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The Killing – The Jungle/That You Fear Most Review: Light on Plot, Heavy on Characterization

It doesn’t rain every day in Seattle. Apparently, the Killing writers did some research during hiatus and located that fascinating weather tidbit. The new season of the crime drama retains the sepia-toned shots of the last two, but not the endless tsunami conditions. We’ll get back to that. First, some murder-related info. Seasons 1 and 2 of The Killing took a personal, relatively simple murder and made it seem expansive, fleshing out the colorful, nuanced (and sometimes maddening) world around Rosie Larsen in order to ferret out her killer, illustrating in the process the destruction of her family and the corruption inherent in Seattle politics and the local Indian tribe. But the Larsen case at times felt claustrophobic, and the focus on Rosie’s family became tiresome. The writers are clearly charting a different path this time around, and have chosen a more expansive case on which to focus this season. In contrast to the Larsen case, this season’s murder mystery is a larger, more detailed case, with multiple victims. The challenge to the writers, then, is to personalize it, and to make the viewers care. The first and second episodes of season 3 manage this feat to a limited degree. It’s relatively difficult, after a hiatus, to introduce us to new characters while reminding us why we care about the old ones, and unfortunately, I spent more time this episode wondering about why Linden is wasting her time working a minimum wage job and why Holder has succumbed to police department bureaucracy than I did getting to know the colorful tableau of homeless teenagers and death row inmates who inhabit the new, somewhat improved world of The Killing.


Note: When I said it doesn’t rain the entire episode, I meant that literally. It still rains a lot in this fictional Seattle, but a few scenes without a torrential downpour are appreciated.


Let’s get into it. The basic murder storyline is this: a 14-year-old prostitute named Ashley has been killed. And when I say killed, I mean had her throat slit so violently that her head is barely hanging on. It turns out Ashley was part of a loose community of homeless teens, some of whom sell themselves on the streets for cash, while others steals, squat, and use language that would never fly on network TV. Our tribe of teens includes Kallie, whose mother rivals Linden for lack of mothering skills. Said mother won’t allow poor Kallie to live in her house because her lousy boyfriend is more important. Our one visit with the newly-crowned Mother of the Year trades in all measure of stereotypes: smoking, drinking, tight clothes, and the requisite crappy boyfriend, who’s really sweet to her, honest. Yeah, sure. Kallie’s one real friend is Bullet, a lesbian who has some amount of street smarts, which are useful when you sleep outside, prey to anyone who walks by. Bullet is in love with Lyric, a sweet idiot whose loser boyfriend, Twitch, promises to take her to Hollywood, where he’s going to become a model. Um, right. In addition to Twitch’s propensity for lying, he’s also a drug addict on probation. I’m not entirely clear about whether or not Kallie and Bullet are hookers, though Lyric definitely is, and probably Twitch, too. But in any case, Kallie goes missing and Bullet sets out to find her. Here’s hoping Kallie's not a victim of the serial killer we’re tracking (but she probably is).

The KillingA word or two about the teen storyline that’s sure to become a hallmark of the brand-new season 3. We have four main characters to get to know, which makes getting to know any of them rather difficult. Seeing Kallie’s lousy “’home” life is pretty heart-rending, and Bullet’s affected toughness is tempered by an obvious sweetness and a loyalty to Kallie. But aside from those aspects, the teen storyline is the least interesting, which is unfortunate given how directly it ties into the murders that underpin the entire season. Part of my dissatisfaction with this particular facet of the storyline probably stems from how thoroughly unlikeable Lyric and Twitch are. Lyric comes off (certainly on purpose) as a painfully naïve moron, and Twitch is loathsome, particularly during the scene in which he spends all of their money and then tells Lyric to go work to earn them some scratch. But seeing as how this episode serves as a set-up for the rest of the season, I’m hopeful this happy couple will get some kind of background to flesh them out. I have to ask: why did it take nearly an hour to learn these kids’ names? Writing “the long-haired teen” is really time-consuming, and it made the teens seem less accessible. Also, the scene in which poor Bullet, looking for her friend, is raped by a despicable loser who stalks the teens, is really unnecessary and goes on for way too long.


Holder is assigned to the case, which is good news for the victim, but unfortunately, we’ve got to put up with Holder’s crass partner, Carl Jablonski, to get our Holder fix. Sigh. But Holder isn’t stuck with Jablonski alone. He recognizes some similarities between the murder of poor Ashley and an old case of Linden’s – the case that caused our heroine to require psychiatric care. The victim in the older case, Tricia Seward, was a mother and hooker who was (supposedly) killed by her husband, who left her body in the house, where their young son was forced to remain for six days before someone found him. When Holder realizes the parallels between the two cases, he goes to visit his old partner, who he apparently hasn’t talked to in a year. In the time they’ve been apart, Holder has become quite the career officer, wearing a suit and preparing for the sergeant’s exam. Holder still has the brusque, ghetto speaking style we've come to love, but he sounds more polished and a lot more confident. Holder also has a girlfriend. I’m betting it’s easier to date when you don’t wear the same unwashed hoodie day in and day out.

The Killing Linden claims to have no interest in helping Holder, which is of course an obvious lie. She’s left the force, as we know, and since a girl’s gotta eat, she’s working a menial job on the Vashon Ferry. Jack is still living with his dad in Chicago, but he visits his mother during the episode and they have an actual conversation (I know!), in which he tells her he wants her to move to Chicago so they can see each other more often. Don’t worry – we’re talking about Linden here, and she reverts to our old tight-lipped protagonist quickly. She’s improved as a mother, that much is clear, but she’s still Linden. I must interject to say that I’m really hoping we’re not going to have to suffer through some lame “Linden might move away!” plot. We had one of those in season 1, and no Killing viewer is stupid enough to believe that gloomy Linden would ever leave the Pacific Northwest. When the episode begins, Linden is dating a co-worker, but when she finds her interest in the old case reignited, she dispatches with him quickly. ‘Cause of course, we can’t have Linden happy. It makes sense, I suppose. Some of the qualities that make Linden difficult: her precision, her meticulousness, her attention to detail, make her a great police officer. But that dedication to a case, even at her own expense, has got to be Hell on a relationship, right?


Which brings us to the last thread of our new season. Ray Seward, death row inmate, and possible innocent, was convinced for the murder of his wife, Tricia (the victim from Linden’s old case). Linden and her former partner, Skinner, were feeling pretty confident that they’d got their guy – until poor Ashley turns up dead. Seward has been transferred to death row, his execution imminent, and he’s weighing the pros and cons of lethal injection v. hanging. Peter Sarsgaard is awesome. I mean, I already knew that, but his turn as Seward is only cementing my love. It would be easy to play Seward as a wrongly-convicted man with a heart of gold, and Seward may be innocent of the crime for which he’s being executed, but Sarsgaard doesn’t take the easy way out. He plays Seward as a laidback prisoner concealing a simmering anger beneath his placid surface. Whether he’s angry because he’s about to have his neck snapped for no reason or whether he really is a bad guy remains to be seen, but I appreciate Seward as a nuanced character. He may be in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, but he’s no saint. A prison chaplain finds that out when he visits the condemned to provide counseling, makes the mistake of mentioning Seward’s son, and finds himself nearly strangled for his efforts. 

The KillingI have to take a moment to complain about one thing. One of the aspects of the first two seasons I really liked was the gritty atmosphere. Setting the show in a perpetually rainy (if inaccurately portrayed), pitch dark Seattle, helped to set the mood. However, in this premiere episode, the darkness was distracting. During one scene, Linden ducks into a shelter to get out of the rain (of course) and finds…cows? Cow skeletons, I think, but I don’t know. Three rewinds on the Tivo, and I’m not sure. She returns later to shoot…something (a cow, says the Internet), and I have no idea why. The darkness is great, folks, but not if you can’t understand what’s going on.


Though the season 3 premiere of The Killing is well-paced and intriguing, it isn’t exactly strong on plot. I can forgive that omission since we’re talking about a season premiere, and I’m sure AMC is hoping to pull in new viewers along with the old reliable ones. We spend most of our two hours with these characters, meeting them (or re-meeting them), and setting up a web of interactions and relationships that I hope will serve us well over the course of the season. The Killing is back, warts and all. Linden and Holder remain the biggest draw for me. They have a ton of chemistry, and I fiercely hope that remain friends/coworkers and nothing more. The plot of the first episode is thin, though, and I’m really hoping that this season offers a robust narrative to go along with the compelling main characters. I’m hoping, in essence, that the writers have learned from their mistakes.

The Killing
 Notes & Quotes

-- Thanks for the hilarious crime scene conversation between Holder and his boss, from which we get this gem: “Colostrum, on the other hand, is filled with life-giving nutrients and whatnot.” Yep, it’s true. I don’t mind hearing Holder pontificate about breast milk.

-- Holder has a girlfriend! I’m going to assume he’s officially, 100% clean, and I hope we hear that he’s reunited with his sister, too. As long as Holder retains his faux-ghetto charm, I want to see him happy.

-- When we first encounter Kallie and Bullet, the latter is saving the former from what looks like a suicide attempt (climbing onto a bridge). But Kallie claims that she wants to look at the water explaining, “before the boats and garbage and people and stuff mess it up, it’s so smooth and clean, you now? Like glass. It’s perfect. I just wanted to look at it.” Next thing you know she’s going to be filming a bag blowing in the wind.

-- When Holder stops by her house to entice her to help him with the new case, Linden warns him, “Hey, Holder, not every victim’s worth it. You know, you start caring, and end up like me working minimum wage on a ferry.” Says Holder: “Never thought the day would come that I’d hear that from you.” Ouch.

-- I’m not sure what real-life prison guards are like, but The Killing certainly doesn’t mind stereotyping them with the naïve, soft-hearted guard and the openly hostile one trading barbs. A note about the guards: I prefer the hostile one because he's not a freaking imbecile. For some unknown reason, Seward is able to appeal to the sensitive guard with talk of his son, so the guard screws up and lets him make a phone call -- a harassing phone call to Skinner. Don't you have to take any tests to become a prison guard?

-- When he stops by to get information about Ashley, Bullet asks Holder if he’s trying to maintain his youthful glow. Holder: “Even the Taj Mahal needs upkeep.” Carry on, Stephen Holder.

-- All you need to know about Kallie and her mother can be found in this exchange: Kallie: “Sorry I screwed up your whole life by being born.” Mom: “Yeah, well, you did.” Poor kid.

-- Linden tells her boyfriend, Cody, that she “breaks things.” It’s true, but awfully depressing.



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