In you want the Cliff Notes version, it’s here: could all be forgiven? In short, Season 1 started out strong, but after three episodes dropped off a cliff in quality. Starring Joel Kinnaman (the next “RoboCop“) and Mireille Enos (“World War Z” opposite Brad Pitt next year) as two Seattle detectives on the hunt for the killer of a teenage girl, this crime drama follows the effects the murder has on the family, the city, its election and the aforementioned homicide dicks investigating the case went from absorbing and addictive to banal and chasing its tail in almost 60 seconds flat.
Fast forward to season two’s premiere last night (and if you didn’t see the first season, we urge you to turn around right now: if you did, but didn’t watch last night, you’ll be ok). The murder of Rosie Larson (which wasn’t solved last season, much to the ire of audiences) is still obviously unsolved and last season’s cliffhanger was revisited: Darren Richmond (Billy Campbell), the Seattle city councilman, had been arrested in connection to the murder of the Larson girl. So in an act of retribution Belko Royce (Brendan Sexton III), the Larson family’s slow-witted, but loyal friend and longtime employee shoots Darren just moments after he’s snagged by the police.
(Ok, spoilers for the season premiere ahead ahead). Surprise, surprise, the councilman it turns out, is not dead — though the 2 hour show plays with the audience for at least one hour with a will-he or won’t-he survive scenario that’s pretty much suspense-free if you’re paying attention at all.
Soon, the charges against the councilman are dropped (which doesn’t do a lot for him, because now he’s paralyzed from the waist down) as detective Linden (Enos) discovers that one piece of damning evidence against him was faked. By who? Well, all signs point to it being an inside job by the police, but the show dances around this topic for two hours.
In fact, what made “The Killing” interesting — a micro and macro view of a murder (the family’s grief, the city’s reaction), plus the investigation into the teenage girl’s death — is now its biggest detriment. Like a lot of typical (and often frustratingly formulaic) TV narratives, the show is replete with tiny cliffhangers that the writers cut away from right when that storyline is getting interesting. Then they jump to a not as interesting storyline, build up the stakes a bit, and then bail just as you’re about to be fully engaged.
Again, this is nothing new and a tried and true formula for TV writing — one that this writer mostly despises, hence not watching a lot of episodic television — but “The Killing” is essentially playing with fire and more importantly opening demonstrating that they’ve barely heard or listened to many of the valid criticisms that both critics and audiences complained about in season one.
Full of increasingly frustrating red herrings and plot narratives that were akin to driving around in circles, season one was an “enough-already!” hair-pulling experience that had almost zero relief for viewers. Payoff, even in small amounts was hard to find and viewership sharply declined.
And while there were no annoying, now-predictable fake clues in this episode (or at least none that were apparent yet), the season premiere was one long jerk around waiting for what you already knew from about 10 minutes in. Linden (Enos) was hip to this conspiracy within the police department, but her partner Holder (Kinnaman) was not. Throw in some paranoia on her part to essentially divide them for two hours and, you, the viewer had to sit there and wait for them to get on the same page which didn’t happen until the end of the episode (and even then, not quite).
This is agonizingly painful writing for several reasons and the fact of the matter was it should have been either two separate episodes (or even better, one economically written episode with all the excess fat). In fact, if you look closely, you’ll see that this premiere was broken up into two acts, with different writers and directors in each (one of them helmed by acclaimed Polish director Agnieszka Holland, who directed a few last season as well). Essentially, they were two episodes crammed into one by AMC, trying to create some buzz for a “two hour premiere.” But long doesn’t equate with good, and last night was a painfully elongated arc. Another basic tenet of writing for TV or film was ignored all episode long: The characters are in the dark, and yet the audience fully know what’s going on (re: Enos and her discovery, and waiting for Holden and her to reunite on this case). This made for almost zero suspense the entire episode, making for one long, drawn-out, frustrating experience as nothing really coalesces and can be crystallized narratively until these two detectives are united.
In short, “The Killing” is playing the long tail game (like “The Wire“), and utilizing the short term playbook (all episodic TV). This writer is not sure where this season is headed exactly – ok yes, he does, the murder is just going to get solved near the end of the season, and then open a bigger, related pandora’s box – and more importantly, I’m not sure you or I should even care. Now this is exactly how the majority of audiences felt during the last season when viewership plummeted, but there were hopes from some that “The Killing” would realize its missteps and get back on track. If last night’s premiere is any indication, we may have a show that’s already DOA.