'The Killing': The Politics of Murder

By John Hendel

This week's episode explores how the death of a teenage girl affects a mayor's race—and the seemingly noble candidate running against the incumbent

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AMC


How, The Killing asks, might a teenage girl's murder impact local politics? In playing out the consequences, the show's political world includes the usual intrigue, deals, talk of poll numbers, ads, and other details expected of TV politics, but also something fresh—the character of the seemingly noble politician.

The campaign of the dashing Darren Richmond (Billy Campbell), tall and dark-haired, projects a sense of social responsibility, whether urban outreach through basketball or indignation at corporate sellouts. As his opponent quips, it's "a real rainbow coalition: blacks, fruits, whores, and drug addicts." From the very first episode, the show's writers etched in scenes of idealism, such as when Richmond riffs about a citizen's personal struggles to then-manager Jamie (Eric Ladin) or when making a point of his independence from influence last week, when a celebrated entrepreneur hands him a check for $50,000. His privileged background, alluded to by others, fails to undermine his apparent sense of mission and concern for the struggling. He's immensely likable, and at worst has engaged in less-than-ethical arm-twisting (twice now) to secure an endorsement from brassy councilwoman Ruth Yitanes (Lee Garlington) and has been discreetly sleeping with one-note and wholly unsympathetic adviser, Gwen Eaton (Kristin Lehman).

Richmond is, in short, a Boy Scout of a character, someone the audience is meant to root for. But the police found Rosie Larsen's corpse, drowned and bruised, in the back of one of Richmond's campaign cars. His only saving grace: the car was reported stolen before the body was found. But the bad press has been hurting his electoral chances since the show's debut.

Last week, the political foibles seemed increasingly divorced from the show's other narrative threads and, relative to the other arcs' emotional intensity, rather lackluster. They occasionally come across as the least original, nuanced, and memorable part of The Killing, but these professional, societal dimensions do flesh out the show's world well and provide balance. This week finally reunites the two worlds of politics and Rosie's murder—and reinforces the councilman's integrity in several moments.

Consider the early scene between Richmond and Gwen, as she explains why Richmond still falls five points short of his opponent.

"The Larsen girl's still hurting us," Gwen says, "and the family's not returning my calls."

"Any bright ideas?" the councilman asks his lover and aide as he dresses.

"Reach out to them personally. Ask them to do the spots with you."

"Any ideas that won't make me feel like I need a shower afterward?" Richmond says in his gravelly, soft-spoken voice. "The family just lost a child. They need time to mourn."

Gwen insists, and the two even waylay Rosie's mother Mitch (Michelle Forbes) as she, still distraught, attempts to shop for groceries. Richmond approaches her alone, as if by accident, and finds himself mentioning not advertising spots but rather the shared bond of loss. He tells Mitch about how he suffered and coped with the death of his wife, the details of which remain a mystery. "It gets better," he says solemnly.

In the parking lot, he—in another altruistic turn—denies to Gwen that he ran into Rosie's mother.

With its political types, The Killing explicitly signals whom to like and dislike. Gwen, the show signals, is untrustworthy—she wants, as Jamie tells Richmond, "to control you, to make you into someone she can deliver." Richmond struggles but has a heart of gold. And his opponent, incumbent mayor Leslie Adams (Tom Butler) is a Bad Guy yet also magnetic, a charismatic street-hustler who, despite clear signs of corruption, steals every scene he's in with his lively grin and wit.

But these perceptions may be red herrings, just as Jamie was revealed to be Richmond's true friend rather than the leak (as initially suggested). AMC frequently builds these impressions only to pull the rug out from under its audience—with the basement video, the idea of Gwen as the leak (it's really Yitanes and another planted aide, we learn), and potentially with Bennet. If the show's strategy holds, our belief in the virtue of Darren Richmond may be gravely misguided.

Questions of the Week: Will Stan Larsen's raw grief we saw on display cause him to lash out at a police suspect (such as teacher Bennet)? Despite mounting evidence, is it possible Bennet himself is actually innocent of foul play? How deep a connection does Richmond share with Bennet, who, we learn and vividly see in the last scene, is a spokesperson for Richmond's All-Stars program?

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2011/04/the-killing-the-politics-of-murder/237756/