The Killing veered into perhaps its strangest territory this week, and now may officially be the crime procedural version of 1981's My Dinner with Andre. The Louis Malle film may seem like an unconventional comparison when talking about a murder investigation, but bear with me.
In My Dinner with Andre, two acquaintances dine together and talk ...and that's it. The movie's entire 110 minutes involve their conversation, mostly seated, and goes into their pasts, intellectualism, travel, theater, human connection, the virtues and vices of electric blankets, and ultimately the meaning of life. The movie comes off a little pretentious, a little boring, yet compelling in its utterly straightforward, earnest conceit. Those same qualities, which earned the film a cult following, suddenly drive The Killing.
In this week's episode the show zeroes in on two of the characters: detectives Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos), stoically incompetent as both a mother as well as a cop, and Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman), outrageously street in his ex-junkie, vegetarian exuberance. No Larsens, no politicians, no high schoolers, no Bennet, no Belko, and not even Regi or much concern for the Rosie murder investigation.
The premise: Linden's teen son Jack disappears mysteriously, and the detectives drop everything in their hunt for the beer-drinking, smoking, neglected punk. Linden gets emotional—to the point of tears. Holder acts as her driver and what seems like the only friend she has beyond Regi—who, the audience learns, is not simply Linden's friend but the former foster child's social worker. The episode is full of these revelations and small character details as the detectives visit Linden's motel, the punk teens' daytime hangout, Regi's dock, and elsewhere in search of Jack.
Last week I praised the raw and gripping nature of some of the show's characters in spite of red herrings, narrative inertia, and the other flaws that have inspired gripes from many of the show's critics. But this week takes "meditation" to a whole new and staggering, talky level. Rather than blow out the drama with more suspense, more plot, more advancement—the kind you might expect from the third-to-last episode of the season—The Killing grinds its pace down to a halt in what's truly an Andre-esque character study of these two protagonists.
What's staggering is how effective the bold move managed to be, though it will likely inspire as many detractors as not. The show revitalized itself precisely by briefly dropping many members of a large cast that's increasingly begun to feel like dead weight. Here, the small and focused character details win the day, as dialogue races back and forth between Holder and Linden and finally touches on serious questions that always lurked but never felt addressed. Why does Holder sport a cross on his back? Why is Linden so cut off? What happened to the kid from Linden's previous case, the one where the kid drew those pictures? Answers finally emerge.