Is 'The Killing' Still Worth Watching?

By John Hendel

Assessing the new AMC show, now that the initial hype has passed

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AMC


The Killing's first five weeks have divided audiences. People wanted to like AMC's new show, and for the most part, they have, based on the impressive ratings and generally positive press. No one would suggest that the show is a departure from the network's brand of smart, compelling television, built on new classics like Mad Men and Breaking Bad.

But a small band of dissenters has voiced objections. Is The Killing too bleak? Too clichéd? A Twin Peaks ripoff or a procedural that's simply too humorless—or maybe just too full of red herrings? Or maybe it's the characters that ultimately hurt the show: Holder's streetwise accent and attitude, the political types that hover on the periphery. Or perhaps the tonal, sometimes even tribal music. Or could it even be the acting? And there's only so much sympathy we can feel for the two Larsen boys, after all. Wait, isn't that California ploy a little contrived? And the slowness... These criticisms raise the question of whether the initial enthusiasm for the show was mere hype and whether it's worth watching. Has it ever been truly worthwhile at all?

To answer simply: Yes, even if several of these objections are true, The Killing is a good show.

This week's episode, which zeroes in on possible suspects more dramatically than any previous week, creates new momentum. Credible evidence continues to pile up against both Rosie's teacher Bennet Amhmed and now his wife (and former student) Amber. The detectives even wonder whether Amber may have been the one to kill Rosie in jealousy, with Bennet assisting in cover-up. Witnesses report seeing Bennet carrying a body, and another scene of Amber, scared of detectives and clutching a weapon, certainly doesn't suggest innocence.

The show has thankfully lost the need to introduce a new scary suspect with each episode. Instead, this week's let the story of Bennet and Amber unfold with new shades of complexity. Rosie's young English teacher may well be guilty to some degree. All his recent talks with detectives come across as babbling, contradictory, at times outright deceptive. He may not have been the one to finally kill Rosie, but he's very possibly a part of the murder's cover-up. His hands are hardly clean, and the show is better for having developed a real suspenseful arc and sticking to it, expanding on its drama rather than creating transparently straw-men suspects to knock down.

The Killing still delivers all the narrative grace and psychological thoughtfulness alluded to in its initial, heartbreaking debut. The characters, from Holder to Sterling to Stan, provide enough original and deft characterization worthy of weekly attention. There's no shortage of excellent moments (Stan angrily lifting boxes, Richmond's brief run-in with Linden, Holder's tragically shabby suit). The varying narratives also tie even closer together. Councilman Richmond's connections to Bennet through his All-Stars outreach program create concrete problems for the mayoral candidate, and his opponent even brings up Rosie Larsen's murder in their debate.

The real question the show leaves us with this week—will Rosie's father Stan attempt to kill Bennet? The episode ends (to a fitting tune by Neko Case) as Stan learns that the police have targeted Bennet, and he proceeds to drive the unsuspecting teacher home. Stan's overflowing grief may cause him to kill—a move that would propel the remaining several episodes forward. His reputed dark past suggests he's capable of ending lives, after all.

That possible murder, however, seems unlikely, based on The Killing's track record. The show does have a habit of leaving the audience with the juiciest of suspects or scenarios, only to magically remove the tension immediately in the next episode. Many of the concerns about the show's quality are valid enough and may become more significant after the first season concludes and the Rosie Larsen case is resolved. But as this week shows, The Killing has begun to look past the Suspect of the Week to explore new forms of conflict and suspense as the characters collide.

Questions of the Week: What explains the strange allusions (dropping money, his friend in the car, the celibacy) to Holder's past—could the former narcotics agent be a former addict? How will Sarah's fiancé Rick respond to her skipping out on California a second time? What role will Stan's former gambling problem play in weeks to come?

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2011/05/is-the-killing-still-worth-watching/238082/