This afternoon, Entertainment Weekly's Ken Tucker makes the argument that AMC's once-ballyhooed but quickly reviled The Killing — which failed to solve the central murder mystery by the end of the first season, as they sorta promised they would — has lost much of its mojo in its currently airing second season. We think he has it backward.
Tucker says that he now watches the show simply to see if the show's writers "can dig themselves out of their plot holes and get this contraption up and running again," which sort of implies that the show was ever up and running. The first season, which was frustratingly dominated by a suspect who proved to be a complete red herring, was a real muddle, a meandering and downright dull example of why figuring it out as you go along isn't always the best approach to this kind of show. So if Tucker was writing about The Killing in general, we could mostly agree. As a series it's disappointing. But he's talking about the second season specifically, which, to our mind, has actually been significantly better.
The show is still far from perfect. Tucker is right to criticize the overabundance of Brent Sexton's angry, grieving dad stuff. And he's right that the Billy Campbell getting paralyzed storyline is an odd distraction (though that may have reentered the main flow of the plot last night). But beyond that, the murder mystery has taken on satisfying new angles — troubled boyfriend with a secret! questions of paternity! the Polish mob! — that have almost turned the show into an extended, somber, elegant Law & Order: SVU episode. The show's chief mistake last season was to go for grim and gritty realness and only half-deliver. Nothing is worse than melodrama pretending it's verite. But in the past few episodes, the show seems to have loosened up a bit. They don't seem concerned that the mystery is getting big and lugubrious and operatic. The show's heavy-handedly gray palette and insisting music suggest that the show still takes itself pretty seriously, but it's at least gotten a little more relaxed in terms of story, which is where it really counts.