“The Missing,” last night’s 11th episode of the freshman season of “The Killing,” finally got around to developing the two lead characters, Mireille Enos’ drab and wincing Sarah Linden and Joel Kinnaman’s kinetic and subdued Stephen Holder, answering some of the questions about their background that have confounded viewers this season. The problem was that it was too little, too late, and more crucially, that character development came near the end of the season at a point in the series when the investigation should be in full swing, when our sympathies for the characters should have already been established.
Last night’s episode was essentially a time-out for the series’ investigation. Linden and Holder spent the day looking for Linden’s missing son, Jack. It would’ve been one thing if Jack’s disappearance had in some way tied into the murder of Rosie Larson, or if Jack himself had ended up in a body bag. None of that happened. The sullen Jack had been visiting his father all along, and unless Jack’s father is the killer, last night’s episode an unnecessary diversion.
What we’ve known all along is that Sarah is not a particularly good mother. What we learned last night is that she is struggling with it. She cares deeply about Jack, just not deeply enough to focus her attention on her son in the midst of a murder investigation. It would’ve been my preference that she continued not caring about her son, as both Jack and Sarah’s fiance have been an annoying distraction to the series all season long. The episode also highlighted Sarah’s relationship with Regi Darnell, who is Sarah’s social worker. Sarah grew up an orphan. None of this information is important to the investigation, and while much of Linden’s development was needed, it would’ve been far more appropriate doled out in increments over the last 11 episodes instead of in last night’s episode, essentially a character-development dump.
We also learned that Holder is a vegetarian ex-junkie who doesn’t understand the rules of vegetarianism. He’s a sweet but misunderstood guy who is not particularly careful with his words. Holder did have a couple of nice moments, as he demonstrated how supportive he can be, as well as his capacity to sacrifice for his partner. The wordless scene in which Holder handed a cigarette to Linden was the highlight of the entire episode.
Alas, there was nothing in the often magnetic chemistry between Holder and Linden that could redeem last night’s purposefully wasteful episode. The slow pace of “The Killing” is not what’s wrong with the show. A deliberate pace can work to a show’s advantage, as we saw in five seasons of “The Wire.” That show was meticulous. “The Killing” is sloppy. It doesn’t weave plot and character development together; it bounces back and forth, often in a jarring, nonsensical way. It’s sputtering at a time when it should be thriving.
Last night’s episode was framed by small progressions in the investigation, in much the same way that episodic procedurals work their overarching season-long storylines into an episode. The problem is that “The Killing” is not episodic. We watch primarily for one reason: To find out who killed Rosie Larson. What we found out last night was that she was at a casino on the night of her murder. We gathered that at the end of last week’s episode, so essentially there were no new plot developments in the episode. There are two episodes left; the investigation is still stuck firmly at square one. The question is, after 11 futile episodes, do we even care anymore?