If there was a prize for bleakest, starkest, most full throttle depressing show on television, AMC’s The Killing would take that prize no questions asked (The Tonight Show with Jay Leno would come in second maybe). This show has not even the faintest whiff of a sense of humor nor any color more vibrant than muted gray. It takes place in a town where it’s forever either raining or on the verge of raining, a town without a single ray of sunlight—that is to say, Seattle. Watching this show is simultaneously exciting and heart wrenching like watching your own house burn down or a lion chase down and kill a baby antelope. Faced with all this rape, murder, drowning, junkies, sociopaths, racism, cynicism, and deteriorating moral fiber for a whole hour, you may need a drink or two, so to help lighten the tension, here’s a fun drinking game I made up.
Take a drink if:
- Linden blows off her fiancée for the murder case.
- Mitch starts crying.
- Stan says something uncomfortably traumatic to the two boys regarding Rosie’s death.
- A teenager says something sociopathic. (Take a shot if it’s about being a sexual predator.)
- Photos of Rosie’s body are displayed.
- Holder says something tactless. (Take a shot if he offers a teenager pot.)
- Richmond’s campaign manager encourages an unethical strategy.
- You laugh at something that’s not supposed to be funny e.g. when the parents turn around in the police station and see a giant wall of gruesome photos of Rosie’s body.
- It’s raining.
- Linden belittles Holder. (Take a shot if she does it behind his back.)
- Mayor Adams says something malevolent.
- The police investigation inadvertently causes Rosie’s parents further trauma.
- Take a shot if it makes Mitch cry.
If you watch The Killing, you may also want to have a puppy/kitten present for cuddles. If you have any Lisa Frank paraphernalia, keep it nearby for intense scrutiny during commercials. Have ice cream, chocolate syrup, whipped cream, and, optionally, root beer available to repel feelings of hopelessness and despair. Have party poppers for confetti launching during particularly soul crushing scenes. Have a boom box ready to play Architecture in Helsinki should the world suddenly seem to lack any redeeming value. Do not invite over that guy who makes awkward jokes about killing himself. Do not invite over that girl who just got out of the “treatment center.” This show is not for them.
But however you choose to cope with The Killing’s cynical vision, it’s worth it for one of cable’s most substantive shows currently airing. Unlike the fast cuts, formulaic plots, and artificially swift pace of most detective dramas, The Killing slows the action down to a crawl, allowing for a long agonizing view of each detail of the case: a car hoisted ever so slowly out of a lake, water dripping off the sides, Mitch immersing herself in the bathtub to experience the feeling of drowning her daughter must have felt, or two boys flying a kite before their father tells them how their sister died. Instead of a blazing fast one-case-per-episode style, the show draws out the tension, lingers on the details, and shows the full ramifications of each revelation.
Now, this is old hat for pay cable. The Wire has already pioneered the route through which The Killing now sails, but for regular cable viewers, I would assert that this is probably one of the grimmest most realistic detective dramas ever. There’s no super hot detective lady with perfectly straight hair and caked on make-up, no wise-cracking techie with a forensics lab envied by NASA. There’s just a cold gray world with a steely eyed—yet still compassionate—detective, trying to solve a crime. It definitely advances the AMC oeuvre of gritty realistic serialized dramas which all seem to have cynical worldviews (in The Walking Dead, everyone in the world wants to kill the main characters), morally ambiguous characters (Don Draper, Walter White), and writing that rivals anything on pay cable—a serious achievement by the way considering the restrictions on sex, violence, and foul language.
As the show approaches its endgame for the first season, it’s now expanded its scope dramatically. The Rosie Larsen case is tied up with an FBI terrorist investigation that may or may not be motivated by prejudice against Muslims, and so even with a highly likely killer in her crosshairs, Linden is blocked from further pursuit. Councilman Richmond, meanwhile, has resorted to using his opponent’s dirty campaign tactics, dropping the whole saintly politician act perhaps for good. Rosie’s parents Stan and Mitch Larsen may be about to perpetrate some hardcore vigilante justice on Bennett. And schoolteacher and murder suspect Bennett Ahmed’s helping Mohammad, the man who may have killed Rosie—but probably didn’t if I had to guess—out of the country.
I’m excited to find out what happens, but I will probably need to watch some Food Party afterward.