If you’re not into The Killing, I completely understand (much like I inherently get why you wouldn’t be into wrestling). The Killing is bleak, both in tone and actual colour. The characters are stark and largely unlikeable. The plot is both thin and too complicated, explained through the barest of exposition. Everyone mumbles every line; The Killing is the only show I have to turn up to maximum volume to even decipher (in contrast, I have to turn Raw down). It follows one or two plots for entire seasons, and will absolutely go out of its way to deliver red herrings and false leads. Not everything means something, and there are so few moments of catharsis that the general feeling after the end of an episode is to hate the show.
If you haven’t seen The Killing, the basic plot is that of a detective homicide show. There has been a murder, and a pair of cops are sent to investigate. The cops are of different backgrounds (both troubled), and work differently. They have respect for the rules that keep them on their side of the law, but many episodes highlight the tension between seeking justice properly and getting the bad guy. The superior officers in the department are all obstacles to our heroes. There are moments of The Killing that could have been performed on literally any cop show in the last 60 years. But it diverts greatly from there, and the diversions are where it begins to break your heart.
The third season of The Killing has been about finding a serial killer who attracts young teenage prostitutes, kills them, and dumps them in a marsh on the outskirts of Seattle. The setting of The Killing is the extroverted version of the setting of early X-Files episodes: it’s always raining, and when it isn’t, it’s so overcast the entire show is dripped in grayscale (Vancouver and Seattle are pretty similar that way). The sun has shone about 3 times in the last 36 episodes. The detective pair of Sarah Linden and Stephen Holder pair up again after some cast reshuffling. Sarah ‘retired’ at the end of season 2, but is brought back because the case appears to have something to do with an old case of hers. The man who was put on death row for the old case (Ray Seward, played by Peter Sarsgaard) is about to die, and he’s chosen hanging, so that his executioners are forced to “hear” him.
Unlike most cop shows, the case extends through the entire season, which is one of the reasons the show is often so unfulfilling. A cliffhanger on one episode will be explained away as meaningless a few minutes into the next. Some episodes, Linden and Holder actually get nowhere. But the lack of plot propulsion opens up tons of time for character work, and season 3 of The Killing introduces (and concludes) two of the best characters I’ve had the pleasure of watching all year: Sarsgaard’s aforementioned prisoner on death row, and Bullet, a homeless teenage lesbian who becomes Linden and Holder’s sidekick.
Bullet (played by Bex Taylor-Klaus) brings a spark to the show that it’s never had before. She’s never, ever sitting still, and her energy is captivating and desperate. She looks a bit like a 13 year old version of Lisbeth Salander. Her best friend has been kidnapped, and nobody seems to care, so she does everything she can with no money, home, or real hope to get the people with guns to save the day. She doesn’t so much transform through the series as emerge, and she inevitably becomes the audience surrogate. Like Bullet, we also want the system to move faster, for people to care more, to believe that our friends are not hurt; we are equally crushed when it does not, when they do not, and when they are have been.
The Killing takes either no pleasure or all the pleasure in removing Bullet from the story. I honestly can’t tell. I also can’t tell exactly what the writers wanted us to feel in regards to Seward. Through the 12 episodes in which he appears, he oscillates between redeemable victim of the system to psychological monster, and he ping-pongs between the two until you’re not sure there is a difference, or that the system has made him this way, or what. Seward isn’t innocent, but did he kill his wife? He won’t confess entirely or deny it completely, and he takes his own pleasure in confounding the people who actually might be able to help him (specifically, Linden). The last episode in which he appears, The Killing reduces to a bottle episode where Seward and Linden spend most of the time on a prison phone with glass between them. These scenes wrenched me, a near-perfect one act play about justice, time, and how tough it is to actually throw ourselves on the gears. As Seward is given his last words, he quips about his last meal. “Salisbury steak isn’t steak. It’s ground beef.” Justice isn’t what it says it is. It’s just all we could scrounge up.
Seward’s prisoner is the most captivating performance I’ve seen on TV in a long time. He has such a quiver, and I loved his perverse sense of empathy, his slime, his 0.2 Lector lashings, and how he really did just want to be heard (even if it’s just to lie). It was always about volume. He took The Killing’s opaque lens, developed through two difficult and frustrating seasons and chewed through it. He broke the show’s world. And then it broke him.
The Killing’s third season is an exercise in what you can’t bear. Linden finds herself unable to bear life without work, and like an addict is most satisfied when being rewarded for her doggedness. Holder, the gruff softie, can’t bear himself, can’t believe the world is at it is, and he is sometimes equally hard, and when he is there are consequences. Bullet can’t bear the thought of being truly alone. Seward can’t bear the thought of going down without at least bruising the world on his way out. And the murderer—who I will not spoil—couldn’t bear getting away with it. These were all points in which the audience was asked to leave, as if to say: it’s only going to get worse from here. It’s going to get tougher to bear. The Killing almost dares you to give up on it, and that’s why I can’t. I don’t want to know what that says about me.
You left your keys in the door. I brought you lemon chicken. And fortune cookies. What more could you want?