Detectives Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman) and Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) are assigned to work together on AMC's latest drama series,
Detectives Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman) and Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) are assigned to work together on AMC's latest drama series, The Killing. Chris Large/AMC
After watching the first two episode's of AMC's new crime drama The Killing, which aired last Sunday night (and will repeat this Sunday before the new episode), I felt like I'd gotten back from a great first date. There was so much promise! So much mystery! So many signs that I'm headed for a long and satisfying commitment!
(There's some discussion of a few parts of last week's kick-off episodes in what follows, so use your judgment if you haven't seen them yet and don't want to know anything.)
I'm tingling because so far, the storytelling is remarkably layered. Almost every scene forwards the plot — about a Seattle homicide detective named Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) and her attempt to solve the murder of a local teenage girl — but it also tells us something about the psychological state of the characters or the creepiness of their city.
In the pilot, for instance, we see Linden driving with Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman), the new detective who's supposed to replace her after she leaves to marry her boyfriend in California. (She's supposed to leave that very night, in fact.) As they drive, they discuss some expositional business, and then, for no apparent reason, Holder gives the double bird to a woman on the street. She flips him off, too, and Linden either doesn't notice or doesn't care.
Yet that moment doesn't play as comedy. It's kind of creepy, actually, because no one's face belies much emotion and because director Patty Jenkins keeps her camera moving slowly and steadily around the scene, observing the mundane conversation and the sudden obscenity with equal languor. You can imagine why Holder might hate this woman — he used to work in narcotics, so maybe she's a junkie — but you don't know for sure. The moment just hangs there, complicating the atmosphere.
To that end, I'm most interested by how the first two episodes treat Sarah. Despite being a seasoned detective and the obvious protagonist of the series, we're deluged with clues that she's alienated and sometimes even helpless in her environment.
For one thing, she's supposed to be taking her son to their wonderful new life in California, which means she's already detached from Seattle. In fact, it's only because her boss assigns her the murder on her last afternoon that she doesn't knock off early from work.
That's a pretty ridiculous plot device — who gets assigned a murder investigation on their last day at the office? — but it does underscore that Sarah doesn't always have the power to move as she pleases, despite being ready to go. It also alienates her from her boyfriend in California, whom we see planning for her now-delayed arrival. Right away, Sarah's in a kind of limbo, belonging nowhere yet obliged to two places.
And really, her alienation starts before that. Before we even know what's going on, the series opens with a fake-out, cross-cutting scene that recalls the buzzer-ringing sequence at the end of Silence Of The Lambs. Shots of Sarah jogging through the woods in the morning are cross-cut with shots of young Rosie Larson running and screaming through the woods at night. Eventually, Sarah notices a fleshy mound just off the trail. We assume it's a body, Rosie's body, but ... no. Instead, it's the carcass of a dead, bloated seal. Which ... ew. The scene tells us that Sarah can't always trust what she sees, and we can't either. It alienates us and discombobulates her, and since it's the opening salvo, it suggests we're in for an unsettling ride.
Just a few moments after she finds the seal, Sarah is fooled once again. This time, she's called to investigate a crime scene. She's walking through an old sewer pipe (or something), moving her flashlight across what seem to be blood spatters. Then she sees a figure hanging from a pipe, covered in plastic. When she pulls off the plastic, she finds ... Rosie's corpse? Nope. It's a a blow-up doll wearing a sign that says, "Bon Voyage, Linden!" Because this, you see, is Sarah's surprise going-away party. This not-actually-a-murder-scene madness that just happens to be hosted by a bunch of men, and a sex doll is supposed to be a treat.
To me, this is not a party that says, "We'll miss you." It's a party that says, "We don't want you to feel comfortable or welcome. At best, we want to scare you. And worst, we want you to compare yourself to this inflatable naked woman that you call Candy Cane."
And then? Sarah takes Candy Cane home, and her fiancee takes it with him back to California. This creepy, misogynistic symbol gets to her new house before she does.
The alienation continues from there: Holder seems determined to make fun of Sarah in front of her son, a local politician keeps treating her with cool disregard, etc. What will it all mean? Will this become a leitmotif about the way women are alienated in general? Will Sarah prove resilient in the face of this nutso behavior?
I'm dying to know, and that's why I'm booking the next date.
Mark Blankenship writes about pop culture at The Critical Condition.