I haven’t talked about AMC’s The Killing on this blog in quite some time, for a variety of reasons – the most obvious of those being that I just stopped watching it less than halfway through its run. As I mentioned in my last article covering the show up to episode five, I stated that while there were quite a few aspects of the show I liked – the acting and several of the little details – I was turned off by the overwhelming cloud of depression that hung over every scene and problematic character aspects that seemed to get worse as the show went on. Not that any of these made it terrible, but it just wasn’t a show that I was invested in enough to stay with it week to week, especially with an already overflowing Netflix queue and at least two shows on Sunday I had more interest in.
However, as many news outlets have reported today, AMC announced that they will be bringing the murder mystery back for a second season. No details on which of the cast will be returning (with the finale still to air on Sunday and the murderer not definitively revealed, we don’t know which characters will still be alive or innocent next season) but they have confirmed at least Veena Sud will be returning as showrunner. It makes sense for AMC from a business perspective: they recently passed on all six of their pilots in development rather than expanding their original programming past Sunday, and staying with an established property is a safe bet. Additionally, while The Killing hasn’t been a breakout hit on Walking Dead levels and has gradually lost viewers week to week, its average ratings of 2 million viewers are still head and shoulders over the late lamented Rubicon and even outpaced three seasons of Mad Men.
From a critical perspective though? I’d trade it for another season of Rubicon in half a heartbeat.
While I haven’t watched the show regularly since my last article (I did catch the sixth episode “What You Have Left” but didn’t find anything in there to convince me to stick with it), I have kept up with the plot developments thanks to weekly reviews from my critical brethren, particularly Meredith Blake at The A.V. Club and Alan Sepinwall at Hitfix.com. Those synopses have led me to believe I got out while I still could, as the first season’s problems have continued at a vast pace.
Obviously I’m not qualified to discuss those problems, having not seen the episodes, but here’s what I heard that kept me away – please, stop me if I’m getting any of this wrong. The show spent a good amount of time on a lead to the killer that fast proved to be false, and then once the suspect was dragged through the muck and put in the hospital he ceased to be mentioned even once. The political storyline continued to feel like an entirely different, less interesting show, with a monotone performance from Campbell and some dull twists like an intern affair thrown in to spice things up. My impatience with the overwhelming grief of the Larsen family – even for as well done as it was – has apparently blossomed into full-on Mitch Larsen hatred on some of the message boards, and the fact that the rain has apparently not let up for ten days kept it from being even remotely pleasant. The show evidently abandoned Rosie’s best friend and schoolmates after the early episodes, depriving it of another opportunity to flesh out the world of the show, and also moved away from what I predicted could have been some interesting conspiracies on development deals (which could have also brought the campaign storyline back around).
And in reading the recaps of future episodes, which involved a terrorism subplot and the disappearance of Linden’s son for an entire episode (even though that episode apparently offered some terrific character work from Mirelle Enos and Joel Kinnaman) all I could do was shake my head as it looked like it was drinking the 24 Kool-Aid in an effort to fill airtime. I’ve read some articles claiming that Sud and company only decided who the murderer was midway through the season, and as a fan of serialized drama that insults me on several levels.
So many people tried to draw comparisons between The Killing and Twin Peaks early on (I myself wasn’t immune to it) and having watched the first season of Twin Peaks last month I can say that while tonally they’re polar opposites it’s remarkable how much better the latter built an ongoing mystery story. From the first episode of Twin Peaks you have a well-constructed world with a wide swath of characters, all of whom have their own love triangles and secret alliances and grudges that keep pulling them together, even when you know for certain they’re not the killers. And even though you never knew Laura Palmer* personally in the show (and no one really knew Laura Palmer as it soon came out) the impact her death had on the community of Twin Peaks was tangible beyond overwhelming grief and you got a sense of what her life was like. The Killing by contrast felt like three different shows that only occasionally intersected, and when they did felt token and uninteresting – as if the murder set some things in motion and then was forgotten about.
*Fun fact I recently realized: between The Killing, Twin Peaks, following Rowan Kaiser’s summer rewatch of Veronica Mars and my own summer rewatch of Pushing Daisies, my television is flooded with murdered young women. No wonder my Netflix queue keeps suggesting I want to watch films about Ted Bundy.
Now all of that being said, I will say that I don’t think renewing The Killing is the worst thing AMC could have done. In the many, many shows I’ve watched it’s not surprising to see a marked improvement between the first and second seasons – Parks and Recreation being the most obvious example – because you get the time in between to figure out what worked and what didn’t, realize the strengths you have and listen to some of the critical feedback. I’m going to assume that of the cast, Linden and Holder will be the only ones definitely coming back (Michelle Forbes at least has said she’s done after this season) and since they’ve finally stopped teasing the personal demons that drive both of them a second season would let them have some actual character development. And I respect AMC’s track record enough (Rubicon bitterness aside) to think that they know enough to listen to the reviews and see that people did have some legitimate gripes with the show’s storytelling that wouldn’t be impossible to fix.
So no, I’m not optimistic about this renewal, even cautiously. However, I will be tuning in when it comes back next year and I always reserve the right to be surprised.