(Spoiler alert: This article discusses central plot developments in the AMC television series The Killing.)
In discussing the AMC show The Killing several weeks ago, we wondered what we would do as a father if someone killed our daughter. Would we want to exact personal revenge? That’s a question that’s been burdening the character of Stan Larsen, a former underworld enforcer who abandoned his life of violence when his teenage daughter Rosie was born. When Stan had the opportunity several episodes back to kill the chief suspect in his daughter’s death, he resisted the urge and suppressed his old demons. As he told his coworker and friend, “I don’t do that anymore.” When he relates this decision to his wife, she consoles him for not taking violent action, reminding him that she wouldn’t have had a baby with Stan unless he turned his back on his old ways and became a better man. All this, the show seemed to be saying, represented a growth for Stan. He was demonstrating that he was in fact not the same man who had once killed people for a living.
Flash forward to Sunday’s episode, when Stan’s sense of manhood was again in question. This time, however, his wife was the primary cause of his mental unrest. When earlier she’d seemed proud of his ability to withstand his urge for violence, the wife was now enraged that the police department had not arrested the main suspect, one of his daughter’s teachers, who she’s convinced is guilty. And how does she respond? By scolding her husband for having allowed this suspect to live. Stan, in turn, storms out, and in a subsequent scene we watch as he and his friend brutally beat the teacher to death.
In the meantime, his wife learns that she may have been wrong about the suspect’s guilt. So not only is her daughter dead, but she have just spurred her husband to murder an innocent man—essentially by questioning his manhood.
This wasn’t the only plot line Sunday’s episode in which a man acts recklessly when his manhood is questioned. Councilman Darren Richmond, an idealist who is running for mayor, visits a wealthy entrepreneur named Tom Wexler, who is prepared to give Richmond $5 million. The sticking point, though, is that these men have wildly contrasting characters. Richmond snipes at Wexler about his penchant for being described in newspaper articles alongside words like “DUI, cocaine and prostitutes.” Wexler replies that at least the word “loser” will never be associated with his name, a jab at Richmond’s perceived unwillingness to fight dirty and do what’s necessary to win the election. As Richmond’s walking away, Wexler taunts him by by hitting him in the back of the head with a basketball. He tells Richmond that he’ll give him that $5 million contribution— if can make one jump shot right now on Wexler’s indoor basketball court. If he takes it and misses, Wexler says, then Richmond has to agree to drop out of the mayoral race.
For someone who considers themselves an idealist, the obvious reaction would seem to be, “I don’t play fast and loose with things of that importance.” And yet Richmond takes him up on the offer and takes the shot. It’s careless macho posturing in the face of an adolescent taunt, the type of reaction you’d expect among kids on a playground, not grown, powerful men with seats at the adults’ table.
We’ll have to wait till the next episode to see if the shot falls or not; and to see what consequences are in store for Darren Richmond and Stan Larsen, two men whose manhoods were questioned in distinct ways on The Killing.