04 April 2011

TV Series: The Killing

The Killing on AMC http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1637727/

Who killed Rosie Larson?

Season 1 summary:
I liked how the season started. Initially I didn't mind the false starts and dead ends the detectives encounter during their investigation, having to back up and work a different lead. But more and more, as the season progressed, events and people and their actions and motivations started seeming more random or not thought out or wasteful distractions from the question at hand. I ended up watching just to get the mystery solved. But no such luck by season finale. 
And the person I suspected is the perp just did something that should completely eliminate them as a suspect. If they end up the perp after all they better have a good explanation for their actions.

I gave this show all the chances I could give it.  I ended the season feeling that the expectations I formed during the first two episodes weren't met.
There's at least one more season in the works, and it's almost irritating that in order to get the question answered I'd end up having to keep watching.

I'll be so glad when "Breaking Bad" and "Walking Dead" get back on air.

Season 2 Summary:
Pretty much like season 1 with lots of dead ends, other things going on in characters' lives that rarely contributes anything to my enjoyment of the show because I just don't care at this point. In the season 2 final episode we do find out who killed Rosie Larson.  Thankfully.

Honestly they could have compressed this whole story into a single season. There is a lot of stuff that could have been shown more succinctly. They could have covered two or three days per episode, cut back on a lot of the complicating circumstances. Heck - the whole Mitch leaving her family and coming back just in time for the reveal could have been cut out - her being gone and Stan macking on his sister-in-law added nothing to the show and, like many other things shown us, get dropped and forgotten quickly.

If the Killing comes back I hope they change the format to a single murder solved per season and a bit more succinct storytelling. I liked the show for the performances and settings and production quality, but was really not liking the dead slow pace with characters and storylines that dead end and are forgotten as quickly as they appear.  It was a mixed experience.

Season 3:As of this posting Season 3 just started. 4 episodes in and Season 3 "The Killing" is a much better show. It's much more watchable, much more interesting, paced better, and has tighter side story development. And, as with seasons 1 and 2, the cast is doing a great job. Can't blame the cast for seasons 1 and 2.
I hope this trend continues through the end of the season.
And, hopefully, the story arc is wrapped by season's end this time. That would keep the show more watchable and more interesting.

Season 1 as it unfolds notes:
Episode 1 notes:
It's a new mystery / whodunit / almost police procedural series on AMC, based on a Danish series that's been a big hit on the BBC. Based on how good the premier was, it isn't just a way to fill time while waiting for AMC's Breaking Bad to start its next season. This could be a series worth watching on its own merit.

The premier is actually the pilot episode and the second episode of the season. On homicide detective Linden's last day on the job before she moves away, a bloody sweater and an ATM card are discovered in a field. While the cops try to find the previous occupant of said sweater, homicide detectives Linden and her replacement Holder track down the name on the card.  But as the cops track down leads and eventually find a car with a high-school girl's body in the trunk the mystery doesn't get clearer, it deepens.

These first two episodes introduce us to the major characters, the two detectives, a City Councilman running for Mayor and some of his staff, the parents of the dead girl, a couple of the high school acquaintances and a teacher. Most of those connections are obvious, and the connection for the councilman - one of his campaign cars was stolen and the body was found in its trunk. The characters don't seem to be two-dimensional cutouts to fill archetype slots, instead they seem to have depth with more revelations under the surface we haven't seen yet, even at this early point in the series. Discovering what makes them all tick might be as interesting as the solution to the mystery.

The premier hooked me almost right away. The show's pace of doling out clues here and there, leading us to either dead-ends or potential breakthroughs just make it that more compelling. Each episode seems to cover a day's worth of the investigation, by episode end we're left with a cliffhanging clue to compel us to watch the next episode for the answer. When we get to the next episode we find the clue gets followed up on, was a red herring, and then we get a new potential case-busting clue by the end of that episode. We as viewers are flies on the wall, we find out details as the detectives do. The cast, the locations, the crew, the look - all handled well. It sucks you in and keeps you wanting more.  Stylistically it reminds me of the Swedish/UK series Wallander starring Kenneth Branagh, although The Killing is tuned a little more toward American audience sensibilities.

If it helps, Detective Linden is played by Mireille Enos, who you might remember as Kathy Marquart and her twin Jodean on Big Love. There's a few other instantly recognizables, including Michelle Forbes. The cast are doing well in their roles so far.

One thing, however. If this were a mini-series I would know up-front there is an end in sight.  This is a series, so I don't know where it will go. Will we ever find out who the killer is? If we do, where does the series go from there?  If it follows the original series I suspect we'll get a solution by the end of season one, with a new mystery for season two. Hopefully that or something similar will be the case. I don't want to be strung along for years.

If you don't have the premium movie channels (HBO, Starz, Cinemax, Showtime, etc) at your disposal, but do have AMC, you don't have to miss out on all the new series that are coming out.  This one is good and worth watching if you like a story-arc mystery/whodunit TV series that keeps you engaged and isn't neatly wrapped up in each episode.

Update:  Six episodes in to season one. This series is still going good, keeping the viewer guessing.  They've settled into a pattern of investigate something, figure out it was a false lead, leave a red herring to sniff out next episode. However, episode Four's red herring of the week (RHOTW) stuck around for another episode, then another, then another tangential lead got added. So just when the series seemed to be getting in to a RHOTW rut they changed it up a bit and strung us along a couple of episodes on the same fish.
But that isn't a problem. They keep the investigation moving and we as viewers are hanging on any hints at resolution or dismissal. What enhances the effect that compels us to watch each week is the little drips and drops of our various major characters' histories. Histories that make them more interesting people. And as viewers we're compelled to try to tie how those histories shape their actions today.
Thus far I like the series. I still want to know who killed the girl, I'm intrigued by trying to figure out what drives the characters, and that keeps me watching.
I realize that Rosie Larson is the MacGuffin that keeps the series moving, that ultimately the series isn't about her. But I accept that. It's all about the ride. And so far the ride is worth it.

Update: Skipping eps 7 and 8. Lots of going nowhere fast.

Update: Nine episodes in:
Whoa. with that beating shit just got real. the series title just got meta. Or not.
Then again, we've been led down so many false paths it's approaching tedious. Knowing there are more episodes meant that before the reveal I'd already put together that the missing Somali girl-Bennet-Mohammed connection was going to be a big stinky red herring that ends up that the two guys were spiriting the girl out of country to save her from something or other.  Still haven't figured out how exactly the political race factors into the whole story to warrant all the screen time it is getting. Right now the political thread just feels like a distracting time filler that takes away from things like exploring the Larson family dynamics and history, the Linden character's history, the Holder character's history.
Maybe the series is giving us all this extraneous crap to keep us as in the dark about the real killer as the cops are. I'm pretty sure we've already seen the killer, I have my suspicion who it is, but we aren't really given anything to really single him out at this point. Just behavioral clues.

Tedious as it's beginning to feel, I also think this series is still a lot better than worse series that have been on air much longer. I'll keep watching - I want to see where this goes.

Update: Ten episodes in
slapped by the next red herring. maybe?
Three more episodes and season one is over. If the Rosie Larson killing isn't solved by the end of this season this series is going to be irritating.  The 'episode is a day in the investigation' format is fine if they're going to have it solved in 2 weeks or less, otherwise the wheel spinning is going to go beyond tedious.  Despite the interesting little peeks into the major character pasts there isn't enough movement. The Killing's lack of movement is almost approaching the opposite of "24" - where "24" packs more crap into a 24 hour period than feasible, especially the seasons where Jack gets knifed, shot, whatevered to the brink of death yet he recovers and kicks ass in mere hours.
I like The Killing as a concept, and I liked how it felt out of the gate. I want to give it a chance and hope it gives us something to make slogging through the middle-to-end series of episodes worth the wait.

Update: Eleven episodes in
The investigation comes to a standstill. We don't see anyone but Linden and Holder and spend the whole 'day' trying to track down Linden's kid, then end of the episode punts the Rosie Larson investigation in a new direction.  We got to learn a little bit more about Linden, Holder had some great lines, and the two of them seemed to really bond as partners. At least some character development happened.
It's looking like there's two more episodes - #12 and #13 - I hope that the Rosie Larson case is solved by then.

Update: Skipping ep 12. Nothing real important happens except to present what is probably another great big fat red herring.

Update: Season one finale (ep 13)

Season 2 as it unfolds notes:

Okay. I can't help but keep watching this show. I made a point to not read up on its original Danish series so I don't spoil this incarnation. I want to know the answer, I want to see if it makes sense in the end.
Odd side note - it is exactly one year to the day from my first Season 1 commentary that I start this commentary on Season 2.
I watched the first season's final three episodes to re-familiarize myself with the show before the season 2 premier. Kind of a mistake as I only needed to see the final two episodes. I didn't read the schedule ahead of time to see that they were both contained in one two-hour episode, thus wasted an hour re-watching the 11th episode. Perhaps it wasn't so much a waste in that it reminded me why I got so frustrated last season in the first place. Frustrated because I just don't give a shit about Linden's kid. Yeah, I want to know some more about her back story, the one that keeps getting alluded to, but I don't care about what's going on with her kid or her ex.  If she just gave custody over to her ex and I never hear about the kid again I'd be happy. But I don't see that happening any time soon.

Season 2's first episode was actually two episodes mashed together in to a 2 hour broadcast. That's fine enough for me. It answered some of the dangling questions left by the season 1 finale, opened a couple more cans of worms, expanded the breadth of potential conspiracy that may or may not be another big red herring.
But I'm prepared. I survived season 1 (though I didn't get a T-shirt or GetGlue sticker to show for it).
The show continues a "one day per episode" pace, so we are actually only about two weeks in to the investigation. And a lot has happened in those two weeks, and a lot didn't happen in those two weeks and we were forced to watch it not happen anyway.

I have to reluctantly admit that yes, I am hooked enough to speculate on story direction and a desire to know answers that I'm willing to sit through other stuff that doesn't matter to me and seems to drag the story down. This two-episode premier did just that, caused more speculation and desire to want to know answers, so I'll keep watching.  It also shut down a couple of herrings left on the hooks from last season.

I'll try to be less grumpy this time.

Update: Season 2, 3 episodes in:

I'll try to be less grumpy this time. Why did I write that? I really should have known better than to make a statement like that.
I'll amend that. How about, "I'll try to be more amused by this slow motion paint-drying experience."
Let's see if that works.
We've been put on the trail of a new possible group of suspects, still follow the story of people eliminated as suspects, watch the mother of the deceased Rosie Larson continue her irrational behavior with self-inflicted poor decision making spree across the Pacific Northwest, catch glimpses of Linden's terrible and boring relationship with her son. It's endless. At this point Holder is the most interesting story arc.
I still haven't figured out how Linden could finally finish the quitting of the police force she started in episode 1 of season 1, get on a plane to be gone forever, throw a fit so bad she's removed from said plane and be back to work without having to do anything more than show up at the station. One would think mounds of paperwork and weeks of wrangling, especially now that there's new folks in charge after her old boss was 'retired' for allowing the investigation to be so botched up.
And we're only 16 days in to the investigation.
In that time Rosie's dad has beat the crap out of a suspect, been to jail, been bailed out of jail, and is now getting re-mixed-up with the mob he left so long ago.
Rosie's mom insisted her hubby beat the crap out said suspect, then blames him for doing so and going to jail, then shut down to the point where she abandoned her family, starts driving with no direction, fantasizes about her dead daughter after seeing a hitchhiker of similar age on the road, forces herself to one-night-stand a random textbook salesman after suppressing her initial (and probably only rational thought in recent memory) 'wtf am I doing' response.
Meanwhile in that same 16 days Rosie's dad's employee has beat the crap out of a rock while Rosie's dad beat the crap out of the suspect, shot a different suspect, then shot himself. At least his arc is done, but I'm sure he'll still linger on in spirit.
Councilman Rocketman has been around the block a bit, is pretty much eliminated completely as a suspect, had an active and probably participating interest as a Beau Soleil prostitution client, got shot, is paralyzed in the hospital, stabbed his leg deep to confirm he can't feel anything below the waist after he didn't realize the cute nurse had grabbed his junk to swap out his catheter until after she was done.
Linden has moped about, tracked down leads to their dead ends, lost track of her kid, crap I don't even wanna talk about it any more.
There's plenty of side things that were brought up then lost track of during the course of investigation.
All said, most of the cast is doing well in their parts considering what they have to work with.
Yeah, I'll keep watching. I'm just going to have to enjoy it for reasons more akin to schadenfreude.
I'm actually having more fun reading the weekly commentary on the Onion's AV Club about the show.

Update: Season 2, Ep 4:
Probably the best cold open this series has delivered in a while. I was almost excited to watch the rest of the show, but that settled down.
It feels like the story is almost starting to move again, though I'm sure the latest fish on a hook is just another red herring. The show had a couple of amusing moments too.
I will reiterate that the cast does great in their parts. The technical aspects of direction, camera work, settings, all top notch.

Update: Season 2, Eps 5, 6:
The series is back to its old tricks. Not much movement. Basically a whole lot of "yada, yada, yada".

To date significant things: Rosie was killed. After the councilman was shot and in the hospital someone left her backpack in front of the Larsen's home, not only exonerating the councilman but lending a possible personal connection/motive to the crime. Holder was smart enough to put his own backpack to the lab in as evidence to out the first police chief's obstruction to the case, but only told Linden. I dunno or dunremember how or if they resolved that pesky 'chain of evidence' thing that would result, but it was smart on Holder's part to do so at the time.
And that's about it.

Mitch (Rosie's mom) is still out and about. Her keying in on the hitchhiker as a surrogate for her dead Rosie backfired as I imagined it would.

Mere days after being shot and crippled Councilman Rocketman has gone from near death to plumbing his most desperate lowest lows and peeing himself in public to back in the saddle and on track to be elected mayor.

Earlier I likened watching this show to watching paint dry. That's probably the wrong analogy.  Perhaps a more accurate analogy would be  watching a glacier calve icebergs. Here we sit hoping that at some point a big ol' iceberg will bust off this glacier. Up to now it's been sitting in the cold watching little chunks of ice falling off in to the water. Perhaps by the end of the season a giant berg will bust off with great cracking and groaning and splashing.

Update: Season 2, Eps 7-10
Yeah, I didn't bother writing anything about these. Barely anything happened except for Holder's getting committed to the insane hospital ward and a little exposition on that previous case that drove her nuts the first time.

Update: Season 2, Ep 11
Thank you "The Killing". Finally some real movement on almost all fronts. We find out for sure if Rosie's dad killed Rosie's friend-that's-a-boy's dad and what the repercussions of that action are. We find out about Mitch, who we haven't seen much of lately. We find out a little more (that is actually helpful) about the real casino connection, the casino connection to the waterfront project, the mayor's connection, Councilman Rocketman's campaign, his alibi for the night Rosie was killed, all sorts of stuff.
Yes. Real movement that looks to finally begin paying off in the final two episodes of the season. If the final episodes pay off big I'm sure many folks will forgive them for jerking them around for two freaking seasons. I still think they could've told the story in one season. There's a lot of things they showed us up to this point that don't seem to have any bearing one way or another on the story.
Still - it's going to end. And that's the best part. I just hope it ends well.

Update: Season 2, Final episodes (12,13):
We FINALLY find out who killed Rosie. Yay. It ties the threads of story together between the mayoral race, the candidates and campaign workers, the casino, the extended Larson family and their past, who did what when and how everything culminates in Rosie's death.

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