This week AMC revived its Danish import police procedural The Killing for the summer. The series follows Detective Sarah Linden, played by Mireille Enos of double Big Love fame (she played twins, get it? and also apparently was nominated for a Tony) as she attempts to solve the mysterious murder of a young girl with an abundance of secrets à la Twin Peaks but with considerably less strange and stereotypically more Seattle rain and gloom. The catch, what separates this detective drama from the Dick Wolfian sort viewers more easily recognize, is that it’s only one case, only one dead girl. Whereas Mariska Hargitay could probably solve this case in 40 minutes with any schmo partner available in the precinct at the time, Linden needed 13 hour-long episodes just to find the wrong guy. AMC decided to give her another go at it, despite last season’s declining ratings.
The two-hour premiere leapt right back into the thick of things—more downcast, more drizzle, more reasonably competent detective work, and many more extended scenes of raw exposition. The Killing places an awkward magnifying glass to the face of plain-Jane detective juggling work and family, a young deadbeat addict seeking redemption behind a badge, and arguably most captivatingly, a aggressively endearing family that has just lost a loved one, and often, the show just lets it sit there. Scenes just linger past the quota for dramatic progression. We’re clearly in no rush and the show hints at everything being important to the case, from raindrops to phone calls with crummy ex-husbands to little boys acting out at the dinner table. In reality, it’s not. Rosie Lawson’s murder isn’t the new ‘who killed Laura Palmer?’ no matter how AMC tries to sell the parallel to us in ads.
The case for The Killing is, in fact, the exploration of what makes television enticing, interesting, suspenseful, and emotional. Following the murder of this young lady—not so unlike any of the other little girls television kills for dramatic purpose each and every day in primetime, daytime, reruns, and your local news—for 15 episodes and counting is an experiment in how little it’ll take to find the stride of riveting drama, that almost magical thing that keeps viewers so personally invested in the will they or won’t they?s or who done it?s of television.
As mentioned before, Twin Peaks performed a very similar experiment way back in 1990-1991, but the difference being that much of the investment was, on some level, placed in Laura Palmer, not as a character but ay first an ideologue of certain virtues and then their impermanence. She acted as a televised Russian doll just as the Soviet Union fell, the 90s crept close, and we began to uncover certain aspects of ourselves. The accompaniment of the quirky and weird, the delicious pie and the flailing dancing, just made it all palpable.
The Killing doesn’t go for any of that. Now in it’s second season, the is plainly a reductionist attempt to attract investment in the concept of drama itself. We already know we enjoy dead young women and solemnly badass leading ladies, we already sympathize with lost and distrust politicians. The series paints a crystal clear portrait of all of that and various other tropes of the genre, but what it does best is force you to keep looking at it, stay there for much longer than normal. There’s a reason viewers invest in drama, a rationale behind the infatuation with murder and sex and scandal. The Killing is surely well presented, a full fledged cinematic production with each airing. The problem, if there actually is one (besides a dip in ratings for this season’s premiere when compared with last season’s), may be in our apprehension to the truth behind our investment in all things apprehensive on television.
What if, in our peripheral we enjoy watching families go through suffering unimaginable, whether to put our own pain in perspective or to relate or just to gloat? Is it as fun when everything—the shrubs, the windows, the binoculars, the set timetable, the caricatures, the gimmicks—are stripped away? Or are we voyeurs desperately in need of the pretense?