In January I started teaching 3rd grade, which has left precious little time for watching TV, let alone writing about it. But, I have developed a new category of TV for myself which I call "TV for grading and worksheeting." And it is exactly what it sounds like; shows that I watch while I'm grading math homework or making vocabulary worksheets or planning my next belabored science lesson.
Last weekend/week my accompaniment was AMC's The Killing a show now famous for it's potentially frustrating season ending. The Killing follows three threads of the investigation into the murder of Rosie Larsen (Katie Findlay): the emotionally damaged and ethically compromised police detectives Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) and Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman); the working class family with a suspicious history Stan and Mitch Larsen (Brent Sexton and Michelle Forbes); and the shinny mayoral candidate Darren Richmond (Billy Campbell) who may have more to hide than his affair with his campaign manager Gwen Eaton (Kristin Lehman). Over roughly two weeks, we plod along as the Seattle rain alternately soaks and mists the various characters while they brood, cry, stare at seemingly random objects, cry, chase down false leads, cry, give obnoxiously self-righteous political speeches, cry, stumble accidentally onto evidence, cry, oh and, cry. The season does end with an arrest, but in keeping with the general themes of evasion and incompetence, some of the evidence is fake.
Have I indicated properly that this show is rather pedantic?
The Killing isn't exactly boring, it's more that it's detached. With a moody, understated and a torpidly paced crime drama the audience needs an investment in the outcome achieved in one (or more) of three ways: through understanding and connection to the victim; through a superbly crafted villain; or through the (relative) integrity and humanity of the investigating officer.
We never really find out very much about Rosie Larsen (for all they say her name all the frakking time) and what we do find out is too late to be sensible or have a great deal of impact. The fact is that Linden and Holder don't really investigate Rosie's life. They accept without question a few cliched assurances from Rosie's friends and teachers that Rosie was "a nice girl who loved life but never got into trouble." When they immediately find evidence that at the very least calls into question these reassuring but shallow descriptions (Rosie, whose from a struggling blue-collar family has a pair of 2,000 dollar high heals in her locker at school), Linden and Holder don't follow through with any urgency because the Larsen react with the typical "you don't know anything about our baby girl" when the detectives ask the first time if Rosie could have been hiding anything. This is a deeply troubling exchange because it exposes the crux of the difficulty of this show. No, Linden and Holder (and the audience by extension) don't know anything about Rosie. It is their job to find out everything they can about her in order to find out where, when, how and most importantly BY WHOM she was killed, but at the slightest opposition to the unpleasantness of personal questions, they allow themselves to be bullied into simply not doing as they are supposed to. Therefore their investigation is completely haphazard, and the audience has little more than passing curiosity in who the murder is. It seems unlikely that one could find a murderer without more than a passing glance at the victim's life choices, and it is almost impossible to engage an audience when the core character uniting the various story-lines is more of a void than anything.
Further obscuring the familial element is the serious miscasting of Michelle Forbes. I really like Ms. Forbes and anyone who can play a legitimate nemesis to Admiral William Adama isn't a lightweight. But she is not remotely maternal and so her overwrought emotional exhibitionism never gave the sense of genuine grief. At one point, supposedly so distracted with sorrow for her slain daughter, she almost kills her two young sons by leaving them in a running car in a locked garage, but a moment that should be terrifying comes off as strange tangential event because Mrs. Larsen gives the impression of a weepy Alzheimer's patient. It doesn't help the situation that the character's name is "Mitch," giving no room for softness or nurturing instinct.
As for a captivating antagonist, The Killing offers up all the usual (and male) suspects; the rich douchebag ex-boyfriend, the now drug-addled childhood friend, the formerly mobbed-up dad, the possibly sexually exploitative teacher, the obsessive family friend, the too-perfect politician. But the brush is too broad. There isn't enough heft to any of them to justify the brutality with which Rosie is killed. Nor do any of the possible killers have the psychological intricacies to fascinate the audience. In order (I assume) to keep the audience guessing about the identity of the murderer by overloading the show with options there isn't any room to layer the characters in a way that would lead the audience to wonder both IF a certain character COULD have killed Rosie but also WHY WHOULD he have killed her. In choosing breadth over depth another avenue of engagement is closed off to the audience.
So without an empathetic victim or a compelling villain the burden is on the detective to carry the show, and ostensibly Det. Sarah Linden appears to be the protagonist, but again The Killing seems to know what it was supposed to do but then just didn't. Linden finds Rosie's body on what is supposed to be her last day at the Seattle Police Department before she moves with her son to Sonoma, CA to get married. That is the basic pattern of most episodes; today will be Linden's last day and then she'll hand the investigation fully over to Holder but at the last minute she always misses her flight because she is emotionally incapable of leaving the case unsolved and isn't 100 % committed to her fiance. Her obsessiveness in her profession life is balanced out nicely by an almost complete cluelessness about even the most basic facts about her 13 year old son Jack. Maybe it's that Linden is rather bad at her job that made me actually laugh out loud to find out around the mid-point of the season that Linden once became so consumed by a case that she ended up a patient at a mental hospital in a state of waking coma. Really, I laughed, because it just struck me as ridiculous. No, Linden is never with her son, is utterly oblivious to the behavioral issues he is having, and can't even work up the facial expression to pretend she wants to get married, but none of that is shown to be because she is so hard at work investigating Rosie's murder by following up witness statements, verifying alibis or pinning down Rosie's whereabouts before she was murdered. She goes running, chews gum, and looks piercingly at videos, photographs or docks and (not kidding here) gets caught up in a totally bizarre and distracting terrorism plot-line, but all without either a systematic approach or much fruitful result. I mean really, if you're totally absorbed in you job, shouldn't you at least be good at it? Furthermore, at no point are we convinced of some overriding sense of justice or duty that animates this woman that would at least give some credence to her own lack of interest in her personal life.
There is a failure of motivating in The Killing. There is no distinct motivation of Rosie's murder, for Linden's personality, or for the audience to watch.
The TV Girl
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- I guess you would like to know a little bit about the person making all these proclamations upon good taste and horrid characters. I'm Andrea and when I was 15 I fell in love. An hour after meeting "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" I was forever altered in the way only love can, and I never questioned for one minute afterwards that television offered me an amazing chance to experience lives and moments that I could never imagine. So now, when I'm not getting distracted by my real life, I write about TV. I also read, am finishing a Master's degree in English Literature, travel, am attempting to learn vegan cooking, am the 5th of 6 children, and drive my roommate nuts by constantly cleaning our already clean apartment. Now that we're old friends, time for you to take my opinions as the be all and end all.