Tuned In

The Killing Watch: This Is What It Feels Like

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Spoilers for last night’s The Killing coming up:

After the two-part premiere of The Killing last Sunday, AMC’s long-form murder procedural is settling in to investigate its title crime at its own deliberate pace. As to the investigation itself, there are too many questions and I have too few theories to judge that plot so far. (The biggest weakness, from my viewing, is the connection of the Richmond campaign to the murder. Presumably that connection is greater that simply the coincidental “stealing” of a campaign car, yet so far our sense of that is entirely situational, that is, we know or suspect there’s some bigger connection simply because the series makes the campaign so prominent. So while it’s obvious why the candidate should care—as he’s told, he’s exposed to a “Chappaquiddick” or “Chandra Levy” tag in a case that has overtones of both—we don’t yet know why we should care.)

So far, though, the most gripping—and sometimes hard to take—project of The Killing is to reverse the audience’s desensitization to murder itself as a plot device.

Before TV procedurals were developed, there was a long history of mysteries and stories that treated murder as, if not a game, then a puzzle: something, that is, other than the snuffing out of the life of someone who has dreams and memories and people who loved them. (The hard-boiled Holder, on this show, is maybe kind of a stand-in for the view of murder as simply a tough problem to be solved.) It’s a finger-snap, it’s a jogger tripping over a body in Central Park in the opening minute of Law & Order. Oooh, a murder! How exciting!

But murder generally—and this murder especially—is not a discrete, momentary act. It’s the culmination of brutality and terror (and in this case sexual violence) that leads up to the killing, and it’s the beginning of a world of agony for the survivors. Last night’s episode, “El Diablo,” explored that on the investigative front by filling in the picture of Rosie’s life and the last hours of it. After their questioning of Lyndon Johnson Rosales, Linden and Holder are led back to The Cage, and the discovery of the horrid sex/rape video adds a further layer of ugliness to the crime.

You could argue whether the tape depicts rape or rough sex (it looks like rape and I believe is meant to look that way) and, I suppose, whether the video has even been altered as a frame-up or red-herring device. Either way, though, it’s chilling, and whether the girl in the video is in fact Rosie or not, the video clearly involves her, and it’s another sign of the amoral, sadistic world she was mixed up in. (A fact that has to be frightening to Linden, mother of a son who himself seems to be losing his bearings.)

On the Larsens’ front, meanwhile, Rosie’s family have to face that horrible question raised by the sons as dad makes pancakes: How did she die? Linden has tried to cushion the blow by lying to the Larsens that Rosie was unconscious when the car went into the water, but they’re not idiots; even if they can’t discuss it, they know that their daughter probably not only died, but died in a terrible, agonizing way. The scene in which Mitch holds herself under the tub seemed to me not like a suicide attempt, but a torturous attempt to make herself understand what Rosie must have experienced. And because she cannot let herself drown, she can never know, and knows she can never know, and knows she will therefore need to keep asking for the rest of her life.

I don’t doubt that this is just to much for some viewers to want to revisit every week, but Michelle Forbes in particular makes Mitch’s terrible journey compelling. Like her, The Killing spent this week pushing deeper, trying to understand as much of a senseless crime as it can.