Of the many frustrating things about The Killing—and there really are quite a few—perhaps the most vexing thing is that just when you’re ready to write the show off entirely, it all of a sudden gets good again. “Missing” represents a fairly radical departure from the show's multi-strand narrative format, which meant a temporary reprieve from the dead weight of the Richmond campaign and the oppressive mourning at the Larsen household. Instead of casting a wide net, this episode focused exclusively on the relationship between Linden and Holder. It was—dare I say it—probably best installment of The Killing since the pilot.
This week, the investigation into Rosie’s murder came to a virtual standstill, but curiously, the break-from-the-action actually felt productive. That’s because “Missing” is a fine example of narrative digression done right, something that, up until now, The Killing has consistently gotten wrong (see: every episode involving Bennet Ahmed). Over the course of the hour, we discover that Linden is a product of the foster system, that Regi was her case worker, and that the child who drew all those pictures lost his mother to murder and is now a ward of the state—just as Linden once was. We also learn more about Holder: That he got hooked on crystal meth while working undercover and that, beneath the dingy hoodie and weedy facial hair lies a heart of gold. (Odd, isn’t it, that Holder is easily the warmest, most compassionate character on this series?)
“Missing” offered up several things that have been sorely lacking from The Killing—until now. Yes, we finally got an explanation about Linden’s past, but along the way something more important developed: A real, believable friendship between Holder and Linden. At long last, there’s a ray of light breaking through all the misanthropic gloom. Sure, we didn’t get much closer to finding Rosie’s murderer—only that Rosie was at the casino late Friday night—but the pause in the investigation didn’t feel stagnant at all. Quite the opposite: This episode actually felt vibrant. Put another way, I am fine if The Killing takes detours, but the wandering should have a very clear point. Tonight, it did.
This episode returns to a theme that was first developed earlier in the season but got a bit lost in all the Bennet silliness: how easily teenagers’ lives can go horribly astray. We discover that Linden was a foster child, which may account for her own shortcomings as a mother. Or, as Holder puts it, managing to sound both tactless and empathetic at the same time, “So no wonder you ain’t a pro at being a moms.” The Killing wants us to know that rotten childhoods are cyclical, which is not exactly a groundbreaking revelation but is a valid one nonetheless. It seems like all the young people live in a state of pretty much constant peril, and there’s almost nothing separating someone like Jack from the 13-year-old boy who did end up in a body bag in this episode. An alternate title for The Killing might have been The City Of Lost Children. There have been all kinds of subtle (and not so subtle) connections drawn between Jack and the other troubled teens Linden is investigating: Jack hides cigarettes, just as Rosie hid Bennet's letters; Jack passes out after playing Halo for hours on end, like Jasper, who spent the weekend of Rosie's murder on a drug-fueled video game binge; like Kris, Jack likes to ditch school and hang out in dank, unappealing little hideaways.
“Missing” is also a reminder that, contrary to their weighty pretensions, many of the shows and films that employ the ever-popular “everyone is connected” story structure—i.e. The Killing, but also Babel, Crash, etc.—can be very shallow. In fact, there’s far more emotional depth to be gleaned looking closely at two characters, by following them over the course of a single, intense day, than by forcing them into a sweeping inter-connected narrative. This episode was so much more satisfying because we got to spend some “quality time" with Linden and Holder, watching their friendship develop, and weren't distracted by half-baked plots involving political sex scandals, cocky billionaires, or female genital mutilation.
I’m already ducking to avoid the rotten tomatoes that will be lobbed my way for saying this, but more than anything, “Missing” reminded me of “The Suitcase,” the best episode of Mad Men’s fourth season. In that instant classic, Don and Peggy stay late at the office to work on a pitch but end up spending a (chaste) night together, at first fighting but emerging the next morning as friends and confidantes. “Missing” followed a similar trajectory: At first, Linden and Holder are at each other’s throats, but by the end of this very long and grueling day, they’ve shared some of their most closely held secrets. Like Don, Linden is taciturn and reluctant to talk about herself, but she eventually opens up about her difficult childhood. Like Peggy, Holder's a young and overly confident upstart who pities his lonely superior. The episode also unfolds against a backdrop of loss: For Linden, it's the disappearance of her son, Jack; for Don, it's the death of a friend. Even the scene at the burger joint was reminiscent of Peggy and Don’s late-night dinner at a Greek diner. Am I making too much of these similarities? Perhaps. But if it turns out that Linden’s mom was a prostitute and her dad died when he got kicked in the face by a horse, then Veena Sud’s got some 'splainin' to do.
That is not to say this was as good as “The Suitcase.” To state the obvious, Mad Men is a much stronger show than The Killing, but even more critically, Don and Peggy’s breakthrough evening also came four long years into their relationship, during which time both characters had gone through dramatic personal changes. Holder and Linden’s day of bonding came near the end of a single, fantastically uneven season on a show that, until now, lacked any compelling relationships. It wasn’t so much cathartic as it was a relief: Finally, a moment of actual human connection on The Killing!
Despite its overall strength, “Missing” also had some notable, if not catastrophic, flaws. Naturally, a 13-year-old boy fitting Jack’s physical description dies on the very day that he went missing. This was yet another of the one-in-a-million coincidences that happen nearly every week on The Killing. I also think the show is overdoing Holder’s eccentricity ever so slightly, though I do enjoy his character more than any other. Case in point, Holder’s cringe-inducing New-Agey speech about at the burger joint (“Wisdom’s all around. It’s like air, you just got to breathe it.”) and his inconsistent dietary restrictions (pork rinds, yes; ground beef, no).
Though occasionally overwrought, “Missing” is a fine episode overall. However, it's ironic that the relative quality of "Missing" has a lot to do with its departure from the show’s usual format. Chances are this was a one-off experiment, not the beginning of a new era for the series. I must say, as much as I liked this episode, I'm unusually anxious about what next week—and the return of Darren and the Larsen clan—will bring.
- Holder really had some incredible lines tonight: “Why’d your moms kick you outta her canoe?”; “Staying put is a kind of running away. Know what I’m saying?”; and my personal favorite, "It’s like cats. If they don’t get raised by their moms, they don’t know how to bury their kaka right."
- For the record, I am a vegetarian and have ordered a burger with no meat on several occasions, and never once did I get looked at—not even at In-N-Out Burger.
- It was a nice touch that Linden was in her running clothes throughout this entire episode—it contributed to the overall feeling of spontaneity and desperation.
- Can someone explain Holder's coin to me?
- Linden might be a lousy mom and a terrible fiance, but she's right about one thing: Men, do not bring balloons on a first date.