‘The Killing’ Review: “Seventeen”
There's a whole lot of dead bodies on 'The Killing,' which means a whole lot of reasons for Sarah Linden to come out of retirement and get this investigation rolling, but she's got a few obstacles once she returns to the force.
'The Killing' isn't like other serialized dramas on television -- unlike its AMC brethren 'Mad Men' and 'Breaking Bad,' there's not a whole lot of thematic stuff going on. It's a show that succeeds because it's a procedural wearing the grown-up clothes of a more prestigious serial drama, and it carries certain hallmarks, like a slow-burning plot, more legitimate talent, and direction that tries to evoke cinema rather than staying cozy in the familiar confines of your typical TV series. So reviewing it can be difficult sometimes because regardless of what 'The Killing' looks or acts like, it's still a procedural -- it's a story more concerned with suspense and plotting than with theme.
If there's any theme in "Seventeen," it's transactions. The way Linden signs a contract with Skinner (Elias Koteas, who is just killing it) to reclaim her badge; the way Lyric and her friend take cigarettes from Linden in exchange for information; how Bullet refuses to take Holder's money in exchange for showing him Goldie's apartment because she wants to maintain her integrity and set herself apart from her working girl friends; the way Lyric performs oral sex in exchange for food from a friendly cabbie, and how the other working girls perform sexual acts for cash; and how Ray Seward somehow manages to obtain a razor blade in a bar of soap in prison. Sometimes transactions are harder to make, like getting Ray's son Adrian to tell Linden why he keeps drawing pictures of the woods where she uncovered the jackpot of dead hooker teen bodies. What can this adult detective do for a little kid, traumatized by the memory of his mother's murder? What currency does she have for someone like Adrian, whose innocence has been marred by tragedy? A visit with his father, if she can help it.
Holder and Becker stay busy keeping tabs on Goldie, who was introduced last week as a pimp and the guy who attacked poor Bullet. What I find compelling is how Bullet should be safe -- she already dresses and acts like a boy, and wears jewelry, piercings, and layers of clothing like armor. Unlike her working girl friends, who seem to invite advances, Bullet does everything to ward them off. And still she is attacked by Goldie, proving that the streets are safe for no one, not even a butch teen. Even she can be violated and broken down.
What I'm having a harder time with his how clever the writers think they are with Ray Seward -- we assume he'll use the razor blade to inflict pain on someone else because Peter Sarsgaard is playing it up as this sneering, angry prisoner on death row. We already learned in the first two hours of this season that Ray isn't who he's been made out to be, and after years in the prison system, it's easy to understand that he's become hardened and more violently-inclined -- especially coupled with his guilt over his wife's murder, and someone can feel guilty for a death even if the death wasn't their fault. And so it's no surprise when Ray turns the razor on himself; better to kill yourself than be hanged for a crime you didn't commit. I think there's an interesting duality to Ray due to his circumstances and his history, but I worry that the writers are bludgeoning us over the head with it by having Sarsgaard play up the angrier, more menacing side. There's little subtlety here.
There's also little forward momentum in the disappearance of Kallie, who appears on one of Goldie's underage porn DVDs, and whose mom doesn't seem overly concerned with her disappearance. Linden's line ("I'm a detective. For homicide.") to Danette is so quietly jarring and serves as the perfect "Welcome back, Linden" moment. After investigating Goldie's house, there's little to connect him to the disappearance of Kallie, but perhaps those DVDs he's peddling might lead our detectives down something approximating the right path. Linden remains a loose cannon as always, and we all know that when Skinner tells her to stop trying to connect the Seward murder to their new serial killer, she's not going to listen -- honestly, I can't wait to see how these dots connect, and this season is already proving to be much better than expected. I think it serves the show well that they're unsure whether they'll be picked up for a fourth season, so it keeps the writers and this narrative contained to one season, forcing them to use their time wisely. So far, so good.