The Killing came to AMC burdened with more expectations than just about any show in recent memory. First, there’s the fact that it’s a remake of a lauded and highly successful Danish series. I confess I haven’t seen Forbrydelsen, which in some ways has been a blessing for me. With remakes, it can be nearly impossible to evaluate a series on its own terms, rather than in comparison to the original (see: Skins), or even, really, to know which approach is "correct." Then, there’s the matter of AMC’s successful repositioning as a destination for prestige dramas. As the series has floundered in recent weeks, a debate has been raging in the comments—and in my own head, to be honest—as to whether we aren’t expecting more of The Killing because of the network it’s on. If it were on CBS, we’d all think it was smart, solid procedural—or so the thinking goes. So when we express disappointment with The Killing, are we responding to marketing, or to aesthetic flaws?
But I tend to think that even without all this baggage, The Killing would still be a uniquely frustrating viewing experience. Its narrative format, where each episode depicts a single day in the murder investigation, initially seemed clever but now just seems cumbersome, lending the series its snail-like pace and the irritating sense of déjà vu that plagues so many episodes. What's more, the show itself seems locked in an identity crisis, a murder procedural that also aspires to be a Wire-esque portrait of a city in peril. Add all that up, and you have a show that’s about as befuddling as it gets. Which is all to say that writing about The Killing from week to week has persistently presented a serious critical challenge for this here recapper: Do I evaluate each episode on its own merits, irrespective of how bad (or good) the previous installment might have been? Or do I allow my own lingering feelings to affect my response to it?
Take this week’s episode, which after the absurd twists and turns of “Stonewalled” and “Undertow,” felt like a modest step in the right direction. In fact, this felt like the episode we should have had 5 weeks ago, before The Killing, to paraphrase Salon critic Matt Zoller Seitz, morphed from Homicide: Life on the Streets into Scooby Doo. After following Linden and Holder down the Bennet-Muhammad rabbit hole, this week we finally see them doing some rather basic detective work—like interviewing Belko and Terry--which almost instantly leads to breakthroughs in the investigation. It turns out Rosie took a cab home after visiting Bennet’s apartment, then apparently hopped a ferry to an Indian casino whose logo just happens to match Rosie’s keychain.
With Bennet cleared of the crime, Belko quickly becomes the prime suspect. Why it took Linden and Holder so long to interrogate Belko, with his fidgety body language and generally shifty demeanor, I have no idea. But they do, and sure enough, it turns out he’s basically a 21st century version of Norman Bates, domineering mother and all. The writing here was a little “Psychopath 101” (i.e. the creepy childhood bedroom, the photos taped to the ceiling, the promiscuous mother) but the scenes with Mama Belko have a vitality that’s rare on this series. Belko claims that Rosie left the house once again after coming home, so even though the Larsens had a creepy stalker basically living in the same house as their teenage daughter, he’s not the one who did it. Between Jasper, Belko and the pedophile janitor, it’s a wonder Rosie didn’t wind up dead sooner.
My initial response to this episode was, “Well, it’s not perfect, but at least we’re finally getting somewhere.” But this sense of relief was tempered even further by several factors. First of all, we’re now 10 episodes into the first season; isn’t that a little late for The Killing to be “settling into a groove”? This is where the show ought to have been weeks ago, but instead we got a silly and fruitless month-long digression. I’m all for tangents, so long as they are interesting, but the Bennet-Muhammad goose chase was silly and maybe even a tad offensive: The Killing used the enormously fraught and serious issue of female genital mutilation as a throwaway last-minute twist.
I feel as though she show has already violated some tacit, unspoken agreement with its audience: it led us down a long path to a dead end, without giving us much in exchange for our time. The Bennet storyline wasn't so much a red herring as it was elaborately disguised filler. As I’ve discussed at length before, we hardly know anything about Rosie or her family, and the same goes for Bennet. Although he’s been the focus of the show for weeks now, he remains a hodge-podge of seemingly unrelated character traits--an impossibly selfless, cradle-robbing, Muslim English teacher. The writers, it seems, have a fairly intense case of A.D.D. They keep tossing out enticing possibilities yet there’s hardly any narrative follow-through. For example, we still don’t really know what was going on with Rosie and Bennet, or what the deal is with Rosie’s movie, or why Sterling and she were fighting, or what's up with Jasper's dad and Terry. Whether by accident or by design, the series has been operating in bad faith, so I feel wary of investing too much in the latest developments.
One mistake The Killing has made, virtually from the very beginning, is to confuse withholding information with building mystery. It's evident yet again in “I’ll Let You Know When I Get There,” which focuses anew on Linden’s personal troubles. She comes home to find that Jack has been drinking beer and calling Regi a “stupid lesbo.” Furious, she relocates with Jack to a seedy motel. Rick shows up and, once again, drops hints about Linden’s unhinged past. (More than anyone else on the show, Rick is more a “device” than a character.) “I’m not gonna end up in a hospital again watching you stare at a blank wall,” he says, in yet another replay of every conversation he’s ever had with Linden. She apparently ended up hospitalized and almost lost custody of Jack, which might be more interesting if we hadn’t already figured as much 5 weeks ago.
On the bright side, there’s Holder, whose seemingly callous “I’m not gonna let myself lose any sleep over it, and neither should you” was actually sort of sweet, as was the maple-bacon donut he brought Linden. If this show gets a second season, I hope we get more of Holder.
Guilty: Stan. Ok, so I don’t think Stan literally killed Rosie, but there’s got to be a reason that 1) he turned himself in so readily and 2) we keep hearing about his financial issues.
Guiltier: Darren. That footage of him with Rosie is not exactly a smoking gun, but that staffer summed it up pretty neatly when she said "Isn’t it ironic she was found his campaign car?" (For the record, if it turns out Darren did it, I'm going to be really annoyed.)
Guiltiest: Terry. Could she have been jealous of Belko’s affection for Rosie?
- Holder is a vegetarian?
- I guess Darren made the basket. Um...yay?
- The cab driver was another witness who seemed airlifted out of a Law & Order episode: “Her hair was longer. Looked kind of like Alanis Morrisette when she was better-looking.”
- My suspicion regarding Terry and Stan's relationship continues to build. “Your dad is a good guy. He’s a great guy.” I’ll bet he is.
- “He’s just weird. Like he don’t have a personality, kind of like this table.”
- “ I thought it was menopause, but it was Belko.”
- Odd that we never see Stan actually decide to turn himself in; he comes home, his knuckles bloodied, then the next thing we know he’s in jail. Why didn’t we see him make this decision?
- Holder talks about Bennet like a job candidate: “He was a good suspect.”
- For those of you keeping track of Twin Peaks similarities, that casino might as well have been called “One Eyed Jack’s.”