The last three or so episodes have been frustrating to watch: the promise of the first four episodes has gotten caught in a storytelling rut. The campaign plot has been totally aimless, the investigation got bogged down in unnecessary rabbit trails, and the once poignant family grief had begun to descend into frustratingly one note acting. While this episode got the show back onto a much, much better standing there still remain some important questions about if the show has enough time to recover from the damage it has done itself.
The strength of the show has always been the characters. The problem has been that the characterization has been counter-intuitive and scattershot. Particularly when dealing with Linden, the plot often required her to act as a terrible detective when handling the Larsen family. Richmond too, suffered because his character was ever only hinted at, and never very clearly defined. That was until this episode, at least for Richmond.
One of the problems with the mayoral campaign is that there was a lack of definition. It wasn’t so much in terms of political issues or stands, but as a matter of character. Mayor Adams was supposed to be a corrupt careerist politician, while Richmond was supposed to be…something. It was never clear. His character swung from respectable and strongly idealistic, while at times he was indecisive and downright amoral. But there was never any underlying reason for his actions, never any explanation for his disaster of a campaign. But this episode, we found out that the night his wife died he was hobnobbing and the attention from the political bigwigs. He believed that because he didn’t pay enough attention to his wife, he caused her death. Finally, we are given some sort of characterization that gives the viewer a reason to care about his plight. The only problem is it may have come too late.
Similarly, the investigation gets going after three days in the dump. It was clear for us the viewers that Bennet Ahmed was not the murderer of Rosie Larsen, especially considering the lack of concrete evidence. The case against him was built on a lot of circumstantial evidence that wasn’t very strong. However, just how they discovered that he was innocent and what he was actually up to was fascinating and very true to life; female circumcision is a huge problem in immigrant communities like the Somali community depicted in the episode. This brings the show back to one of its greatest strengths from the first few episodes: that sense of being true to reality. The investigation wasn’t going to be solved in a day, and there were more than likely going to be red herrings. This one was creatively done, much more so than your standard red herring. The extra time allowed by the series format of one-case-per-season allows the writers to do things like this to help liven up and keep the show from becoming stale.
The danger is of course that the writers spend too much time on each the red herrings, sending signals to the viewers that they are just wasting their time. That has been the biggest problem with the series so far. This episode, for example, was an excellent episode: well-plotted, the dialogue well-done, the story creative and unusual yet extremely believable. But I can’t help but look back on these last three episodes and feel like the writers wasted an episode, drew the herring on for too long, losing the goodwill of the viewers. Looking at the ratings for the last couple of episodes, it certainly would seem like the viewers agree.
Which makes the ending of the episode even more tragic; not because it evolved out of the natural consequences of the story, but because it required far more suspension of disbelief than was possible. Literally everything that went wrong could be miscommunicated, and not done to prevent it happened. By all rights, in a far more true-to-life investigation, something like that never would have happened, and required characters to do something far outside of what they should have done.