The Killing: Season One Review

The promise of long-form storytelling is that its expanded scope will allow it to incorporate themes and elements that a one-off more beholden to narrative expediency could not, with the best examples providing full portraits of communities, industries, and cities in addition to its central cast of characters. The converse threat is that the extra space will inspire writers and show-runners to become unnecessarily ambitious, and force them to presume connections that aren't necessarily there. Clearly inspired by the success of Twin Peaks and The Wire before it, The Killing unfortunately falls into the latter category. Poised as both a dissection of a murder whose ripple effects reach across Seattle infrastructure and a mystery with more suspects than actual pieces of hard evidence, Killing reaches far enough to suggest a larger culpability, but is unable to break away from repetitive detective-work long enough to give any of its detours real significance.

Opening with the murder of Rosie Larsen (a dead girl’s name if there ever was one), Killing heads in three rarely and only nominally intertwining directions: the unlikely duo of homicide detectives assigned to solve the case, with one of them (Mirielle Enos) on her way out the door to a life of domestic bliss with her fiancé and son; the grieving parents (Brent Sexton, Michelle Forbes) with two remaining sons; and the political campaign of mayoral candidate Darren Richmond (Billy Campbell), which owned the vehicle that Rosie's body was found in. Of these, the odd one out is Richmond's campaign; though anchored nicely by the under-rated Campbell, it struggles for relevance as the political implications of Rosie's death are unexplored as anything than as a smear tactic. Echoes of Mystic River are similarly heard in the interplay between the Larsens, who intermittently struggle with their potential guilt in the matter, but are largely stuck in the first few stages of the grieving process the entire season. But the real weakest link is Enos’s Sarah Linden, who could have brought focus to all of these elements, but falls disappointingly short.

When we first catch up with her, she's on her proverbial 'last-day-on-the-job', and handing over the reins to the unorthodox Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman). It'd be hard to think of a more belabored set-up, but to its credit, The Killing never overplays it (its dreary Pacific setting never overplays anything), and provides the closest thing it has to a believable human relationship when the two of them interact, even if it seldomly moves beyond professional frustration. He also acts, surprisingly, as something of a portal through which the audience can view Enos, as he is the one who most pointedly asks her the show's second biggest unanswered question: why doesn't she leave for Sonoma this whole time? There is never any suggestion of displeasure with her fiancé, nor any overtones of obsession in her policework; one is really left to think that she's jeopardizing her future because she's a dedicated bureaucrat.

In a show filled with flaws, that may be the single most damaging, because it restricts our connection to what turns out to be the primary action of the series. For all its affectations towards family drama and 'very important' issues (anti-Muslim bias plays a major part in the case against one suspect) that really only serve to obscure interpretation, The Killing is first and foremost a procedural, and ultimately more concerned with the gathering of evidence than in understanding Rosie Larsen. The sheer number of red herrings in the case discovered and then passed over is nothing short of staggering, but they form the basis for every cliffhanger ending, emotional climax, and dramatic reversal. Show-runner Veena Sud claimed that the show was not meant to appeal to ‘left brain’ instincts, but there’s too little introspection on the part of any of the principles for it to be anything else, and simply too many new leads for the season to have any coherent direction to it. Had it all been better filtered through the lead, the show may have approached the ‘holistic’ (as Sud again said it was supposed to), but as is it’s remarkably lacking in subtext.

It’d be difficult to argue that Sud doesn’t take advantage of television’s technical possibilities; the full scope of Seattle is evoked beautifully both in panoramic helicopter shots and closer cutaways (where it’s usually raining). But the different strata here never interact in a way that isn’t superficial or outside of the frequently implausible proceedings of the plot, keeping Larsen’s death in no way specific to Seattle, which is so well-evoked in every other detail. 

Blu-ray Bonus Features

The notorious season finale "Orpheus Descending" is extended here, along with a commentary track by Enos and writer Nicole Yorkin. There's also a commentary for the pilot by Sud, as well as the featurette An Autopsy of The Killing, a gag reel, and some deleted scenes.

"The Killing: Season One" is on sale March 13, 2012 and is not rated. Television. Directed by Agnieszka Holland, Dan Attias, Ed Bianchi, Gwyneth Horder Payton, Jennifer Getzinger, Keith Gordon, Nicole Kassell, Patty Jenkins, Phil Abraham. Written by Veena Sud, Dawn Prestwich, Nicole Yorkin, Soo Hugh, Jeremy Doner, Nic Pizzolatto, Linda Burstyn, Aaron Zelman, Dan Nowak. Starring Annie Corley, Billy Campbell, Brandon Jay McLaren, Brendan Sexton Iii, Brent Sexton, Callum Keith Rennie, Eric Ladin, Jamie Anne Allman, Joel Kinnaman, Katie Findlay, Kristin Lehman, Michelle Forbes, Mireille Enos.

Anders Nelson • Associate Editor


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