Any new endeavor, not just a television show, usually spends the first part of its existence trying to actively justify itself. Very rarely do you see a show dispense with the self-promotion and rely on its potentially controversial take on a hugely popular genre. But watching this episode, it’s clear that everyone involved in the production is doing just that. There are no justifications for its differences; the show simply lets itself stand on its own. On a show of lesser quality, this would very easily lead to disaster. But “The Killing” is a different beast, and already four episodes into the season it’s hard to find reasons to doubt it.
This is most evident in the pacing of the main plots in the show. No detail is unnoticed, no personality conflict is too small to bring up, no secret death cannot unearth. This is pretty clear in the first several minutes, when it’s revealed that the girl in the video isn’t in fact Rosie, but Sterling. But the show takes its time, and even though you can feel the plot evolve you are never exactly certain where the writers are going to take it.
The Richmond campaign is a great example. It’s not quite clear how the campaign is involved with the murder, and it seems likely that the main characters aren’t either, but the revelation at the end of the episode points to a hugely controversial and prominent link to the campaign that could damage it even further. These plot developments aren’t rushed, and when they arrive they feel well earned.
The biggest reason that the show is able to do so is the singular focus on character. The title of the episode doesn’t just refer to the line in the book that Bennet, the teacher shows Mitch, or that is in the last line of the letters than Linden discovers in her room, but to Rosie’s death and how it’s reflected on her character. The audience never sees her death directly, but you simply cannot escape it and from the secrets it reveals. From Richmond’s personal attachment through the currently mysterious experience with her wife, Linden’s currently unexplained attachment to the case, to Sterling’s reaction to Mitch’s grief and her reason for going down to the Cage with Jasper and Chris. I fully expect each character to have their character tested, and things they thought buried unearthed because of this murder by the end of the season.
Another thing that I noticed looking back at the episode is the mostly unspoken and extremely realistic background thread about socioeconomic status. The comment from the Lieutenant to Holder, the heartbreaking scene at the house with Stanley and his character, Richmond’s upper class childhood, the involvement with crime and youth movements and the relationship between teacher and student are all manifestations of the characters’ struggles with the socioeconomic realities of their lives. I wish I could touch more on each of these dynamics, but these reviews are already too long.
Very few shows so early in their existence are so unpretentious and willing to stand on its own merits. What allows The Killing to do that is its unrelenting portrayal of the human cost of a murdered life. In shows like “NCIS”, murder is often ephemeral, simply because of the nature of the show. But in “The Killing”, like in real life, the cost goes far beyond the life taken.
Rating – 8/10