogue, at least he can give it his all. Right after he orders Terry out of the house, as he hulks through the kitchen with his back to the screen, Sexton has a telling moment where he picks up a chair as if to throw it but exhales and sets it back down again, his entire thought process conveyed in that single movement. His big speech to the reporters is a little cringeworthy in concept, and it must be a shame to Richmond that Stan never even verbally touches on Richmond’s innocence, but Sexton roars. He’s brash and bewildered and upset, pure animal instinct, and he walks out like he walks in, totally unresponsive to the protocol of the scene. Too bad Stan’s off to jail. He could really shake things up in the writers’ room.


Stray observations:

  • The title refers to a "Curiosity killed the cat" Kalimish legend that Wapi Casino owner Nicole tells Linden after she's surrounded in the forest. In case it wasn't clear that the Kalimish aren't interested in helping Linden.
  • Holder’s investigation is pretty delightful, not least because he keeps finding the right leads. He has to pretend to pick up a hustler, and he’s beaten up in the middle of the forest (how quickly "deadly" settles for "hurt"), but at least he has a matchbook message to show for it!
  • My new working theory: At the end of episode 13, right when Linden is totally defeated, Rosie’ll walk in, Linden will look horrified at Holder, and he’ll be like, “Gotcha!”