Okay, nothing is perfect, but The Killing was pretty damn close.
I have never felt so proud of something I never created. Until now, somewhere inside me is still sniffling and overwhelmed with a profound sense of bitter satisfaction. There are things I don’t like about this show, but the cast and dialogue (but not necessarily the writing as a whole) is flawless enough for me to put my problems with it to the grave. It’s just the best feeling of closure I’ve had from TV-land in a while.
There is hope yet. Major spoilers head!
The first thing I have to point out about this commentary of The Killing is that I didn’t follow it while it was airing, so I had the luxury of watching it back-to-back and had the mystery unfold at rapid fire. I get why people were frustrated at the way the first season ended or upset that they felt that the time they invested in it was wasted, especially with the long waits between episodes and seasons. It’s too easy for the fallacies of red herrings to outweigh the final resolutions. (But what are mysteries without red herrings?) I might not have paid attention to the details to enjoy it as much as I did if I was keeping up with the program in real time. In fact, it was the ability to watch each episode non-stop that helped me avoid my inner negative nancy – there was no forced waiting time that allowed me time to mull over plot holes or failed logic that people seem to have noticed.
Now that it’s all over, I think the series needs a close re-watch. I feel like I missed so many layers and subtleties. It’s really exciting when you have at it in one go. If you gave up on it before, try it again. It’s only 26 episodes. Catch it on the train, your toilet break, whatever. You could even do a 24-hour marathon, but I think it deserves that second viewing. I feel like it’s not the type of material that can survive first time viewing, like a Nine Inch Nails track (which the edgy opening titles are totally reminiscent of), or a Murakami book. Critics pan this series, but seriously, fuck critics forever. Right? My mind was entirely focused on the characters and their performances rather than the overall details of the case, so I think that’s why the payoff feels so much greater for me.
The story is simple enough. Rosie Larsen, a teenage girl, is found tied up and drowned, in the trunk of one of the city counselor’s campaign cars lying at the bottom of a lake. WHODUNNIT?! In true murder mystery tradition, things are never what they seem, and thus begins the journey on long and winding road of the investigation.
This is the first procedural I’ve seen that makes a single case the main focal point of a series. I’m so used to the new-case-new-episode with the giant arc scattered throughout the season. In fact, the formula isn’t just pinned to police procedurals but to most TV shows on air now. Sometimes I feel like I’m watching the same thing on different networks and a third of the episodes are just filler, trivial fan service, but for The Killing, nothing is filler, everything has purpose.
The pacing is great too. People call it “slow”, but I think it’s the perfect way to let the character development and story stew into something rich. Sure, it’s slower than what we’re used to. We’re supposed to be seeing how an entire community (politicians included) is shaken by this brutal murder, so I don’t understand why people are complaining about the lack of action because there isn’t one episode that didn’t throw us a curveball or an important development. It may have been false, but there was still a lot more happening than I ever thought it capable of, considering the show’s very dark tone and steadily climbing personality. There’s just enough intrigue and clues dropped throughout the episode to lead Linden, Holder and us on to what we think is the right conclusion. Of course we’re being led around. It’d be awful if things happened so simply and were explained away so easily. And that conclusion? Things never really go anyone’s way, because life is a random crapshoot.
There are several things that I hold dear in this show. The first is the Linden-Holder relationship. Joel Kinnaman and Mireille Enos are completely natural in their portrayal of each very human, very flawed characters, but the best moments are when they’re in the car making small talk and forging their bond. Most amazing thing? It’s non-romantic. Ok, at least, nothing romantic ever happens, unless you’re really reading into things.
A deep friendship and partner trust can often be mistaken for romance. Writers always fall by the wayside and make the mistake of screwing up a great dynamic by adding kisses and sex for really cheap drama. The show has its fair share of sex and kisses, but they are used in the right capacity. Not every opposite sex duo has to fuck each other. Linden and Holder’s platonic, familial relationship proves it. Their unbreakable “I got your back” mutual understanding is one of the best buddy relationships I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching. And together, they make me laugh all the time.
Individually, I really enjoy Sarah Linden. Stephen Holder is easy to like because he’s the comic relief with a past and a ridiculous accent (he’s not bad looking, either). But I relate a lot to Linden. I understand what it’s like to obsess over things and let it destroy good things you’ve built in your life, or how difficult it is to let go of something you don’t quite grasp in the first place. And I love that they don’t explain it all away with ridiculous flashbacks or turn her character inside out so she becomes transparent. No. We know that she’s strong, stubborn, sharp as a needle. She obsesses easily and worms her way into things if she feels it’s right to do so. The rest of her is an enigma. Until now, I don’t have a full and clear picture of why she does the things she does outside of my own analysis and speculation based on my own similar feelings and behaviour, but it’s in character for her to have those secrets. Linden doesn’t share, at least not completely, and I’m fine with that because it’s consistent with who she is as a person.
Towards the season 2 finale, before Linden is officially released from psychiatric holding, the psychiatrist tries to make sense of why Linden’s so hellbent on the Rosie Larsen case by shooting in the dark about abandonment issues. From the way Enos plays the scene, we get a sense that said issues have little to do with the whole picture, but we know we’re approaching a goldmine of truth. And the psychiatrist knows that too. We never get to find out. How good it felt to see the triumphant look on Linden’s face when she still held on to her deep secret. I wouldn’t have that any other way.
Certain viewers tend to get annoyed with Linden’s extended screen time, especially during the back story with her son Jack. I on the other hand, loved all that craziness she delivered as both a cop and a mother. I felt like I would’ve been the same way and took the same paths as she did. From these scenes, I saw her as a whole person, that she was struggling to keep her worlds from colliding. She’s nearly always misunderstood. I can’t imagine what it’s like to have everyone tell you that you’re wrong all the time when you know in your heart that you’re just trying to bring the truth to surface.
To add, the actors give such amazing performances. I can’t remember the last time I felt so sad about the death of someone fictitious. Michelle Forbes and Brent Sexton really bring it as Rosie’s grieving mum and dad. Their particular storyline receiving full closure at series’ end felt better than I thought it would because of the amount of sympathy I felt for both of them as they tried to cope with their loss. While Rosie’s last film to the family was a bit of a cliche device, it was still poignant, loving, positive – everything was going to be okay. After being repeatedly beaten in the face with adversity, this was the one resolution I was particularly happy with because I saw their family finally move on (even after they found out about the murderer). Wreak havoc on my emotions, why don’t you?
The mystery itself spent a lot of time on Rosie in season 1 and became extremely political in season 2. I’m not sure why this change took place and I would usually complain about something like this but I really enjoyed the ride with the characters despite the shift in tone. I didn’t mind the red herrings at all. I don’t know why people get annoyed that everyone’s possibly a suspect because real-life cases aren’t so obvious either. They made me care about the characters and care about who was being pinpointed as the killer. That’s all that matters.
The bottom line is that people are extreme and crazy and terrible to the core. They just want to be loved and accepted on their own terms. Shit always happens. You think you know someone, but you don’t. You think you know what’s happening, but you never have a clue. Like when Stan wrongfully beat Ahmet to critical condition. Or when we thought Rosie was a innocent thing, then a prostitute, then was not again.
Which makes the murderer’s identity a very tragic thing. You think the dust has settled, but just on the cusp of moving on from their trauma, Stan and Mitch have to relive this misery one last time. On rewatch, you’d catch the show making certain allusions to this reveal, which makes me wonder how long the killer had known that it was Rosie s/he killed all along.
What I liked most about The Killing was that it felt like a moving graphic novel. It’s beautifully shot, very atmospheric and the frames feel like the perfect panels, with room for dialogue bubbles even. The colors, the lighting, and angles are just too familiar. Not that this is a bad thing. It feels like what a graphic novel-to-telly should look like (yes, I know it’s a Danish TV-adaptation). Maybe they should really create a print color adaptation. I know I’d get it.
I know that The Killing isn’t without mistakes, but I never felt so moved by a show before. Usually I’d admire the writers or the creator for their craftiness, but here, I admire the cast and the actors. For every occasional cheesy line or strange character decision made, these people made me believe and feel their despair and confusion. Where it was supposed to be frustrating as a viewer, I was morose over the crap a character had to shovel him/herself out of. Where I tried to see the faults in the writing, I only got consumed by the raw power of emotion. And you know what? The length of it is perfect. Any shorter it would have been a rushing mess of meaningless drivel tied to some contrived philosophy. Any longer and it would have felt forced. For that, I’m willing to place The Killing on my list of favourite TV shows of all time.
What a ride. Thank you so much, cast.