Have there ever been a pair of TV cops quite like The Killing's Linden and Holder?
Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) is a committed loner haunted by, we learn near the end of season two, an eerily familiar prior murder investigation which in turn echoes a nightmarish childhood trauma. In the course of investigating the Rosie Larson murder, Linden loses her grip, successively, on her fiancée, her son, her mental equilibrium and finally her own freedom. In fact the ninth episode of season two, when a trapped and drugged-up Linden submits involuntarily to therapy and comes perilously close to sliding down into the rabbit hole, is as chilling and mesmerizing an hour of television that I can recall.
It is Linden's partner, Steven Holder (Joel Kinnaman), who yanks her out of the rabbit hole and springs her from the psych ward. Holder, for his part, is an unreliable former tweaker who lurches with violent certainty from one suspect to another like a bull in a china shop. In the penultimate episode of season one, Holder does the mob's bidding in putting the frame for the Larson murder on Councilman (and Seattle mayoral candidate) Darren Richmond (Billy Campbell), unaware that he is paving the way for Linden's incarceration and subsequent descent into a near-catatonic state.
In the end, however, Linden and Holder have each other. Together, they form a platonic, co-dependent, brother-sister partnership that is nothing if not fearless. Over the course of the series this relationship delineates the solitary moral light in an otherwise hostile and moral-free zone, namely the City of Seattle and more specifically the nexus of money, politics and privilege that series creator, Veena Sud, suggests (and who am I to argue?) suffuses and pollutes Seattle's ultramodern urban landscape. Go back and watch the first encounter between Linden and Holder in the pilot, watch how well Enos and Kinnaman cross the genre-standard wariness of dealing with a new partner against a small but perceptible glint of recognition of something deeper, and tell me you don't get goosebumps knowing how the relationship evolves.
And what is the moral light, however blurred, that emanates from Linden and Holder? An innocent, beautiful and misunderstood teenage girl (is there any other kind?) has been beaten, kidnapped, bound, hunted, stuffed in the trunk of a car, driven for miles on a dark and rainy night, and then drowned. Somebody did this to this precious girl, and Linden and Holder are unwilling (unable, in Linden's case) to give up until they find out who killed Rosie Larson and why they did it.
The Killing was broadly derided as being slow, clunky and derivative (the latter amazing to me, unless you can no longer work in the police procedural genre), and the failure of the murder to be solved at the end of season one tested even the diehards. The show was cancelled by AMC after season two, only to be revived a year later under the auspices of a co-production between AMC and Netflix, Hollywood's current (and, my guess, future) Sugardaddy.
To be fair to the haters, the purely procedural elements of the Larson case, the deductive progression from clue to clue to clue to finally solving the murder, were cliché (cue formerly trusted, morally compromised police captain secretly working to undermine the investigation for reasons that are themselves morally clouded) and rampant with tinny dialogue (Holder, having a eureka moment in deducing that the stolen car in which Rosie was found drowned did not take the ferry back from the Indian reservation: "Wow, wow, wow, Linden, the math doesn't add up"). Pretty much any given episode of the original Law and Order series does a better job on the pure nuts and bolts of procedure than The Killing.
Yet for all the carping, if you spend a little bit of time on The Killing comment boards as I did over the past few days, the vast majority of negative commenters (in turn the vast majority of commenters overall) say they are planning to tune in to season three. Yes, it's dark. Yes, it takes its time. And, yes, it's kind of addictive.
On that note, here are my top five reasons to love The Killing:
- Joel Kinnaman as Steven Holder. Joel Kinnaman's Holder is the wrong-side-of-the-tracks, drug-dealing, arcade loitering high school skid who is constantly getting his ass kicked but who everyone likes and is pulling for. The portrayal by Kinnaman is so effortless and at the same time so multi-faceted (think of the heartbreaking scenes between Holder and his estranged son) it's no surprise that Kinnaman as revelation is the only positive about The Killing the haters are willing to concede.
- Seattle as Gravesend. I can't recall a scene in The Killing that wasn't shot on a grey or rainy day, or an exterior shot that didn't involve storm clouds, puddles or rain pattering on a car window at night. In the first chapter of Heart of Darkness, Conrad writes about the port town of Gravesend at the edge of the civilized world: "The air was dark above Gravesend, and farther back still seemed condensed into a mournful gloom." Seattle, for all its sleek, ultramodern and liberal trappings, is Gravesend. Foreboding and sinister.
- The Mother in Mourning. Michelle Forbes's portrayal of Mitch Larson coping with the death of her daughter is as wrenching a take on mourning a dead child that you will see on television. One of the more heartbreaking sub-plots of the series is how Mitch seems to only truly understand her teenage daughter after she's gone. What she learns is that Rosie was a lot like her at the same age, for better and for worse. Immediately prior to leaving home on her solitary road trip of self-loathing, self-discovery and ultimately healing, Mitch tells husband Stan (Brent Sexton), "every part of this place hurts me." Ouch.
- The Richmond Suicide Sub-plot. Richmond is, for a good chunk of the first two Seasons, the prime suspect in the Larson investigation. As it turns out, Richmond is himself mourning the death of his wife in a car accident for which he blames himself. As it also turns out, in the months following his wife's death Richmond developed a taste for high-end prostitutes as well as a penchant for, shall we say, oversharing with the girls and with one girl in particular. He also attempts suicide, tragically for him on the same night Rosie is killed. While all this deepens our sense of Richmond's loneliness, Richmond's journey out of depravity and misery (including being paralyzed from the waist down in a violent shooting that closes out Season One) offers the only glimmer of redemption that Sud seems willing to concede outside of Linden-Holder.
- Aunt Terry Did It. Didn't see it coming. And, like a great detective novel, once we know it was Aunt Terry (Terry Marek) all along, the clues along the way click in and add up. It was Terry who was always pushing Stan and Mitch to move on, not to mention offloading her guilt onto Mitch by insinuating that Mitch's lax and even derelict parenting was somehow responsible for Rosie's murder. She was consistently hostile to Linden and Holder. She was of course mixed up with the prostitution service Beau Soleil, and she tortured herself mercilessly for having surreptitiously gotten Rosie mixed up in that world. Most effectively, though, in the end it turns out that the Larson murder was contingent, unplanned and in some sense accidental. It was nothing more, or less, than a tragic split-second impulsive extension of Terry's delusional desperation to hold on to her john of a boyfriend, the meanie real estate developer Michael Ames (Barclay Hope). Pretty Woman anyone? Not quite. The cesspool swirls and swirls, Sud suggests, and no one is immune from the muck. The best we can do is figure out who did it, catch them, put them away, and move on to the next perp.
Season three of The Killing starts this Sunday on AMC. More Linden, more Holder, more nihilism, more killing. To quote Holder, "snap"!