AMC’S Cop Show The Killing Doesn’t Pay Off

Written by Doug Strassler on . Posted in NY Press Exclusive.


Photograph: Carole Segal/AMC

I don’t envy The Killing. Almost done with its second season, Veena Sud’s adaptation of the Danish crime drama Forbrydelsen had quite the uphill battle after rabidly vocal super-viewers attacked its cliffhanger finale last summer. You see, Killing promised to solve its central premise – who killed teen Rosie Larsen? – by season’s end, and didn’t.

I disagreed with such a publicly vitriolic response and a call for Sud to compromise her vision to accede to audience wishes. I may not have liked the way Susan Ross was blithely killed off on Seinfeld, but I kept watching. I thought there was way too much of Elisabeth Banks’ recurring role on 30 Rock, but I keep my mouth shut and watched. I think Breaking Bad is a far less complex show now that Walt White’s cancer is in remission, but I still follow the show’s jaggedly volatile twists.

But Killing does have its problems – namely, that it is stretching its murder mystery premise way too thin. Twin Peaks, the show’s closest ancestor, answered its initial mystery (“Who killed Laura Palmer?”) a third of the way into its second season, and ultimately lost viewership and was cancelled by the end of that season. David Lynch’s show had its serious moments, but it was also poetic and whimsical. Killing, however, opts for straight-up realism, and as a result is unrelentingly dark, which makes for a static viewing experience, both narratively and visually.

Also, its structure is restrictive. Every episode is limited to the events of one day. This is clean, a la 24, but both unrealistic and sometimes not enough. It limits the possibilities of what can happen and what can be learned from episode to episode (as opposed to the riveting Homeland, a show that perhaps shot its storytelling wad last season). One lesson learned from last year is that fans demand more – more momentum, more information to be parceled out to make each step worth their time. Though the pace has picked up slightly since Sunday night’s episode, with three episodes to go, I fear that the incremental release of information will lead to there being no “wow” factor at mystery’s end.

Aside from stars Mireille Enos (Sarah Linden) and Joel Kinnaman (Stephen Holder), none of the show’s cast members get the rich material they deserve. Billy Campbell’s mayoral candidate Darren Richmond keeps bemoaning his current paralysis following last season’s assassination attempt, and while we might pity him (which is a problem in itself – we should sympathize more than pity), all of his scenes feel circular. Michelle Forbes, as Rosie’s grieving mother, Mitch, was gone for multiple episodes at the beginning of the second season, and most of her scenes now serve a red herring regarding her daughter’s paternity when they should inform us more about her secretive character.

And oh, that poor kid! Linden totes her son, Jack (Liam James), around like luggage from apartment to hideout, regardless of the fact that this tween might be hungry or tired or scared or lonely. Or at one point, even sick. It’s reached the point of incredulity, and cuts into our identification and respect for Sarah, an otherwise strong and devoted female lead. This isn’t one of those shows where it’s cute for a working professional to be good at her job but a terrible parent; there’s no room for humor in a show this unabashedly serious.

Ultimately, Killing has felt like an exercise in watching important television that it has been an actual example of must-see serial TV. The seams can’t help but show. What it might teach is that certain types of storytelling are limited to genre. For Killing to be so tied around one single case, it would have played better as a mini-series. How can it move on as a long-form series? Perhaps by keeping only Linden and Holder, bringing in multiple cases that each get their own four-to-six episode arc. That makes it closer to a procedural but would give it room to delve deeper into the emotional and political ramifications of the dark crimes occurring, and could allow for audience attrition and attraction over the long run.

Either way, I’ll be seeing Killing through. And I’m still hoping that when all is said and done, there will be something to talk about.

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