In talking over this episode this morning, we realized with a slowly dawning sense of horror that we were struggling mightily to convince ourselves it was a great one. That is NEVER a good sign for a show, as far as we’re concerned. In fact, we may have been reticent about it this morning, but we’ll be blunt now that we’ve thought about it more: the quality is declining with each episode.
The acting is still top notch, but the moodiness that permeated the first episode, as well as the first rate directing and writing, are less and less evident each week. Think of the scene from the first episode when they opened the trunk to find Rosie’s body, with Stan down the road screaming and crying, and Mitch on the phone crumbling to the floor as her two sons watched with fear and horror on their faces. When was the last time we felt a gut punch like that? Certainly not last night.
Listening to Linden go on to her non-responsive boyfriend about “what flight I’m supposed to take” and watching Richmond impotently flail about as his campaign slowly sinks, we wonder: are we supposed to root for these characters? Because they look like they’re in total denial. Linden killed her own relationship and Richmond’s campaign is embarrassingly earnest and naive, with not a chance of winning. And yet, we suspect that we are supposed to care if Linden can salvage her relationship and not go down dark roads she’s been down before. We’re supposed to care whether or not Richmond will be the next mayor. As to the latter, we can firmly say we don’t care. To be honest, we’d never vote for a candidate like that. Not because he had the presumed bad luck to be peripherally involved with a local murder, but because he routinely gets steamrolled by every single person he goes up against. He’s the very definition of a wimp and the characterization is so engrained at this point that we actually found the impromptu sex scene in the office to be sleazy and gross. If we’re not rooting for Darren Richmond, then what’s he for? We’ll stick with our original instincts that his campaign is far more involved in the murder than we’ve seen so far.
As for Linden, we’re not even close to throwing in the towel on this character yet. Mireille Enos is giving far too good a performance for us not to care. But we are tired of hearing about her wedding plans. If she has a tendency to get consumed by her cases to the detriment of all her interpersonal relationships, that’s enough. We don’t need endless mentions of a wedding she doesn’t seem to want and planes she has no intention of catching. We’re hoping last night’s scene in the airport will close down this repetitive story element. It’s enough to know she’s slipping away from the people who care about her. Honestly, at this point, if the story ended with her getting married, we’d find that an extremely odd way to wrap up her arc. We loved the scene where she showed her son how to aim and shoot. We find we respond more to the idea that her relationship with her son is being damaged by her obsessions than whether or not she’s going to make it to her own wedding.
What really disappointed us was the “ripped from the headlines,” Law & Order-esque turn the story took, where suddenly it appears that Linden and Holder have stumbled into an FBI investigation of terrorist activity. Seriously? Had we known this was the direction, we’re not so sure we would have signed on. There’ s not a thing wrong with a crime drama exploring terrorism – and specifically Islamic terrorism – as part of the plot. It’s just that there are so many other shows and movies that have gone down this road. And we question the optics of a show with a large, lily-white cast and the only person of color is not only the main suspect in a murder, but possibly involved with a terrorist cell. With a mysterious friend named Mohammed, no less. That’s dicey at best, in terms of the politics of it.
To be fair, we don’t believe for a minute that Bennet or his mysterious friend are the real murderers. If anything, this sideline into a mysterious Halal butcher shop meat locker feels more like a red herring that’s playing on current racial and ethnic fears. We have no idea what Linden and Holder saw in there, but we immediately assumed it had nothing to do with the case. We will happily admit we are wrong next week if it turns out otherwise, but if we’re right, that’s another thing that doesn’t speak well for the show; the fact that we’re so cynical about the cliffhanger reveals each week. Are we so off-base to assume that whatever’s in that meat locker will be dispensed with in the first ten minutes of the show next week? After all, the show opened this week with a murderous, looming Stan Larsen ready to kill Bennet only to … drive away.
Admittedly, we did like where that aspect of the story went. It turns out the Larsen we need to keep an eye on isn’t Stan, it’s Mitch. After introducing us to her monstrous (and monstrously stereotypical) mother, Mitch sits in the endless pouring rain, watching the Ahmeds and their shakey, fragile domestic bliss. It could just be that we’re so in love with Michelle Forbes’ performance that we’ll latch on to anything, but it’s Mitch’s story that keeps us most invested in the outcome.
Oh, and that creepy family friend who keeps insisting he’s got inside information and pushing the Larsens to act on it. That’s exactly how a suspect would act, wouldn’t you say?