Episode Title: ‘What I Know’
Director: Patty Jenkins
Writers: Veena Sud and Dan Nowak
Previously on “The Killing:”
After a flashback to the last time Rosie Larsen’s family saw her alive, “What I know” picks up right after the events of “Donnie or Marie,” Darren Richmond (Billy Campbell) is still at Jamie Wright’s (Eric Laden’s) house, having been confronted with Jamie’s lies about both his grandfather and his whereabouts on the night of Rosie Larsen’s murder. Jamie removes Richmond from the premises and takes him to campaign headquarters, where he reveals that Richmond has been elected mayor.
Jamie then monologues about why he’s been hiding the truth, confronting Richmond with his own hypocrisies about wanting to be an idealist but repeatedly acting in his personal interests. Jamie’s plan was to steal the waterfront project from Mayor Adams (Tom Butler) and get in bed with Chief Nicole Jackson (Claudia Ferri). One small compromise to make the right political allies and fund future campaigns for Richmond’s promising political career.
It turns out that Jamie found Rosie at the Wapi Eagle Casino and panicked, attacking her when he discovered that she overheard his conversation with Chief Nicole Jackson and Michael Ames (Barclay Hope). Before he can reveal the whole story, Detectives Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) and Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman) arrive with Gwen Eaton (Kristin Lehman). There’s a stand off, as Jamie is brandishing Richmond’s gun, that ends with Jamie shot and killed. It turns out Jamie’s gun wasn’t even loaded.
In the aftermath, Linden and Holder are disturbed to learn that the case against Michael Ames and Chief Jackson is too thin to hold up in court. Linden is also frustrated about a loose end: a telephone conversation about the murder describing a broken taillight, and Jamie’s failure to actually explain how Rosie specifically drowned. But they decide to tell the Larsen family anyway, on the day when they’re moving into their new house.
Terry Marek (Jamie Anne Allman) is the only one present, and leaves them alone in the garage as they notice that her car has a broken taillight. They confront Terry, who breaks down and confesses that she was in the car with Michael Ames while he argued with Jamie about what to do with Rosie Larsen. Not knowing that the girl in the trunk was her own niece, Terry rolled the car into the lake herself in the hopes of preserving her future with Michael. The Larsen family is, appropriately, shocked.
The season ends with Darren Richmond getting into bed, politically speaking, with Chief Claudia Jackson and Michael Ames, reaping the benefits of Rosie Larsen’s murder and giving in to the corruption he fought to oppose. Linden and Holder, presumably, return a piece of evidence to the Larsen family: a film Rosie made that says goodbye, since she was running away from home, and reassuring her family that she always loved them. Linden gets her badge back, but when Holder receives a call to investigate a new murder, she can’t go through with it. She gets out of the car and lets Holder handle it on his own. Her fate is unclear.
We’ve learned a valuable lesson with the second season finale of “The Killing.” If you’re going to have a two-part episode, make sure each one works individually. Last week’s episode, “Donnie or Marie,” was a fairly strong example of rising action, culminating in the revelation that Jamie Wright was responsible for the death of Rosie Larsen, whether or not he was the triggerman.
So far so good. But the climax of the whole murder mystery is over in the before the first commercial break this week (one final revelation aside), leaving the better part of an hour to handle the falling action, or denouement. “What I Know” should play fairly well if you marathon the series on DVD, but as an individual episode it’s an odd duck. Not awful, mind you, just a distractingly strange way to end the story arc and, possibly, even the series.
The biggest flaw with the episode is clear right off the bat. After two seasons of carefully hiding his involvement in the Rosie Larsen murder, Jamie Wright turns into a Republic supervillain as soon as he’s caught. His bizarrely dramatic speech about the origins of Seattle and unintentionally hilarious declarations of “Don’t you see, Darren? I had the perfect plan!” and “Our coffers will be full!” and “This is the beginning!” and “She was going to ruin everything!” and “We had come so far!” are the sort of melodramatic silliness that Final Draft programs should be programmed to flag as soon as you type them.
There are justifications to be made – after a month of keeping the secret Jamie simply had a nervous breakdown, and the speech was important to justify his actions and establish the overarching theme of the series (we’ll get to that) – but while subtlety would probably have been anticlimactic, avoiding the most obvious clichés would have been highly advisable. “The Killing” fell prey to this kind of writing at the end of Season One, when Darren Richmond seemed like the prime suspect and suddenly started talking like the bad guy in a cheap Se7en knockoff, even though he wasn’t the killer.
But enough of that. We knew Jamie was the killer for a couple episodes now, and some of us even suspected him from the beginning. The twist, and a rather unexpected one honestly, was that Terry Marek actually killed her niece to protect her relationship with Michael Ames. It was a surprising twist, and Jamie Anne Allman did a fine job with her understated but complex performance, cornered and crying, barely able to convey the guilt and horror at her own actions. Her actions throughout the series, including but not limited to her dedication to keeping the Larsen family together, are cast in a refreshing new light, enriching the series beyond what “it was that ethically questionable political flunky’s fault” would have been capable of on its own.
The rest of the episode gets its job done, with one major, glaring flaw. The characters end up more or less where they need to be, but some nearly ridiculous loose ends remain. Isn’t Stan still going to jail, or did fixing his battery victim’s porch light really make things right? Doesn’t Terry’s confession mean that Michael Ames will be back in the hot seat as an accomplice to murder? Doesn’t it stand to reason that he’d implicate Chief Jackson as well, thus hurting Darren Richmond’s political career now that he’s joined forces with them? These issues are never addressed, and unless “The Killing” returns with the same cast of supporting characters next season (which doesn’t seem advisable), we may never know the answers. What a frustrating way to end a series that, upon reflection, I liked more than I thought I did.
I’ve talked a lot about how this season has declined in quality since the first, and I remain confident that it’s a fair assessment. Pacing issues, sidelined subplots and frustrating digressions from the A-story abounded. But as a whole, it almost works, if you judge the series based on its own merits, as opposed to (y)our own.
After my review of episode 2.11, “Bulldog,” I received an interesting comment claiming, “The show is about [Rosie Larsen’s] murder, not who she was.” While I respectfully disagree, it raised the interesting issue that “The Killing’s” audience, myself included, has been projecting our own predilections onto the series’ sprawling narrative.
Personally, I was mostly invested in the collateral damage of a major murder investigation; the secrets, sometimes tangential to the case, that come to light and can ruin lives. Others were more invested in the notion of a serialized murder investigation, as if “The Killing” was a spectacularly long episode of “Law & Order.”
Both notions are fair, and both interpretations leave us with a two-season storyline with powerful highs and genuinely boring lows. If “The Killing” was about Rosie Larsen, then the second season was a tedious digression. If the series was about a murder investigation, then it was about a rather bad one, sullied by poor (and often baffling) choices on the part of the lead investigators.
But it seems clear now that what “The Killing” was really getting at, or at the very least the one element that remained consistent throughout the first two seasons, was politics; specifically, the domino effect that political corruption has on a community, right down to the individual level.
As many secrets as Rosie had, none of them led to her murder. It was only a chance encounter with the Darren Richmond campaign that led to her death. It was only the thought of losing what Terry perceived as her one chance at happiness to a political scandal that drove her to murder. And while the Larsen family was rather well realized as individual charcters, from a dramatic perspective they’re Rosencrantz and Guildenstern: the characters in Hamlet who only exist to illustrate the negative impact that the royal family’s personal and petty obsessions have on the people they rule.
The final scene with Darren Richmond, in which he capitalizes on the conspiracy Jamie fought and died to protect, hammers the point home, implying a hopelessly cyclical pattern of squashed innocence, and clearly illustrating that the moral compromises necessary to achieve power infect how that power will ultimately be used. The ends don’t justify the means. They are the means, and vice-versa, and perhaps this series of events is doomed to repeat itself over and over again, leading to another season of “The Killing,” and another examination of the damage that personal failings at a political level have on even the most unexpected of individuals, who otherwise seem to have no direct relationship to dirty dealings at City Hall.
And as such, perhaps I’ve been giving “The Killing” a bit of a hard time this season. At the very least, the series was more focused than I had been giving it credit for, albeit focused on an aspect of the story that did not originally draw my interest. The pacing problems, inability to capitalize on subplots when necessary and distractingly unprofessional murder investigation bring “The Killing” down a few pegs, but it’s not a wash. It’s an interesting series, often worth our time and investment, and perhaps a little smarter than we gave it credit for. It just wasn’t as entertaining as it could have been.
Photo Credit: Carole Segal/AMC
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