April Fools’ Day is the perfect date to bring back “The Killing.” The first season was supposed to be a gripping murder mystery, and it ended up feeling like a practical joke.
Modeled after the infamously addictive Danish series “Forbrydelsen” (“The Crime”), “The Killing” was designed to be a character study within the guise of a cop show, according to creator Veena Sud. The Danish series was character-driven, too, but it solved the mystery at its core in its first season.
After weeks of twists and turns, with a different suspect in nearly every episode, “The Killing” didn’t keep that promise. Critics howled. Time called the season finale “a stunningly contemptuous psych-out of its audience.”
The show had been messing with its fans all season, and perhaps they should have expected that they were in for one last, shark-sized red herring. Every episode covered one day in the search for the killer of Rosie Larsen, a beautiful teenager from a working-class Seattle family.
Finally, in the last 10 seconds of the finale, our city councilman with creepy tendencies got a pair of metal bracelets and faced a vigilante’s bullet — right after the revelation that the evidence against him had been manufactured and that the show’s hero was responsible for the corruption. Maddening.
But “The Killing” had been equal parts addicting and vexing before the finale. After a strong start, the show never quite managed to develop its characters while moving the plot forward — it alternated focusing on one at the cost of the other, sometimes for episodes at a time.
Like other whodunits, “The Killing” began with cops thrown into a new partnership on a big case: Veteran detective Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos of “Big Love”) was a single mom getting ready to move away and get married, and newbie Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman) was a scraggly former narc who might have been a little too good at working undercover. Linden was trying to quit smoking. Holder was sneaking off to Narcotics Anonymous meetings.
“The Killing” seemed lovable. It promised and delivered a complex female lead, secrets unfolding everywhere, gritty dialogue and atmosphere to burn.
Not to mention the outstanding Kinnaman, who became an unlikely sex symbol after Holder’s rough magnetism overcame his meth-addict frame and wardrobe. (Do homicide detectives get to wear hoodies in Seattle?)
“The Killing” also deserves credit for letting Linden and Holder create a dynamic alliance without resorting to a tired sexual tension ploy.
The cast members are so strong they almost mask the wobbly writing and lapses of logic that make them do and say ridiculous things. How many times could we watch Linden pack her kid up and race to the airport to move to California, only to bail at the last minute? Four? Seven?
At one point, the murdered teenager’s father, Stan (Brent Sexton of “Deadwood” and “Justified”), is overcome with remorse after kidnapping and assaulting his daughter’s teacher. (To be fair, the guy seemed guilty that day.)
Despite his recent media exposure, Stan wanders undetected into his victim’s hospital room. He’s also unrecognized by his victim’s distraught wife during a quiet encounter in the hospital break room that illustrates the show’s dichotomy. It’s great in the same moments it’s ridiculous. Maddening.
During this impossible anonymous meeting, pain and regret cascade over Stan’s face when the heavily pregnant woman asks him, “How many children do you have?”
Stan’s heartbreaking hesitation before he answers — still counting Rosie — says more than the hours of exploitative sorrow we’ve been seeing at his house every week. He and Michelle Forbes, who was nominated for an Emmy for her role as his wife, Mitch, are so good at grieving on camera that we didn’t need to see every moment of it.
The same can be said for Linden’s fretting about her 15-year-old son, who makes a great candidate for a summer of manual labor. Despite her investigation hopping from Indian casinos to Islamic terrorism to call girls, we’re supposed to think she’s a great cop. She knew the killer drove a car belonging to a suspect’s campaign pool, then waited 11 days to check the odometer and gas tank. Maddening.
In the Season 2 opener, Linden seems to snap awake a bit. Maybe she has switched to a new brand of nicotine gum, but she’s making suspiciously sleuth-like moves in Sunday night’s episode.
Someone at AMC must have remembered that Rosie Larsen was hunted and killed by someone who’s walking around free, because that person makes his or her presence known. This gives the cast more to do than cry, sulk and smoke in the rain.
We’ve been promised an answer to the Rosie question this season, and a malevolent presence asserts itself tonight for the first time since her body was found.
Which is why “The Killing” might be worth a few more weeks for fans who appreciated its strengths. Maybe the second season’s revelations will add another dimension to the first season. Maybe the writers really are renegade storytellers whose risks will pay off.
But if there is any theme to “The Killing,” especially Sunday’s episode, it’s that vigilantes don’t always learn the error of their ways.
STAN LARSEN (BRENT SEXTON)
Rosie’s father, who used to provide mob muscle before he settled down, is trying to hold his family together and control his rage. He’s failing.
BELKO ROYCE (BRENDAN SEXTON III)
Stan’s co-worker and friend helps him assault Rosie’s teacher and later shoots a gun at mayoral candidate Darren Richmond.
JANEK KOVARSKY (DON THOMPSON)
The Polish mobster from Stan’s early days is willing to help — and eager to draw Stan back into the life.
MITCH LARSEN (MICHELLE FORBES)
Her daughter’s murder sends her into a dangerous stupor. She leaves Stan when she finds that he has contacted Janek Kovarsky.
TERRY MAREK (JAMIE ANNE ALLMAN)
Mitch’s sister is trying to help her family while keeping her own secrets. She works as a call girl and may have led Rosie into the lifestyle.
DARREN RICHMOND (BILLY CAMPBELL)
The city councilman, who was taped with Rosie at a rally, is arrested and targeted by an armed Belko Royce. He also may be the victim of a police conspiracy involving Stephen Holder.
GWEN EATON (KRISTIN LEHMAN)
She’s Richmond’s adviser and lover, but she eventually recants the false alibi she gave him after seeing what a good liar he is.
SENATOR EATON (ALAN DALE)
Gwen’s father doesn’t want to see her lose, so he hooks her up with billionaire Tom Drexler, known for hating the current mayor.
JAMIE WRIGHT (ERIC LADIN)
Richmond’s campaign manager, who isn’t afraid to try to infiltrate the mayor’s camp or use sleazy tips from Tom Drexler.
TOM DREXLER (PATRICK GILMORE)
He has a vendetta against Seattle’s mayor and the highest creep factor on the show. Detective Stephen Holder finds out he’s in the habit of using Beau Soleil, the escort service that also employed Terry Marek.
MAYOR ADAMS (TOM BUTLER)
He’s a ruthless career politician who exploits the Larsen murder to attack Darren Richmond, and when his campaign looks doomed, he tips off Gwen Eaton about Richmond’s numerous affairs.
LT. MICHAEL OAKES (GARRY CHALK)
As Sarah Linden’s boss, he persuades her to stay in Seattle for the Rosie Larsen case. His faith in Linden’s ability wavers as the case loses focus, but he eventually OKs the arrest of Darren Richmond.
SARAH LINDEN (MIREILLE ENOS)
She’s determined to catch this killer for reasons of her own, and she disrupts every area of her life to stay and solve the case. She slowly builds trust with new partner Stephen Holder, only to find out his smoking-gun photo evidence was faked.
STEPHEN HOLDER (JOEL KINNAMAN)
The recovering drug addict has the instincts though not the experience, but his connections elsewhere in law enforcement are a double-edged sword. With the help of a shadowy figure, he produces a manufactured photo implicating Darren Richmond, which leads to Richmond’s arrest for Rosie Larsen’s murder.