Will The Killing Satisfy Us This Time Around?

Slate's Culture Blog
June 3 2013 10:32 AM

Will The Killing Satisfy Us This Time Around?

the_killing
Mireille Enos and Joel Kinnaman

Photo courtesy of AMC

The Killing returned to AMC last night, having been given another chance to make good on its early promise (and that of its Danish progenitor, Forbrydelsen). As if to prove that the show has learned from its previous mistakes (i.e., taking two seasons to answer the question, “Who killed Rosie Larsen?”), the show’s creators have taken pains to point out that this time around, the case—a sordid tale of street kids and a sadistic serial killer—will be wrapped up over the course of 10 episodes.

June Thomas June Thomas

June Thomas is a Slate culture critic and editor of Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section. 

When Season 3 begins, Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) has left the police force and Seattle proper. She’s living out on Vashon Island and working a minimum-wage job on the ferry system. She’s jogging every morning and co-habiting with a younger lover, but she’s clearly got a long way to go before she’s healed from the damage that police work has done to her psyche and to her family. (Her teenage son is now living in Chicago with his father.) Naturally, though, she’s pulled back in to that injurious world when her former partner Stephen Holder (the magnificent Joel Kinnaman) comes out to inquire about an old case of hers that bears a remarkable resemblance to a fresh murder he’s investigating.

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Over at ThinkProgress, Alyssa Rosenberg accurately describes Season 3’s Linden as “broken.” “To a certain extent,” Rosenberg writes, “Linden’s reaction”—seeking an island refuge from murder and mayhem—“is the rational one—and it mirrors one that I think many viewers at home are experiencing, feeling that they can’t make emotional commitments to characters who will end up brutalized.” Like Linden, Rosenberg adds, “maybe we need to walk away entirely.”

Why do we viewers subject ourselves to shows that focus on serial killers? Even if they’re good—like the excellent BBC drama The Fall, which is now available on Netflix—we’re choosing to be entertained by the disturbing psychoses of cold-blooded killers.

It seems to me that The Killing is offering its own answer to this question: We watch because we’re hopeless addicts.

Each one of The Killing’s main characters—Linden, Holder, convicted serial killer Ray Seward (Peter Sarsgaard)—is an addict. If there’s any difference between cops and criminals, it’s that the cops are at least trying to shake off their bad habits. The first thing Holder, a recovering drug addict, asks Linden, after not seeing her for a year, is whether she still smokes. Both claim they’ve given up cigarettes, but we see them lighting up soon enough, to cope with stress or, in Holder’s case, to help with an investigation. Seward can’t stop killing—even from a death-row cell, he bashes a man’s head in just for the thrill of it—and the good guys have lost control of their commitment to justice. Holder has a great girlfriend, but he’s in the office at all hours, unable to stop thinking about the case. And Linden, having finally introduced some balance into her life, is already well on her way to being sucked back into the old, familiar dysfunction.

If we viewers are addicts, the best way to break a connection with a show that’s bringing us down is to go cold turkey. If you managed to avoid the first two episodes of Season 3, you may have gotten that monkey off your back. If you watched, chances are you’ll be there until the end, feeling bad about being entertained by rape and murder until they reveal whodunit in the season’s final frames.