(This article contains spoilers for the AMC show THE KILLING. Do not continue lest ye wish to be spoiled.)
I probably should have started recapping the series from the outset but I wasn’t sure how long I’d stick with it, nor did I want to get stuck with it if I ended up loathing AMC’s latest original series.
Here we are a little over halfway through the season, and since I haven’t recapped it I thought I’d take a look at the series in the middle; a sort of “critics’ intermission,” if you will.
THE KILLING tells the story of Sarah Linden, a homicide detective on her way out (aren’t they all) who gets roped in to one last case – that of murdered teen Rosie Larsen. Saddled with the task of training her own replacement, the sketchy Detective Holder, the stoic Linden sets out to solve the mystery of the dead girl. Meanwhile, Councilman Darren Richmond is trying to win the mayoral election and change his city for the better; unfortunately for him, Rosie’s body was found in the trunk of one of his glossy campaign cars.
Taking cues from classics like David Lynch’s TWIN PEAKS (with an obvious bow to “Who Killed Laura Palmer?”) and meatier crime thrillers like SEVEN, THE KILLING tasks itself with being much more than your average procedural. A remake of the Scandinavian series Forbrydelsen and headed by producer Veena Sud (COLD CASE, which punnily enough makes me shudder), THE KILLING has much to live up to in terms of the AMC brand.
Mireille Enos is brilliantly cast as Sarah Linden, a detective so married to her work that she can’t commit to her fiancé, as several episodes have us wondering if she will finally get on the damn plane to California for her own wedding. A previous case almost saw her losing custody of her angsty, distanced teen son (read: every teenager ever). But credit to THE KILLING for not making Jack into an agonizing Cobain-loving cliché, especially given the show’s damp Seattle setting.
Swedish import Joel Kinnaman (David Fincher’s upcoming remake of GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO) plays the greasy-yet-doable Holder, a former narcotics detective with dubious methods. I break here only to tell you that over the course of eight episodes I’ve come to the conclusion that his face should meet mine in an alley… a sexy alley.
Linden’s stoic nature and Holder’s itchy impatience coalesce, making one fascinating partnership, as the laws of procedurals and THE ODD COUPLE mandated many decades ago. I wonder, though, how long we can be taunted with the threat of Linden running off to start her new life when AMC has already picked up the show for a second season. I also wonder how long this formula can work.
Where AMC has struck narrative gold with MAD MEN, BREAKING BAD and THE WALKING DEAD – shows that all seem to have endless narrative mazes to wander and lack a traditional “formula” – THE KILLING presents us with the procedural in long form, basically. Instead of one hour, we get thirteen, with most episodes lingering on an abrupt cliffhanger. Its fellow AMC cohorts all have similarly slow-burning arcs, which makes this series a good fit, if not slightly misshapen as it does veer slightly into typical crime drama territory from time to time.
Added to the mix is the family of Rosie Larsen, father Stan (Brent Sexton) and mother Mitch (the lovely Michelle Forbes), her two brothers, and her walking cautionary tale of an aunt, Terry (Jamie Anne Allman). THE KILLING attempts to lull us into caring more about Rosie by walking us through her family’s grief. Stan hides his pain to protect his gender role and his shady criminal past threatens to let loose on Bennett Ahmed, Rosie’s too-friendly English teacher who is also the prime suspect. Mitch walks around in some seriously chic mourning wear (are those galoshes or riding boots girl, ‘cause Ralph Lauren is dying) and endangers her living children through neglect and a general refusal to move forward or recognize the future even exists.
This week’s episode found Mitch herding the boys into the car in the garage then running back in for her cell phone, only to become distracted by pictures of her daughter’s body on TV and nearly gassing her children by leaving them in a running car. While there are occasionally ham-fisted and over the top moments such as these, there are also genuine moments of familial grieving like Mitch holding her breath under water in the tub to see what it might have felt like for Rosie when she died. THE KILLING also takes familiar displays of loss like mindlessly setting an extra place at the table and makes them feel more tangible and genuine.
But is this THE KILLING or THE GRIEVING? (I’ve got plenty more bad jokes like this one, which is why you should be grateful that I am married and no longer terrorizing you men-folk.) I enjoy the political side of the series because it’s plenty intriguing and I look forward to finding out just how Richmond’s campaign ties into the Larsen murder. This plot has its flaws too, including some groan-inducing desk sex between Darren and his campaign manager Gwen, daughter of Senator Eaton (played by Alan Dale, and thus the O.C. connection is discovered – I seriously believe THE O.C. is television’s Kevin Bacon and can be connected to everything).
But the grief is wearing thin on me mid-season. Stan’s local mob past was brought up and dismissed just as quickly when he took Bennett for a ride alone in his car and couldn’t kill him and while Belko (Brendan Sexton III), the sole employee of his moving company, seems antsy to resume mobbing it up, this thread has all but ended. It did, however, pave the way for the possibility that Mitch might be the vengeful spouse. Other than these two developments, how meaningful is it to watch this family mope around week after week? Each episode represents one day, and it’s only been a week since they discovered Rosie’s body, so I’m willing to back off a little given the TV time-to-Real Time discrepancy; still, I can’t help but feel the show has turned into a drama about the death of Rosie’s family and not the death of Rosie herself.
I understand what the show is trying to accomplish in portraying how Rosie’s death affected everyone around her, but I’m starting to feel as though the show is hitting a wall when it should have hit its stride. This isn’t to say that THE KILLING isn’t a good show – it’s quite good, actually – but I was less than impressed with this week’s episode, and the more I watch Stan and Mitch ebb and flow disconnectedly in their sea of grief, the more I want them to get back to the procedural stuff.
And this is a show that shouldn’t make me yearn for the procedural. It works so hard to create genuine characters, but in doing so it’s kept Linden, its number one star, shrouded in mystery. With her dreamy stares and quiet contemplating, Linden is a giant question mark. Even though I mostly disliked this week’s episode, it did give us a little emotion from Linden. We watched as she struggled to hold onto her case as the feds smugly tore every piece of evidence from her grasp, and the way she spoke out was startling.
As for the suspects: so far we have Bennett Ahmed, Rosie’s teacher, and his wife Amber, a former student. Then there’s Bennett’s friend from the Mosque, Mohammed, who doesn’t have a last name, but he’s probably a terrorist which makes THE KILLING eerily timely and sort of rude. Just because he probably wants to blow up your grandma doesn’t mean he can’t have a last name! Councilman Richmond is still sort of a suspect, though once we discovered his wife died in a drunk driving incident, my suspicions waned; they arose again this week when he punched a mirror at the parole hearing for his wife’s murderer and there’s something disquieting about his calm demeanor. My money’s on Belko, Stan’s employee at the Larsen moving company. Belko was absent this episode, but his shady behaviors and assistance (and insistence) with Stan killing Bennett, along with his overcompensating with the family makes me think that the campaign car and the friendship with Mr. Ahmed were all circumstantial in Rosie’s murder, and the real killer has been right in front of us the whole time.
I’ll revisit my feelings again at the end of the season and see if the portrait of the family in mourning has given way to something more substantial than “I’m trying really hard to make these sandwiches but chain-smoking in my galoshes is hard enough, you know?”
There are six episodes left this season, and I’m betting that we won’t know who the killer is until the last two. My greatest hope for THE KILLING is that it, like most slow-burners, escalates wildly in the last few episodes and that maybe in season two they can build better moments between established characters rather than focus too much on the families and friends of the dead. If THE KILLING doesn’t want me to know the dead, the least it can do is let me get to know Sarah Linden a little better.