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'The Killing' Returns

This weekend brings a momentous decision: To watch, or not to watch, Season 2 of The Killing? Anyone who forged through the first season of this AMC police procedural (a remake of a Danish hit) last year is probably still fuming about the lack of answers in the final episode. For weeks, we had been watching the stubborn and slightly self-destructive Seattle detective Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) plod around the cityoften in the pouring rainas she attempted to solve the murder of high school student Rosie Larsen. We had glimpsed the light at the end of the tunnel: Following an ingenious bit of gumshoe work, a culprit had been arrested! Justice had been served! Detective Linden was on a plane to sunnier climes! And then, the episodes final minuteswith fiendish glee, it seemedsubverted that resolution, saddling us with questions we have now lived with for almost a year.According to The New York Times, AMCs head of original programming has promised that the whodunit will be wrapped upreally and trulyat the end of Season 2, which begins this Sunday. Of course, even if we trust his pledge, there remains the fact that The Killing has so far been a real downer of a program. Many of its elementsthe red-herring clues, the multiple suspects, the sleuth with personal problems, the law-enforcement turf battlesare detective-story standards. But has there ever been a police procedural that focused so intensely on the grief of the victims family? In Season 1, scene after scene conveyed the Larsens pain: We saw Rosies parents suffer as they planned her funeral and suffer as they debated whether to clean out her room and suffer as they fielded detectives questions. We saw Rosies younger brothers suffer, too, as their pain-deluged parents ignored them. (In one heartbreaking scene, the boys, getting their own breakfast, wondered whether they dared eat some of their dead siblings favorite breakfast cereal.)The cinematography made the saga even more depressing: Season 1 was shot in blue tones that made each image even more lugubrious than it might have been otherwise. The police headquarters, in particular, might have been dredged up from the bottom of the Slough of Despond. All in all, The Killing strays far from the escapist-puzzle mode that is the default option for the mystery genre. And yet.Yes, I admit it. I will watch Season 2. The lingering suspense from Season 1 is just too strong. But listen, AMC: Dont count on me for any Season 3.

About the Author

Celia Wren is Commonweal’s media and stage critic.



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I haven't watched the series. If it is literally as dark as ou say it is I'm not tempted to I find that there is a current style in detective TV shows that requires that the backgrounds be practiclaly black. Very unnatural and contributes nothing to the narrative.While I'm at it, let me complain about the figurative darkness of the overwhelming majority of most TV stories. I love good detective fiction, both books and TV. but the amount of crime on TV is overwhelming. Given these sorts of images to think with, what sort of expectations of life will the children of this generation expect? Their vitual world seems to be their main world, and it's largely violence ridden. Poor kids. (Not to mention The Hunger Game.)

I watched a Hunger Games trailer on my Apple TV the other night. Clearly, it's just another violence fantasy for kids. I agree, the amount of violence being flogged off on kids has got to be at least desensitizing. Of course, adults are also being drowned in this stuff - at least, those who watch commercial TV - but, hopefully, they've matured enough to know the difference between vicarious and real violence. Maybe not.What's with these producers and programmers? Do they have no desire to do better?

I think the main problem with TV as contrasted with the movie industry is that much of TV is dependent on commercial sponsors. The prorducers have to please the sponsors who want audience share above all. Not so with movies, at least not to the same extent. So there are still some fine movies being made. Every once and a while a TV show accidentally is an artistically superior one, but not too often. I also think that the cynicism of too many cartoon shows discourage young people from appreciating what is upbeat not to mention idealistic And The Killing sounds pretty cynical or at least thoroughly downbeat to me. Does it offer only suspense?

I guess we're getting away from "The Killing". Maybe I should pay Apple a couple of dollars to watch a bit of it. Celia, what episode would you suggest?I've been very disappointed with what I've learned about the movies coming out these days. When the industry finally settled on an HD standard, I was looking forward to watching some great new flicks, combining the latest technical marvels with excellent adult writing. No luck. If you look at the Blu-Ray section in your local store or on, you'll find it's almost completely violence and comedy for the lowest-common-denominator teenage audience. Very slim pickings. One keeps hoping for Criterion to enlarge its catalog of old classics.

David ==I read just yesterday that PG13 movies make nigh on to twice as much money as their nearest competitors, the R-rated ones. Do adults just not go to movies anymore? Or do they go to "kids" movies? I wonder about what kids movies are these days, given the plot of The Hunger Games. in my young years that might have earned an R. As violent as the U. S. has become over what it used to be, it really has not yet descended into anything like what is presented on TV and in the movies, not for most people anyway. Most people I know, for instance, have not known any one who has been murdered. At least that used to be true, excepet for kids from the ghettos. But I haven't taken any polls lately.

Well, the first season of "The Killing" (I am waiting for Season 2 appear on AMC's "On Demand" menu) follows a single investigation, so if you wanted to sample it, you'd really have to watch Season 1 Episode 1. In answer to your question, Ann, I would say that the show tries to do more than just offer suspense: It aims to give a diagnositic view of society, pointing out how various institutions and social dynamics affect individuals and communities. ("The Wire" did this a lot better.) In "The Killing" there are characters who are involved in a (possibly corrupt) political campaign; there's a subplot involving a school and one involving drug addiction and one involving the foster care system. The detective is a single mother. It's partly because the show aims to do more than provide mere disposable suspense that it is so depressing: It really tries to examine how a death affects a family. But certainly, as you say, the show is part of our society's voyeuristic fascination with police procedurals and violence- and crime-driven stories.

I think of these things - cop shows, comedy shows - the standard television fare - as being escapist - the sort of mindless thing people watch to wind down after a hard day at the office. Why would someone want to watch something deliberately depressing to wind down? Could this be indicative of a cultural neurosis - or even psychosis - perhaps masochistic?

Or maybe it's not simply escapist and, contrary to what Ann said, some shows become artistically superior not by accident, but rather because they are well-crafted and speak to the human condition in a new and better way. It's also always so silly to talk about these sorts of productions as though they indicate some new uptick in art with dark or violent themes. For Pete (Campbell's) sake, review past works that have clearly contributed to shared cultural experience--there is violence, horror, and despair in every corner of humanity's art production, and the fact that a production is through the medium of television (as opposed to, say, Dionysian tragic theatre) doesn't automatically bar it from artistic achievement.

OK, I watched the pilot. Worth the three dollars for the experience - to know what's under discussion. Yes, Abe, it's well crafted. I don't think it's art, though. It's just more wallowing about in anger, dirt, stress, and sub-verbal communication. And there's a lot of what Celia calls

our societys voyeuristic fascination with police procedurals and violence- and crime-driven stories

We get to see corruption and other deep moral failure in various places that most of us would probably never see off television.We started going here long ago, with "Miami Vice" and "Hill Street Blues". Same stuff, just darker, with much more dirt and despair. Cynicism level's about the same. But there are no "good guys" - even the protagonist is a helpless martyr.What makes it work is part of what Art refers to - the artistic superiority. But I'd say here that's limited to great technical superiority - cinematography, sound. It's "artistic" if you're really, really, deeply into grunge, dirt, anger, grunting, screaming, depression, and terminal frustration.One thing I especially don't like about this stuff is the strong implication that the entire world and everybody in it is thoroughly rotten. That's not a bit attractive or, I think, true. But it seems to be the "artistic" vision of our time. Ugly.

ABe --I didn't mean that the good progams just happen to be put together accidentally - I meant that they seem to be \sponsored accidentally. TV is an artform just waiting to be exploited. I don't get HBO because it doesn't seem worth the price. And of course violence isn't new in art including the greatest art. Hamlet, Oedipus Rex, The Brothers Karamazov are all murder mysteries. But they don't pander to our fascination with evil and violence. They make us see them for what they are, unlike a lot of TV.

Celia --Thanks for your reply. It does make the show sound interesting. But it sounds like a total downer. All down, no up. But life really isn't like that, not so far anyway. Goodness and kindness and bits of beauty, are always at least possible. We do seem to be heading for a universal downer -- the collapse of the Earth eco system, which will cause unrelenting misery. Somehow we manage to ignore that threat. Are all the negative artworks anticipating that, trying to prepare us to handle that antipated pain? I doubt it. I suspect that even the artists just don't have the courage to face it. Sp the arts, which ought to be helping us to find hope or at least enough courage to look for hope, serve up only grunge and despair. But at least :mystery stories" do offer us the satisfaction of finding the culprit. That's better than nothing, I suppose.Yes, I do think the arts have a moral dimension. Not that they are supposed to preach, but they will not be very valuable unless they do address the existential questions, even if only in small and indirectl ways. Just presenting an image of the miseries of this world hardly seems worth the effort, and it only adds to the existential muck.

Ann, I think it's impossible to define art. The implication is that it's something higher, better, worth serious notice beyond first impressions, but beyond that, it's all subjective. I guess if mucking about in muck is someone's idea of art, we have to admit that they're certainly entitled to say so.I prefer "craft" to "art". Major lack of pretentiousness. I can unreservedly admire the great technical craftsmanship in products like "Killing". Whether or not that or the whole package is art probably depends on what sort of company you keep.

David =="Art" can mean anything one wants it to mean. Humpty Dumpty knew that. So, if, as used to be the case, some people (called "artists") made things that were higher, better, worth serious notice, etc, and the things they made were called "art". You can use the word to mean any garbage you choose, but some of us think it's to the advantage of us all to keep a word for those special human=made things which are worth more than most things as objects of contemplation and enjoyment. Language is also a human-made thing, and some words are more valublee than others. It's a pity to mess up thier meanings unnecesarily.

" Whats with these producers and programmers? Do they have no desire to do better? "Like it or not, "better" doesn't sell well with the segment of society that goes to the movies these days. Violence - the more the better - does.

Dude, exactly what segment of society is it that goes to the movies? I don't think you guys actually watch movies or tv--too busy clucking your tongues on the interwebs.

"what segment of society is it that goes to the movies?"The rich segment. Last week, my husband took one of my daughters to a Sunday matinee of The Lorax: 2 tickets = $26

In most of the TV and movie dramas you will ever see, a person is shot, once, and dies. It all happens right there, right then and it's really not that icky. These scenes leave out that gap between the time when the victim is mortally wounded and the time when that victim actually dies. There's no horribly wounded person who survives nonetheless. There's no grieving family, or (worse) one that just doesn't really care. There's no one trying to decide what to do with the victim's clothes or car. The skeletons in the closet stay in the closet, they don't fall out on the living room floor. There's no one trying to hide past indiscretions from the media.That's how we're used to seeing killings portrayed. This series explores all of those things. Is it pretty grim? Yeah. Is it worth watching? Oh, yeah.

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