The Killing: “Undertow”

Posted on May 23, 2011

Who was Rosie Larsen anyway?

That was the question the occurred to us after last night’s episode. We’re nine hours into this thing and we know way more about the machinery of Seattle politics than we do about the girl who is supposed to be at the center of this story. We get, and support in theory, the basic premise of this show, which is that an event like a murder ripples outward, affecting numerous people along the way. We say “in theory” here because we think the execution of that premise has been severely lacking and instead of getting drawn into the story more and more each week, it’s become a bigger struggle just to care about it. We apologize for the repetitiveness of our reviews but that’s because the problems we had with the show 4 weeks ago have only gotten worse with each new installment. We don’t care about Darren Richmond and his ridiculously badly managed mayoral campaign. These losers can’t even use a pregnant intern scandal effectively. We don’t care about Bennet and Mohammed and their heroic attempts to upend the very racial stereotyping the show happily wallowed in (Brown people! Murderers? Pedophiles? Terrorists? No, heroes!). And now, they’ve managed to get us to the point where we don’t even care about the uber-grieving Larsen family (Whoops! Sorry you had to see your daughter’s autopsy photos! Whoops! Sorry your daughter’s crime scene photos were leaked to the press! Whoops! Sorry we didn’t arrest that suspect LIKE WE PROMISED WE WOULD, IN FULL DEFIANCE OF EVERY SINGLE RULE ABOUT POLICE INVESTIGATIONS!) and whatever their secrets are (Stan’s dangerous! No, Mitch is! No, Stan is!). They’ve piled so much crap on this family and wallowed so much in their grief (when a little economy in the writing would have gone a long way), that watching a scene like Stan and creepy-as-hell Belko bashing in Bennet’s head should have been horrifying but instead felt strangely by-the-numbers to us.

Which gets us back to our opening question. Had the show made that question the focus instead of piling on everything from dead wives, to political machinations, to anti-Muslim hysteria (with its requisite terrorism and female genital mutilation angles), it would have been so easy for us to stay engaged. If we’re going to spend so much time watching Mitch Larsen cry in tubs, beds, cars, and supermarkets, it sure would be nice to get some idea of the person she’s crying about. Sure, we know intellectually why she’s grieving; almost any mother would be ripped apart by a child’s murder. But that’s kind of the point. Mitch Larsen (and practically everyone else in the cast) is generic. She’s any mother grieving any child. There have been more than enough hints that the Larsens have skeletons in their closet but aside from that they’re just The Family. Mourning The Victim. Beating up The Suspect. Angry with The Cop. They’re almost all paper dolls and it all starts with Rosie, the flimsiest paper doll of them all. And because we know practically nothing about Rosie, we have absolutely no idea, nine hours into the story, why anyone would kill her. Not a clue. What happened to all those mysterious school friends from early on? What happened with that mysterious movie she shot? Linden made a big deal out of Holder not telling her that Stan had organized crime ties – and then never followed up on it. So now that we’ve gotten the terrorist and female circumcision storylines out of the way, along with the “teacher having an affair with a student” red herring, and the “Linden is conflicted about her life plans” and “Holder is sinister” subplots, can we please get back to who Rosie was and what she was doing zig-zagging all over Seattle the night of her murder?

We’re still with the show, because we hate to not finish one of these things once we’ve started, but we’re only here because of the promise of the first couple of hours of the story and because there are only a handful of hours left. We wish we could say we’re breathless with anticipation each week, but it hasn’t been that way for a while. How did a show with such a moody, haunting first couple of hours devolve so quickly into a fairly boring police procedural with “ripped from the headlines” cheap plotting?

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