‘The Killing’s’ second season: Not guilty as charged

March 30, 2012

“The Killing” betrayed you terribly, so you’ve sworn off watching this beguiling crime drama when it returns Sunday night on AMC.

Sadly, that’s your loss. As the show’s court-appointed defense critic, I ask that you find it not guilty of the crimes against television with which it is charged and give it one more chance. Without telling you anything that happens in the two-hour season premiere, I will say that it’s a solid and corrective episode, even stylishly penitential in the way it recomposes itself and gets on with the mystery.

Viewers of the first season — and more than a few TV critics — immediately vented their anger when “The Killing” failed to reveal the answer to its central question last year: Who killed Rosie Larsen? It ended with a cliffhanger that was more of a scenic view obscured by fog. Up until the final few episodes, some favorably compared “The Killing” (an Americanized adaptation of a hit Danish show) to “Twin Peaks” — mostly for its mood and grimness.

It’s a slowly evolving mystery (too languorous, the prosecution would have you believe) about a murdered teenager whose body was found submerged in the trunk of a car in the woodsy Pacific Northwest. It’s a show for people who are only happy when it rains, as an old ’90s alterna-hit goes. It lingers over the grief of Rosie’s parents (Brent Sexton, Michelle Forbes) in a way few TV procedurals would ever consider. Its story hinges on somewhat plausible detective work that progresses at a narrative pace of roughly one day per episode.

“The Killing’s” creator, Veena Sud, and the show’s publicity team at AMC made a tragic and regrettable hype miscalculation when they indicated that the mystery would be solved in Season 1.

As most everyone now knows, “The Killing” opened its wrists with its own Occam’s razor: It turned out that the prime suspect (Billy Campbell as Darren Richmond, a suave mayoral candidate) probably was framed. And one of the show’s two compelling lead characters, Detective Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman), seemed to be in on the scheme all along. If you went online after that episode aired, you would have thought a Crock-Pot full of excrement had exploded across the whole Internet.

But being exasperating is really only a misdemeanor in the laws of TV. I am on record as having liked the show last year when it debuted, yet I felt quite solitary in my enjoyment of the season-ending twist. Silly me, I thought that’s how TV seasons were supposed to end — by leaving us hanging.

Sometimes we forget that television is just television. If you think a show has broken its promises and wasted your time, well, what time are we talking about, exactly? The time you spent forced at gunpoint to sit there and watch it, or the time you spent blogging about it? There were all sorts of opportunities to beg off the dour duty of following “The Killing.” Despite what Sud and the network may have teased us with, the show itself gave every indication, with each episode, that it would be a measured drive on a switchback road.

Intriguingly, “The Killing” stumbled into that new frontier that exists between old-fashioned passive viewership and the entitled concepts of modern customer service. The people demand to be served as well as entertained. Technology has enabled us to interact more freely and instantly with other TV nerds, and issue immediate judgment on the product. With alarming frequency, we’ve learned to reach for virtual pitchforks and torches whenever we’re collectively displeased. We’ve become an atonal chorus of expert quibblers, which is great fun on Twitter, but leads so often to needless rage and pointless obsession. Insisting that “The Killing” wrap itself up neatly and promptly strikes me as a rather dense and unsophisticated response to a show that clearly tried to be something more than an airport novel.

People were so disappointed by “The Killing” because its earlier episodes had such remarkable strengths. It looked right, felt right — and all of that is largely still intact.

As Detective Sarah Linden, Mireille Enos is sublimely watchable. Linden is a dressed-down, almost mousy beauty whose fixation on the Larsen case has put the rest of her life on tormented hold. She’s been dumped by her fiance and rejected by her sullen teenage son; much of the role is expressed on Linden’s face rather than in self-revealing dialogue. As Holder, Kinnaman has been an even more intriguing character — vulnerable and yet menacing.

My own enjoyment of “The Killing” begins and ends with the gloom so brilliantly conveyed by its pace and performances. If I have to watch it alone, then I guess I will.

The Killing

(two-hour episode) returns Sunday
at 8 p.m. on AMC.

Hank Stuever has been The Post's TV critic since 2009. He joined the paper in 1999 as a writer for the Style section, where he has covered an array of popular (and unpopular) culture across the nation.
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