I offered up my review of “The Killing” on Friday. Now I have a few specific thoughts on the series’ first two episodes, coming up just as soon as I raise my kid on vending machines…
“I’m sorry. You can’t be here.” -Linden
As I said, I am very glad AMC chose to air these two episodes back-to-back, rather than letting the pilot stand on its own. Not only did I have some complaints about the pilot’s propensity for cheap fakeouts (Linden’s goodbye party, Mitch Larsen calling Stan about the sink, the girl in Jasper’s bed not being Rosie), but I also felt like the pilot only really began to demonstrate the power of its longform approach at the very end. We’ve seen the grieving parent show up at the crime scene a million times before, but rarely at this length, with the show really taking its time to set up Stan being on the phone with Mitch (and then forgetting that he is), Linden and Holder being over by the car, and Stan bellowing out his primal screams while Mitch begs for him to talk to her. It’s a fantastic sequence, with Brent Sexton and Michelle Forbes acting the hell out of it (and Mireille Enos in her own quiet, commanding way), but I had found the pilot interesting but unremarkable to that point.
That all changed with “The Cage,” however. With the various bits of expository groundwork having been laid in the pilot – as well as the opportunity to spend some time with the Larsens before they start grieving – episode two got to kick us in the teeth a time or 12 with the impact of this crime. We see the Larsens struggle just to function, and then to tell Rosie’s little brothers(*). We see Linden slowly being sucked into the case, and we see the way the case could easily derail Darren Richmond’s happy little campaign for mayor.
(*) I imagine over the course of the season I will run out of different ways to compliment the work that Brent Sexton and Michelle Forbes are doing as the parents, but holy cow are they great, not only at the big stuff like the pilot’s climax but smaller things like the way Sexton’s voice catches on the word “okay” as Stan is trying to reassure the boys.
The campaign material is definitely the part I’m having the hardest time with. I’ve always liked Billy Campbell a lot, but in the early going the campaign itself isn’t that interesting to me, yet we have to spend a lot of time on it to establish him as a plausible (if not the prime) suspect. As I said in my review, my fear is that if Darren turns out to be the killer, it’ll feel unsurprising given Campbell’s profile and the amount of time we’ve spent with a guy who is so far only tangentially related to the case, and if he’s not, then it’s been a very long red herring involving a guy who comes across as fairly saintly so far (other than his secret affair with Gwen, and even there he acts guilty about not telling people).
Maybe the most useful thing about getting these two episodes back-to-back was how quickly and effectively “The Cage” upended my feelings about Holder. I didn’t like the character in the pilot. He seemed too abrasive, too obviously unschooled in the nuances of homicide work, just bait for Linden to stick around, when she otherwise might be on the plane to Sonoma to see her fiance if the cop assigned to the case seemed more competent. But then we got that great scene with Holder hanging outside the school, completely suckering the two girls into telling him exactly what he needed to know to find the potential crime scene, and I realized, “No, he’s not an idiot. He just has a different skill set, but one that has its own value on a case like this.” So well done, show.
Though I still have some reservations, I’m definitely in this one for the long haul.
Some other thoughts:
• Mireille Enos was four months pregnant when the pilot was shot, and that windbreaker seems to have been strategically deployed to hide that. I like the casual look, and so far I love Enos’ performance: so calm and still but no less interesting for how little she chooses to do and say. If anything, that approach only makes the moments when Linden gets moving have a greater impact.
• How funny is it to see Callum Keith Rennie, who of late has carved out a nice little career playing lunatics and creeps, as the normal-to-the-point-of-dullness boyfriend? On the other hand, I was already tired of the question of when Linden was going to go to Sonoma by the end of “The Cage.”
• The design of the series is for each episode to represent a consecutive day in the investigation, but it’s good to see that Veena Sud isn’t so married to that idea that we immediately have to jump past midnight at the start of each new hour. In both “The Cage” and next week’s episode, we spend a little bit of time on the day and night of the previous episode before moving into the next day. Better to be flexible like that.
What did everybody else think?
By Alan Sepinwall – A 13-episode murder mystery airs its opening chapters