'The Killing': When Sexual Tension Meets Grief

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The second episode of AMC's new murder mystery show could have been a melodrama—but the darkness was cut by the chemistry between the two leads

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AMC


AMC may have found its new odd couple.

Early in this week's episode of The Killing, homicide detectives Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) and Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman) stroll down a shadowy Seattle street, tensely focused, as Linden informs her new partner that she's taking lead on the Rosie Larsen homicide case before moving to California to be with her fiancé. Linden didn't even want to cover the murder at first—her lieutenant has pressured her to keep working it, and it's grown increasingly complicated with the revelation of a secret den of sex and drugs under Rosie's high school. But she accepts the work and tells Holder, in her quietly confident manner, not to question people too harshly.

"Let go of the idea that you have some BS detector," Linden tells him as she leads their walk on the street.

"And how do you know I don't have one of those?" replies Holder, lankily tall, goateed, and decked out in a hoodie. The cop attempts streetwise cool, while sporting the tattoo of a crucifix on his back.

"Because you dress like Justin Bieber and eat pork rinds for dinner," she says coyly.

"Oooh!" Holder crows and then retorts, "Me and your kid got the same diet, Linden."

The two cops' wildly different personalities, thrown together unexpectedly on the Rosie Larsen homicide case, lend to surprisingly magnetic banter. In pairing the two detectives on The Killing, AMC realizes that doom, gloom, and grief can't be the only forces driving the show's tone. Holder specifically provides the humor, a blue-collar, wisecracking balance to Sarah Linden's calculated competence.

Grief comes naturally in the show's other moments, such as several heartbreakingly delicate scenes of the Larsen family: the child setting the extra plate; the father Stan attempting to make pancakes; mother Mitch submerging in bathwater as she imagines her daughter drowning. These moments could have been overplayed, but the show hits all the right nuanced notes, and the result is devastating. The offbeat presence of Holder is a necessary breath of oxygen after these heavier scenes.

Last week's analysis of The Killing's debut referred to Stephen Holder as "awkwardly noxious," a description that still stands—but only up to a point. On the surface, the partners represent the classic good cop-bad cop match-up, but the distinction is losing its edge. Last week, Holder (a former narcotics officer) appeared to smoke pot on high school grounds, even offering up hits to female students. This week, he again lit up in front of teen punks, but quickly revealed the trick to Linden after: "Relax, mom. It's NarcScent—smells like weed, tastes like weed, it ain't weed." The Killing has already recast Holder in a more positive light—he showed himself to be less perverse, less shady, and more charming.

But Holder is still the new guy among the show's homicide detectives, and one underlying difference between the two partners is the degree of respect they receive from others. Linden's lieutenant tells her that Holder can't handle the case, even as Holder uncomfortably stands by and listens. Linden herself keeps him distant from elements of the case she sees as sensitive. She dismisses the notion that Holder could talk to Rosie's parents about the girl's cause of death. Yet Holder puts in dedicated hours of police work, and as he made sure to point out, has contributed major breakthroughs to the case, such as finding "the cage" in last week's premiere. The need to prove himself, to gain the confidence of his colleagues, dominates many of his actions in these first episodes.

Yet the bigger concern surrounding the character of Stephen Holder is sexual. Linden is engaged to be married, but as this week's episode shows, she and her fiancé bicker on the phone. The fiancé doubts her commitment to marriage. And the one guy she spends all her time with is, of course, Holder. Will sexual tension also play into the professional? The two detectives have already gotten cozier; by the end of the episode, Linden herself snacks on pork rinds during a stakeout. The sexual-chemistry route seems very possible—and also utterly predictable. Let's hope The Killing keeps the surprises coming instead.

Questions of the Week: Is campaign manager Jamie permanently estranged from Councilman Richmond's team after they found his leaked e-mail—and will Jamie strike back? What happened after Jasper Ames and Kris Echols brutalized Rosie in Fort Washington's basement? And despite her mother's horror, was Rosie herself caught up in the drugs of Jasper and Kris?

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John Hendel is a writer based in Washington, DC, and a former producer at The Atlantic.

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