Recap/Review: The Killing, “El Diablo”/”A Soundless Echo”/”Super 8”

With The Killing now five episodes into its run (or four if you count the pilot and second episode as one installment), we’ve now established a clear rhythm to the season-long search for finding out who killed Rosie Larsen. I had a lot of positive things to say about the show in my review of the initial double feature, and it’s sustained most all of the things I liked about it: cinematography and scoring that earn it a place in AMC’s atmospheric pantheon, a slow burn of storytelling that draws out appropriately tense moments, actors who make grieving or simply thinking compelling to watch.

And yet even with all of that, I think I may be done with this show. Or at the very least, I’m moving it out of regular weekly rotation and if I catch up with it at all, it’ll be in bursts of two or three previously recorded episodes.

Why am I doing this, when the show’s so clearly doing a lot of things right?

There are a few reasons for this, but the majority centers around the fact that the show’s moved away from what I saw as its earlier potential. In my earlier review I speculated that the show was going for a presentation of just what one person’s murder does to a community, with aftershocks and secrets coming up to lead the investigation in new directions. And so far, it feels like we haven’t really gotten that sense of world-building, and instead the three stories – the police, the politics and the parents – have been operating in their own hemispheres and intertwining when the police investigation calls for it. It’s moved into more of a disappointingly procedural format, with “El Diablo” and “A Soundless Echo” giving the series a pattern of investigation and a reveal that’s mostly undone by the beginning of the next episode.

Since it premiered The Killing has invited comparisons from two shows in particular, and while that’s not the best objective way to view a show it is rather indicative of what’s missing. Rubicon, the most similarly paced of AMC’s shows, found its high points when it moved away from the overarching conspiracy and centered on the analysts of API, looking at the people who are qualified to do this work and the toll it takes on them over time. And in the most famous of serialized dramas focusing on a murdered teenager, Twin Peaks used the death of Laura Palmer as a catalyst to get deeper into the town’s residents and internal politics. The Killing, in contrast, lacks that center – I don’t feel as invested in this world, and there’s no Truxton Spangler or Dale Cooper to give it an injection of charisma that makes me want to spend time in it.

The character aspect has been the most problematic to me going forward. Enos is still making Linden’s contemplations compelling to watch, but it feels like as a character she’s being kept at arm’s length, a slew of past obsessions hinted at but never quite revealed. Similarly, while I predicted Holder would be a boon to the investigation the more he’s involved he’s been mostly playing the bad cop to Linden’s quiet observation, and while the show has disclosed hints of drugs in his past and an estranged family my early interest in him has cooled. I do like how they’re showing the two have learned to work together – her sending him in “El Diablo” to distract a nurse so she can interrogate a suspect in the hospital was a nice touch – but in the last two episodes those moments have been almost non-existent.

And the political story* also feels divorced from the action – the involvement with the murder has been limited to Darren Richmond and his campaign trying to deal with the political blowback by wheeling and dealing with anyone they can get their hands on, be they retired athletes or ambitious councilwomen. It’s not bad per se, but it’s hard to get past the feeling that there’s a lot being wasted here – either Richmond had nothing to do with the murder and we’re spending time in another show, or he’s the guilty party and everything else is just a red herring until the right clue is exposed. This could be a fault of the 13-episode structure more than the storytelling, as we know there’s a lot more ground to cover, but the longer it goes on the more it seems like the writers are going to have to do something pretty spectacular to justify its inclusion.

*Not to dwell on the Rubicon comparisons, but one of my favorite comments about the show came on Twitter where someone observed that the political story could only be less interesting if Katherine Rhumor was running the campaign. I wish I could say I disagree, but it’s dragging things down – and doesn’t have the excuse of switching showrunners after the pilot to make up for it.

While my first reason for moving away with the show comes from it not doing some of the things I want it to do, the other main reason comes from the fact that it’s doing some of what it does a little too well. This was never going to be a uplifting show from the start, but between the orchestral scoring, the gray clouds that haven’t broken in five days of show time and the unremitting grief of the Larsen family, it’s getting harder and harder to look forward to tuning in week to week. The show is devoid of any sort of comic relief or lighter tone, and while it’s still not over-the-top misery porn it’s a fairly miserable place to visit week to week.

Obviously I don’t expect any grieving parents to move past the death of their daughter so fast, and Sexton and Forbes are still playing it very well, but it feels like the show still seems like every episode needs to have a breakdown that lasts about 30 seconds longer than we want to see. The moments where the show does best with grief comes in the little moments** that show just what Rosie’s loss has done to the family – one of Rosie’s little brothers setting a fifth place at the table before freezing in shock at what he’s done, another walking to the store in his pajamas to buy milk when it’s apparent Mitch can’t be bothered to see what’s in the fridge. These moments are beautifully illustrative of the hole Rosie’s death has left, but they’re fewer than the scenes of emotional collapse – I dare not even contemplate how soul-crushing Rosie’s upcoming funeral is going to be.

**Funnily enough, two of those moments are evocative of another AMC show: Stan’s numb selection of a dress for his murdered daughter’s closet and Mitch’s constant replaying of Rosie’s sarcastic message on their answering machine are both reactions Breaking Bad used to great effect. I don’t think the two shows can yet be compared in terms of dramatic effect, but The Killing has played them very well.

All of these gripes aside, I do think the show is establishing some new plot threads that could be worth following. Rosie’s classmates Jasper and Kris were dismissed early on as suspects, but there’s been implication they might know more than they’re letting on. Stan apparently made a living on the other side of the law before his kids were born, and the desperation of Rosie’s death is pushing him to fall back into bad habits by borrowing money and looking into the police investigation. And at various points throughout each plot thread, the concepts of land development and investment are being mentioned to the extent that if Rosie died for a reason, that’s the most likely one.

But despite the fact that the story has a few potentially interesting twists coming up, there’s one aspect that’s proving fatal to my regular viewing of the show: I no longer have any drive to find out who killed Rosie Larsen. Again going back to the 13-episode structure, we know that we’re not going to answer the mystery until the finale (unless they decide to drastically alter the show and spend some time on a manhunt and trial), and that means we can look forward to eight installments of being drenched in red herrings and emotional collapse. And with all due respect to the things I like on that show, I don’t really want to spend an hour each week being teased and depressed.

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About Les Chappell

The Mad Hatter of media criticism. Co-founder of This Was Television, contributor to The A.V. Club, founder of A Helpless Compiler and The Lesser of Two Equals.
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One Response to Recap/Review: The Killing, “El Diablo”/”A Soundless Echo”/”Super 8”

  1. Pingback: Random Analysis: AMC Renews The Killing For Season 2 | A Helpless Compiler

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