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The Killing, Ep. 3.01 and 3.02: “The Jungle” and “That You Fear the Most” – Not the show you think it is

The Killing, Ep. 3.01 and 3.02: “The Jungle” and “That You Fear the Most” – Not the show you think it is



The Killing, Season 3: Episodes 1 & 2 – “The Jungle” and “That You Fear the Most”
Directed by Ed Bianchi (E1) and Lodge Kerrigan (E2)
Written by Veena Sud (E1) and Dan Nowak (E2)
Airs Sunday nights at 9 on AMC

Even the reviews that have been cautiously optimistic of the The Killing‘s third season have been quick to recall all the issues that plagued the first two seasons. Some of those issues include, but are not limited to: the over-reliance of red herrings, the weakness of the political storyline, the pretension of the show to think of itself as anything more than a glorified procedural and the fact that the crime being investigated wasn’t solved at the end of the first season. I have some issues…regarding these issues.

Having spent the last few years back and forth between England and the US, I was fortunate enough to get my hands on Forbrydelsen, the original Danish program that The Killing is based on, without paying a ridiculous amount of money and waiting for an import. The first season of Forbrydelsen is a fantastic collection of twenty episodes that the first two seasons of The Killing was trying to live up to. Was the political storyline of The Killing its weakest? Absolutely. Linden and Holder were genuinely fun to watch, especially when Holder was forgetting that he was white (something another character made sure to remind him of). And the Larsen family had some effective, heartbreaking scenes during the aftermath of the murder of their daughter. The Killing isn’t Forbrydelsen, so it’s unfair for me to wag my finger and say that political storyline in the latter was often the most interesting and engaging (mainly because of Lars Mikkelsen, whose brother you may know as Hannibal Lecter). It did falter on that part despite Billy Campbell’s best efforts. But that’s about as far as I agree with some of the criticism The Killing has received.

Red herrings are tricky. In a typical procedural, you might have a couple per episode, but you risk a lot of eye-rolling if there are too many. In a series that tells you up front that each season(s) will be revolving around a single investigation, “over-reliance of red herrings” (my phrase, but essentially what critics have said) is damn-near impossible. You have to have red herrings and a lot of them. There isn’t really a danger of over-reliance with The Killing, because it’s never going to have three or four red herrings per episode – that would be a joke of a show and it’s hard to imagine writers not realizing that. What The Killing did in its first two seasons was have a handful of red herrings (and definitely less than one per episode; prove me wrong if you’re convinced otherwise) that it traced generally over the course of a couple episodes and would sometimes revisit. Because it deals with a relatively small number of subjects – this isn’t the kind of show, after all, that is going to keep introducing more and more new characters – this is just how the structure operates. That isn’t to say that it’s not a flawed structure. I personally don’t think it is, because it’s a great deviation from the typical procedural that operates on a case-of-the-week level. But even if it were a flawed structure, The Killing executes it well and doesn’t get too carried away with coincidence and bad police work to extend the story.

The issues of being a glorified procedural and neglecting to give closure at the end of the first season kind of contradict each other, since a broadcast network procedural would never buy a show like The Killing. It’s not open-and-shut each week, which is what those networks typically want from this genre. Having the first two seasons revolve around the same case was a risk. Looking at the numbers, it’s the same thing Forbrydelsen did. Forbrydelsen was 20 episodes of almost 60 minutes each, The Killing was 26 episodes of about 45 minutes each for the Larsen case. Narrative closure is something we’re used to – something TV has conditioned us to expect. But one very popular and critically lauded show that goes against this is Game of Thrones. Granted, most of the critics also have problems with that show’s structure as well, but over the course of three seasons, they’ve reached a point where it’s just “This is what Game of Thrones is, and I’ll just have to accept that.” The Killing isn’t nearly as good a show as Game of Thrones is, but it’s one that also deviates from typical structures, sometimes eschewing the cliffhanger and sometimes eschewing the main narrative all together (the best episode in the first season of The Killing, in my opinion, was “Missing,” in which Linden and Holder are off searching for Jack and which deals focuses almost entirely on developing the relationship between the two detectives). Rather than chastise The Killing for taking on that kind of structure and especially for pushing its limits by extending the first case into the second season, I see more of a reason to praise its ability to take that risk. Maybe it failed for some people and maybe it fails on the conceptual level for those same people. But this is what The Killing is, and those people will just have to accept that.


So, that brings us to last night’s two-hour season three premiere. Linden has been working at a ferry (just as Sarah Lund was at the beginning of Forbrydelsen II, although that’s almost all they share in common), and Holder has been climbing is way up the police food chain. He’s seven-for-seven in cases, wearing a nice, clean suit, but he’s still talking that jive and we love him for it. Joel Kinnaman has been the constant for most people when talking about the things they like in The Killing. Seeing him transition from a newbie in homicide to the kind of guy who is “accidentally” going to leave a case file at Linden’s place is a joy, and I look forward to seeing what new tricks he’s learned in the time we’ve been away.

Even by the end of the first two episodes, Linden still isn’t in police uniform. People at that station don’t have a very high reputation of her, including Holder’s new partner. But the case Holder is working on has some eerie echoes to the one that was haunting Linden during the first two seasons of The Killing – the one involving the boy Adrian, who was locked up in a closet with his decomposing mom and who kept drawing that picture. Did Linden get the right man? Did she even get a guilty man at all? The man behind bars is Tom Seward and is played by Peter Sarsgaard. Sarsgaard drops into this role perfectly as the mildly deranged Seward – you can see the emptiness behind his eyes as he’s in his death row cell banging the priest’s head against the bars, blood splattering on his face. Seward’s is already an interesting storyline by virtue of how good of an actor Sarsgaard is. The question for me going forward is how well the other storyline involving homeless kids in West Seattle is going to play out. The main young girl we’re following, Bullet, is a hot-head who has a run-in with Holder and whose acquaintances we’re going to see being killed. She’s troubled with not a whole lot of information being conveyed to us yet, which is okay for the moment. In a time of fantastic child actors, though, Bex Taylor-Klaus is going to need some good writing to work with to make us really care.

The thing that usually impresses me most about The Killing is how it deals with violence. Even just in the first few months of 2013, we’re not short on serial killers: The FollowingBates Motel and Hannibal all deal with some overlapping issues. Something like The Following does it really poorly, where violence is sensationalist or titillating. It’s not commented on in any meaningful way and it isn’t creative. Hannibal and The Killing both handle violence with much more care. With Hannibal, there’s an assured artistry behind a lot of its violence scenes, and most of its graphic moments are dispersed rather widely. More importantly, Will Graham, one of the two main characters, suffers the consequences of exposure to acts of violence. He is, at this stage, losing his mind having to get into the head of other killers. Violence breaks him down. Similarly, The Killing writes violence as a devastating act. This is probably conveyed better in Forbrydelsen, but the initial murder has an almost unwatchable effect on the family. The Larsen parents went into a whirlwind, with Mitch literally leaving to get away from it. The benefit of sticking with the single case is to see how drastically a murder can affect people’s lives over an extended period of time. Season three ends on an image of several dead bodies that have been dumped into a lake, many of which look years old. That means we won’t be getting the same treatment of the reverberations of the murders for family members, but these first two episodes didn’t shy away from depicting how horrifying the situation is. And with the ghosts of Linden’s past arising, we may see her go down a similar path to Will Graham. She did, after all, end up in the psychiatric ward in season two.

When Holder is leaving Linden’s place after dropping by, the two have an important exchange. Linden warns Holder: “Not every victim’s worth it. You know, you start caring…you’ll end up like me working minimum wage on a ferry.” Holder responds: “Never thought the day would come when I’d hear that from you.” We know Linden is lying, just as we know if someone had told her that when she was a detective, she was have chewed some gum and carried on. In some ways, Linden belongs in a Darren Aronofsky film. Like all of his main characters, she’s obsessed. It’s a surprise she’s lasted this long without scratching the itch. And it, of course, doesn’t take long after looking at Holder’s file for her to go visiting the crime scene and starting ignoring the people around her. She’s still got her son, and he’s asking her to move to Chicago. But, jeez, Jack, don’t you know that you and your father are the only people Linden knows over there? Right, because she has so many friends in Washington. Linden, like a detective version of Michael Jordan, was always going to come back – she couldn’t stay away for long. From a TV viewer’s perspective, we’re grateful that it’s because of a connection with an old case rather than a new one altogether, otherwise Linden would just get in there and get the job done without nearly as much psychological trauma. The great thing about the aforementioned bit of dialogue, though, is Holder’s response. I read it not so much as a guilt trip, which is the kind of thing Holder would do, but more of a realization. It has been a while for these two and Holder’s been busy with other perpetrators, other victims and other partners. He’s come all this way to spark Sarah’s interest and gets to thinking that maybe she really is done for good. The forgotten file was his trump card and luckily it worked, but Holder doesn’t know Linden as well as we do and couldn’t necessarily count on her to be back in the game immediately. But as soon as he hears those squeaky shoes of hers down at the station, he can piece together what she’s been up to. Then it’s like things are back to status quo for these two.

Veena Sud has said season three is going to be a self-contained case, so if you’re at all worried about that, don’t be. Even considering the kinds of things that are on AMC – Mad Men and Breaking Bad – and having seen the superior Forbrydelsen, I’m really glad The Killing is back and I’m ready to give it another chance to impress me. If anything, it’s stubborn and confident. It set its pace, tone and atmosphere from episode one and hasn’t felt any shame in keeping it that way. I look forward to some more Peter Sarsgaard and rain machines and to writing about it along the way. See you next week.

– Sean