Film and TV

The Killing: "Super 8"

Four episodes into The Killing, and I'm starting to notice a few cracks in the facade. Not that the show isn't quite good, especially when compared to crime procedurals on other networks, just that a few of the characters are acting like, well, dopes.

Linden's fiance Rick (Callum Keith Rennie) is the most glaring example. One has to wonder how bright the guy is if he thinks an obsessive homicide detective with an apparent history of immersing herself utterly in her cases would be able to drop Rosie's so quickly.

Confused? Thought you might be. Seeing as this is our first recap and we're already well into the story, a little catch-up might be in order.

As Inigo Montoya once said, let me sum up: Seattle homicide detective Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) and her new partner Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman) are investigating the murder of high school student Rosie Larsen, whose body was discovered in the trunk of a submerged car. The car in question belonged to the campaign of Councilman Darren Richmond (Billy Campbell), a local politician embroiled in a heated campaign for mayor.

The Killing also gives equal time to Rosie's family - parents Stanley (Brent Sexton) and Mitch (Michelle Forbes) - and how they deal with the initial shock and lingering aftermath of losing their oldest child (they have two sons besides) to violent crime.

The series is dodging most of the pitfalls that plague the genre, though not all: Linden was literally one day from retirement. Also, everyone's a suspect, and just as quickly not.

To this point, Linden and Holder have questioned and dismissed a few suspects. Richmond appears to be off the hook, as do Rosie's rich asshole ex-boyfriend and his tweaker buddy, who were originally suspected of filming themselves having sex with her in the school's basement, only the girl in the video turned out to be Rosie's best friend Sterling.

This constant trotting out of red herrings threatened to get annoying early on. Regular crime procedurals are bad enough, suggesting that complex crimes can be neatly wrapped up in 42 minutes. One of the initially appealing aspects of The Killing was that - like The Wire and Prime Suspect before it - it promised to show criminal cases for what they can often be: unexpectedly complex and glacially frustrating. I feared at first the show would toy with the more established formula by introducing a new suspect each week, then letting them off the hook by episode's end.

That appeared to be the case last week, when Linden discovered letters written to Rosie by Bennett Ahmed (Brandon Jay McLaren), her English teacher (this discovered in conjunction with Holder's discovery that Rosie was volunteering in Ahmed's community organization, the All-Stars. Unlike previous weeks, however, further evidence mounts pointing to Ahmed. Specifically, he's unable to verify his whereabouts on the night of Rosie's murder, he's in possession of chemicals found on her body (sometimes used to destroy physical evidence), and he has a history at other schools (an "incident" with a "mentally unstable" girl is mentioned). Oh, and his wife happens to be an ex-student of his.

We also learn the All-Stars have connections to Richmond's campaign, and the episode ends with a shot of the two of them posing for a photo op, happy as clams.

Holder likes Ahmed right away, while Linden wants more proof, studiously poring over a film shot by Rosie for Ahmed's class (the "Super 8" of the episode's title) for clues.

Good as Houston's own Enos and...Sweden's own Kinnaman are, the real strength so far to the series are the Larsens themselves. I imagine some people are tiring of their arc, but I'd argue it's not exactly unrealistic to think a) not only would the parents still be reeling from their daughter's murder less than a week ago, but b) that Dad might be so stricken he just might be willing to take up his friend's offer to sniff around the school and see who the cops have been talking to. Four episodes in, it's highly unlikely that Ahmed is the real killer, but tell that to Stan and Belko (Brendan Sexton III), who are doubtless prepared to visit some unpleasant vigilante justice upon him when they learn he's a person of interest.

I'm hoping they do a better job of tying in the political arc as the series continues (Jamie's the mole, now it's Gwen, now it's...Nathan?). Right now the mayoral plot doesn't feel as seamless as the rest, but there's time.

Based on the successful Danish TV series Forbrydelsen (The Crime), The Killing is only the latest in AMC's string of powerful, character-driven dramas which - along with series by pay channels like HBO and Showtime - are rendering regular network TV increasingly irrelevant to fans of intelligent drama. It's not without it's flaws, but it ain't no C.S.I. Miami either.

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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar