“Openings” clearly exists to transfer the characters from last week’s stop to wherever they’re headed next week, united only by the aimless force of inertia. Whatever its flaws, season two is a marked improvement from last year’s swamp. Like many sophomore series, The Killing is more relaxed now. It’s done wallowing in misery, confident that the audience will know Rosie Larsen’s Seattle is hell without beating it into our skulls. The aesthetics are occasionally purposeful, rather than merely bleak-chic, and on a good day, so is the writing. There are even actual jokes every now and then! Linden and Holder perform policework sometimes, following up on leads, combing through records, and discovering relevant information never more than two steps removed from Rosie. The investigation has a clear sense of momentum as the portrait is slowly being filled in. In general, I’m pleasantly surprised by how much good is at work this year.
Which is why it’s disappointing to reach such a dull episode. It’s not awful. Linden and Holder make what feels like substantial progress in their case. It’s just not remarkably good in many respects, either, although director Kevin Bray does manage an extreme high-angle shot of Holder and Linden at a fancy party, somewhat obscured by dangling lamps or decorations or something, that suggests not just the feeling of someone much more powerful watching them but also that they’re walking right into a bramble they won’t be able to get out of easily. The conspiracy angle has been evident since the end of last season, but Linden hasn’t done much to work against it. Lieutenant Carlson is doing an awfully good job of plausible deniability, what with his slavish need to keep bad press away from the department. Linden wouldn’t even tell Holder why she’s bunking with him tonight, after discovering a crayon drawing of dead trees on a riverbank on her refrigerator. Outside is a man who smokes and wears leather gloves watching the new happy family through Holder’s bay window. Now that I think about it, Linden also hasn’t fully debriefed Holder on his involvement in the Richmond photo scandal. Why share information? After all, 13 hours must be filled.
Cliffhangers aside, Linden and Holder are shockingly diligent this week. They’re also blindingly foolish, thinking they can call in a warrant for Michael Ames, waterfront developer, Seattle bigwig, and old-time movie villain, without calling any attention to themselves. But at least some seeming progress comes out of their meeting with Michael, accompanied by his lawyer and Jasper, who is deep in the grips of Oedipal rivalry. First Jasper tells them that Rosie was a virgin, all escorting to the contrary. Phone records reveal an extortion attempt from Rosie’s burner to Michael for $5,000, but Jasper confesses that he sent the message from Rosie’s phone because he’s upset about his father’s philandering. He’s acting largely on his mother’s behalf, but at the aforementioned society function, Mrs. Ames reveals that she and Michael have an understanding, by which she means a steel pre-nup. He’ll never leave her because the money is hers, which is probably news to Jasper. As for Michael, the lawyer claims he boarded the 11:45 ferry to the casino and took the 1:30 back, offering a credit card receipt for a candy bar that suggests Michael was definitely aboard. What’s unclear, Linden observes, is why he didn’t get home until 4:00, when Jasper saw him outside their home in an old cab with a broken taillight. He also had a flight to Las Vegas that night that he wasn’t on. Terry claims that she was supposed to pick him up at the ferry that night, but he called at the last minute to cancel. And whatever else may or may not be true, we have heard Rosie’s frightened voicemail. It seems she spotted Michael Ames, thanks to Holder pulling records, and it seems to have spooked her enough to call Alexi for help. Regardless, the Ameses are no longer shadowy phantoms but real people with understandable motives and overlapping information, some of which is likely false.
Linden also takes Alexi’s confession right to the source and discovers that Stan has known from the beginning that Rosie wasn’t his biological daughter, because he and Mitch had a little break before making it official. The timeline on Linden’s whiteboard claims Rosie started rebelling before she found out about Stan, so there goes causality. Mitch fills in the rest of the details for the audience, if not the police. She’s at the motel playing house with the runaway, whose name is Tina. There’s some surprisingly strong stuff here, from the pleasant surprise on Michelle Forbes’ face when she opens the door to see Tina to the tragedy that Mitch will never get to see Rosie again. When Mitch tries to get Tina to call home, just to let her mother know she’s okay, Tina starts to gather her belongings only to find Mitch is washing her rain-soaked clothes. After Mitch delivers a heartfelt speech about loss and maternity that does all the work of her season one subplot, Tina wheels around with the perfect adolescent attitude and smiles, “Can I have my clothes back?” Not a second later, she adds with a completely different shade of immaturity, something more like subordination, trying to bridge the gap from the connection they were forging to the expulsion she just delivered, “Please?” It’s a rich sequence, thanks to the performances of Forbes and Chelsea Ricketts and the writing of Aaron Zelman. Naturally, Tina takes off, but not before stealing Mitch’s money and going through her shoebox full of Rosie’s stuff. When she discovers her life has been pillaged, she picks up a letter to David Rainer in Blaine, Washington, a letter she once sent to let him know that she’s two months pregnant, she met someone caring, and she doesn’t want to see him again. She’s going to name the baby Rosie. “I hope you’ll meet her someday.” Considering Stan saw Rosie looking through the box, I suspect David Rainer did get to meet Rosie. And since Mitch still has the letter, it doesn’t look like he ever got it. The Killing: a passionate cry for information-sharing.
“Openings” is crawling with characters. Alexi tells Stan that Rosie saved his life in the series’ first instance of something like goodness cascading outward like a halo effect. Later we pan across a glass waterfall—another delightful reference to The Killing’s defining image!—to see Mayor Adams glad-handing. Gwen’s father reminisces about when she was younger: “Nothing more endearing to an old man than a young girl’s admiration.” Which isn’t just kind of creepy but also screams to be applied to Rosie and the countless older men in her life. Yada yada yada, Gwen rejoins the Richmond campaign. It’s been a tough two days in Washington. And Darren has his first post-shooting interview. He tells the story of a man named Ted Wright who lost his leg working at Boeing. “Ted used to say that bad luck either destroys you, or it makes you the man you already are.” The Killing has enough bad luck for every character and then some. And just two weeks ago, it seemed like all this misfortune had beaten everyone into the ground. But at last, the survivors are back to fighting. Linden and Holder are closer than ever to the complete picture of the Rosie Larsen case, Darren’s back in the race with Jamie and Gwen at his side, and Stan and Mitch are each starting to stand on their own two feet. The Killing may have something nice to say after all.