The backlash against The Killing’s first season finale, which did not reveal Rosie Larsen’s murderer, was not the fault of showrunner Veena Sud but of the marketing department at AMC. They gave us an empty promise they had no right to make with us. They chose to incorrectly focus their marketing strategy around the slogan/question “Who killed Rosie Larsen?” a strategy that included a website that tracked the potential suspects from within the cast. If you ignore this marketing strategy and look at the show itself, you’ll see the truth: The Killing was never about Rosie Larsen.
The Killing was about what happens to a city after a murder. It is about what happens to the family of the murdered victim: how each family member reacts differently, how a younger sibling confronts the reality of death, how a mother lives on past her daughter’s death, how a father faces the truth that he failed to protect his child. It is what happens to a political campaign tied to the murder: how a murder reflects on the powers that be, how it is used as a weapon in political games, how strangers lose sight of the reality that a girl is dead. It is most primarily about the two detectives assigned to solve the murder: the toll their job takes on their mental health, their abilities to be a mother and uncle, their relationships with loved ones and co-workers. The solving of the crime is secondary and always was secondary. We are now six episodes into season two and we are following all of these characters on a journey that gives us new suspects each week. But the suspects aren’t important and I have stopped trying to piece the puzzle together. I am enjoying the journey not predicting the destination.
What we have this season is again, at its core, a portrait of a remarkably fascinating female anti-hero in detective Sarah Linden as portrayed by an anti-glamorized Mireille Enos. Enos is always absolutely magnetic even with just an unmoving stare. She’s a brave performer working seemingly without the gloss normally put on actresses and working in tightly controlled and muted subtlety, a subtlety that makes the occasional burst of emotion all the more effective. Linden is always thinking and always trying to not let her emotions get involved in her work. Both of those mental tasks take concerted effort, effort we read all over her face. I’d watch for Linden alone.
The premiere, watched by few, was strong. It quickly tied up several loose ends. Linden discovered that Darren Richmond (my suspect number one in season one) could not have been the murderer, why he was not upfront about his alibi, why he has darkness in him. It tied up the loose end known as Belko. It got rid of the annoying and pointless Linden-is-supposed-to-be-getting-married-in-California plot yet this has been replaced by an equally annoying Linden-neglects-her-son-to-the-point-she-may-lose-him plot. The premiere gave us a beautiful mess of conspiracy which will likely be pieced out over the course of the season. And, gratefully, it cleared Holder of being a truly bad guy. He’s a dirty cop but was nothing more than a pawn. The series continues to take place in realish time. There have now been nineteen episodes and nineteen days since Rosie Larsen’s murder.
The show was never about Rosie Larsen but it has been about the piecing together of who an absent character was from other people’s accounts of her. The decision not to show her in flashback was specifically designed to shape her character subjectively rather than objectively. The show is thus in one aspect about how we get to know the dead after they’re gone and how different people perceive us differently. It’s not about Rosie Larsen but it is about how she is reflected in the people she left behind, both those who knew her and those who did not. The dead gain potential immortality in the minds of the living.
Marketing of art has failed the product before. Good marketing takes the truly best qualities of a product and sells them. Bad marketing fabricates a lie and betrays the artist. James Frey’s career was destroyed by his publisher’s decision to market his book as a memoir rather than as a semi-autobiographical novel which is the book he wrote. Shows like Grey’s Anatomy may gain ratings from sensationalized, manipulative and almost always misleading promos but they don’t paint an accurate picture of the product and thus promote misconceptions. Lost was heavily marketed and promoted as a show about mysteries to be solved. For six years viewers ignored the showrunners’ insistence that it was about the characters first and the mysterious elements second. As a result, half of the audience that followed the show until the end was outraged at the lack of complete resolution. AMC again betrayed one of its products when it spoiled a major The Walking Dead plot point on its website weeks before the plot point was to air. Marketing can really screw up the public’s perception of an artist’s work and ruin careers. We as consumers have a responsibility to the artists to see a product for what it really is, not what it is marketed to be. I hoped The Killing would gain back its viewers or gain new viewers so that AMC can recover from its major flub. But that doesn’t appear to be the case.
If you can forgive the marketing disaster and see The Killing for what it really is—a show about the living not the dead—then the show may be of interest. But it is not for everyone. The pacing is slower than usual for television. The tone is muted and monochromatic. For me, these are not weaknesses but they may be to others. My appreciation for it has not wavered from the beginning. The show portrays the emotional consequences of death in a way our culture otherwise ignores. Countless episodic procedurals and violent scenes on our screens and in our newspapers have desensitized us to death. The Killing’s greatest strength is in reminding us that death is more than a headline. It’s the end of a lifeline for more than just the dead.
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