Episode Title: ‘Ghosts of the Past’
Writer: Wendy Riss
Director: Ed Bianchi
Previously on “The Killing”:
‘Ghosts of the Past’ opens with a ghost from the past: Belko (Brendan Sexton III), sneaking into the hospital and killing Darren Richmond (Billy Campbell). It’s a dream of course, since Belko is dead, dead, deadsky.
Meanwhile, Detectives Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) and Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman) are still on the trail of Alexi Giffords (Tyler Johnson). The new prime suspect in the Rosie Larsen murder. Although Linden’s son calls her to say that he’s running a fever, she gets sidetracked by a trip to Giffords’ birth mother’s house, where it turns out – after a little good cop/bad cop – that Giffords is hiding in the basement. They bring him in, but due to increased procedural awareness they only have eight hours to get him to confess before they have to let him go. With the deadline looming, and Giffords stonewalling them, they perform an illegal search on his phone and discover that Rosie called him for help on the night of her murder. Eventually, they have to let him go.
Stan Larsen (Brent Sexton) is in a bad place, unable to contact his wife Mitch (Michelle Forbes) and growing increasingly close to his sister-in-law, Terry (Jamie Anne Allman). With Terry’s parents breathing down his neck, he tries to confess his crimes to Detective Linden, but retreats when he sees that Giffords is in custody. Meanwhile, Mitch connects with that drifter from episode 2.03 ‘Numb,’ in an apparent attempt to find out what would make her own daughter run away. The episode ends with Stan and Terry sharing a kiss before Stan makes an awkward exit from her room, and Terry getting a phone call for an apparent call girl engagement.
On the Darren Richmond side of things, he finally seems to hit rock bottom and breaks down in tears in front of Jamie (Eric Laden), who comes with big news: he now knows that the Mayor’s campaign was behind the photograph framing Richmond for the murder, motivating Richmond for the first time in several episodes.
In Linden’s personal life, she finally heads home to find her ex-husband (Tahmoh Penikett) caring for their son, who had a dangerously high fever in her absence. She starts to call the police but decides not to, humbled by the fact that, well, he’s right. She’s not doing a very good job of the whole “parenting” thing right now.
The episode ends with Giffords meeting Linden willingly and makes several revelations. First, he fully intended to kill Stan Larsen but decided not to after meeting Rosie. What’s more, Rosie hated her parents… because she found out that Stan’s not her real father.
‘Ghosts of the Past’ is a frustrating episode. On one hand, the mystery moves forward thanks to several key revelations. On the other hand, those revelations are handled like crap.
The first revelation, of sorts, comes from Jamie’s discovery that Richmond’s rivals were behind the falsified evidence implicating him in Rosie Larsen’s murder. He just has coffee with somebody who tells him. Off-camera. Considering that the audience has already figured this out, it makes sense to speed through it a bit, but the method they chose is anticlimactic. The point of a protracted secret in a serialized narrative is that the longer it goes undiscovered, the more dramatic the eventual revelation will be to other characters. Every soap opera understands this, but “The Killing” robbed us of this satisfaction. Even if it comes out to the public later, the characters with whom we are invested will already have had time to acclimate.
The other key development in this episode – that Stan isn’t Rosie’s real father – is more dramatically handled, but comes with an entirely new set of problems. I have a theory: as a serialized narrative grows longer, the probability of a character finding out who their “real” parents are approaches 1. It’s a clichéd plot device that seems to be the fallback position in comics, soap operas and other protracted narratives like “The Killing.” Even when the twist is unexpected, as it is here, the very nature of the revelation is so dramatically trite that it makes one shake their head.
Is this kind of plot development even relevant in an age where direct lineage isn’t a driving force in the economy or our daily lives? You aren’t expected to follow in your birth parents’ footsteps anymore. Obviously the development would be upsetting to Rosie, but beyond explaining her frustration with her parents this isn’t much of a zinger, at least until we find out who the real father is. (Ten bucks on Janek, but if they decide to connect the father to the Richmond campaign I won’t be shocked, just deeply disappointed.) In a show like this, one that used to play like a plausible murder mystery that bucks the usual clichés, this particular kind of plotting feels like a cheat.
Other issues abound. The opening assassination attempt turns out to be a dream, nothing more than a hollow attempt to open the episode with a cheap shock. It’s not like we don’t know that Richmond is vulnerable right now. It’s also extremely off-putting to see Linden playing the bad cop by accessing Giffords’ phone without a warrant, although honestly, didn’t she have probable cause? He’s their prime suspect, and he’s in custody. Maybe I’m not up to speed on the legal particulars, but surely, deadline or no deadline, this isn’t the time to be taking risks on the red tape. Does she want to actually incarcerate the killer or just find out who he (or she) is? Because if it’s the former, she’s doing a crap job this week. If it’s the latter then that’s actually an interesting character trait, but I don’t think that’s where “The Killing” is going.
We’re entering the final stretch with “The Killing.” Less than two months to go before the final revelation. Mystery series like this one are like a race, and there’s a finish line looming, so it’s clearly trying to get a second wind. But while the plot does move forward in “Ghosts of the Past,” it loses points for style. “The Killing” just can’t seem to find its footing anymore, and it’s looking more and more like it won’t be able to pull itself together before the big finale.
Photo Credit: Carole Segal/AMC