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The Killing: Who Killed Rosie Larsen?

on Mon, 06/25/2012 - 00:00

The AMC drama The Killing sparked more than its fair share of controversy when its inaugural season failed to answer the central question of “Who killed Rosie Larsen?” Television critics and fans alike felt cheated, believing that the series owed them closure after astutely following the proceedings—which were often filled with misdirection and red herrings—only to discover that the latest plot twist was likewise a mere narrative ploy. Furthermore, it was announced before the premier of season two that the central storyline of The Killing would not be resolved until the final episode, leaving viewers to wade through a potential twelve hours of more disinformation before finding the answer to the mystery.

In reality, however, The Killing was never about “Who killed Rosie Larsen?” despite early advertising that blazed the question across posters and the World Wide Web. Instead the event served more as a catalyst to follow the effects that the brutal murder of a teenage girl had on the various individuals caught in the aftermath. How does a working class family deal with the loss of a loved one at such an early age? What impact does the tragic event have on the police detectives assigned to the case? And what about those brought into the spotlight of the investigation due to nothing more than circumstantial evidence? These were the questions that The Killing truly set out to explore and although the executive producers failed to effectively convey that mission to the mass media, that does not mean that the resulting product failed to succeed as an entertainment endeavor.

Take Rosie Larsen’s family—who are a primary focus within the show’s storytelling structure—as an example. Mother Mitch Larsen (Michelle Forbes) and father Stanley Larsen (Brent Sexton) are more than mere caricatures of grieving parents. The pain experienced by the loss of a child is portrayed in dramatic-yet-subtle fashion by Forbes as her character Mitch is traumatized by the event. Bordering on lethargic, she refuses to let go of Rosie while neglecting her surviving two sons in the process. To compensate, Stan Larsen attempts to be both father and mother to the children but must also come to terms with his own lost dreams for his family. His shady background likewise adds to Stanley’s vigilante need for justice, despite the inevitable consequences of his actions.

Seattle city councilman Darren Richmond (Billy Campbell is drawn into the narrative when Rosie’s body is found in the trunk of a car registered to his campaign for mayor. His incumbent opponent, meanwhile, is not above using the tragedy to his own advantage, leaving Richmond faced time and again with the moral dilemma of standing up for his convictions or doing what is politically necessary to emerge victorious in the coming election. The differing styles of the two politicians are fully brought to the surface when an early suspect in the Rosie Larsen murder investigation is a Muslim high school teacher and volunteer for an inner city community group that Richmond champions. The city councilman adheres to the principle that one is “innocent until proven guilty” while the current mayor fuels the seeds of racism in his quest to remain in office.

While a fair amount of screen time is given to both family and politics, the bulk of the narrative centers on the two Seattle police detectives assigned to the case, Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) and Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman). The body of Rosie Larsen is discovered on what was supposed to be Linden’s last day in Seattle—she was set to move to California with her own teenage son and fiancé—while Holder had just been assigned to homicide after working undercover in narcotics. When Linden is forced to stay until the murder investigation is resolved, the two form a partnership not entirely built upon trust. Linden, for instance, believes Holder’s tough exterior is inappropriate for the homicide division, while Holder feels reduced to performing thankless tasks as Linden takes the lead in the investigation.

In the eleventh episode of The Killing, entitled “Missing,” it becomes clear that the two have formed a bond despite their different backgrounds and life philosophies. It is also a watershed installment of the series as the murder investigation is reduced to mere bookends as the episode exclusively centers on Sarah Linden’s missing son and the budding, albeit reluctant, friendship forming between her and Stephen Holder. “Missing” is a testament to the narrative technique chosen by the creators of using the death of Rosie Larsen to explore human nature and emotions over forensic-style crime solving—despite the lack of progress in the investigation, the episode is gripping nonetheless and one of the best of the series.

Season two begins where the first season ends, with councilman Darren Richmond shot by an employee of Stan Larsen and Sarah Linden realizing that the evidence against Richmond had been falsified by Stephen Holder. Linden was on a plane headed to California when she made the discovery, but the chain of events forces her to disembark and continue her investigation. As for Holder, it turns out that he wasn’t the instigator of the conspiracy that led to Richmond’s arrest after all but a mere patsy. “You think you got this job because you’re a good cop?” Holder’s mentor Gil Sloane (Brian Markinson) tells him afterwards. “No son, it’s cause you’re dirty and everybody knows it. You knew you were taking a shortcut but you didn’t care, because you wanted the badge more.”

The words cut deep into Stephen Holder. Disoriented by the revelation, the former drug addict finds himself at the entrance of a Narcotics Anonymous meeting but ends up in the trailer of his former dealer instead. He later looks for salvation in the young son of his estranged sister and in the arms of a fellow recovering addict, before walking the meridian of a busy highway while contemplating whether or not to end it all. Holder isn’t so much of a “dirty cop” but a damaged individual trying to find his place in the world despite his questionable past, and the same ultimately holds true for each and every character on The Killing.

It was alluded in season one that Sarah Linden became psychological unraveled during a previous murder investigation, and that backstory is further fleshed over the course of the second season as well. “Hooker had been slashed,” she explains of the case. “Her body was decomposing in the apartment, the smell alerted the neighbors. Her six year old son was inside. They had to break down the front door—he couldn’t reach the chain. He’d been inside with his mother’s body for a week, hiding in the closet waiting for someone to come.” The event mirrors Linden’s own childhood where she was abandoned at the age of five by her mother and left alone in an apartment with no electricity. The fact that Rosie Larsen was still alive when she was locked in the trunk of a car that was subsequently dumped into a lake inevitably triggers the memories of Sarah Linden as she contemplates the fear that inevitably arose within the teenage girl during her final moments.

Everyone eventually abandons Linden as she slowly becomes consumed with the death of Rosie Larsen, leaving Stephen Holder as the only one still willing to stand beside her. Although the falsifying of evidence causes distrust in her mind, Sarah Linden likewise emerges as the only one willing to stand beside Holder. The true story of The Killing is thus the growing bond between these two damaged individuals as they alone attempt to find the truth in regards to the murder and its corresponding conspiracy, no matter the cost. For both Linden and Holder, redemption can only be found by solving the mystery.

“I knew this guy, worked at the Boeing plant for thirty five years,” campaign aide Jamie Wright (Eric Laden) tells Darren Richmond during season two. “I’m talking about my grandfather, Ted. I was in the third grade when the accident at the plant happened. I watched him lose everything. His wife, house. His job. He was dying, right there in front of me, until he started to fight back. He fought like the son of a bitch he was, and he got it all back. Used to always say, ‘Bad luck either destroys you or it makes you the man you really are.”

With few exceptions, network police dramas follow the forensics of crime solving and place the emphasis on the investigation and resolution of its weekly narratives. AMC and The Killing took a different approach by regulating its initial mystery to the backburner over the course of twenty-six episodes. The decision proved effective nonetheless as the series evolved from the question of “Who killed Rosie Larsen?” into a study of the emotional traumas, struggles and inherent damages of the various characters. Jamie Wright may have been talking about his grandfather in the above quote, but it also serves as the thread that holds The Killing narrative together. The Killing doesn’t contain the same story structure as CSI, but its investigation is even more enticing—an investigation into the hearts and minds of each of us, whether we want to admit it or not.

Anthony Letizia (June 25, 2012)

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