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Wednesday, 22 of September of 2021

The Killing – “Missing”

Rosie who? I no longer care. But I still love "The Killing."

Man, I loved this episode.

With her son missing, Sarah and her partner Holder scour the town in search for him.  I loved the tense interplay between Sarah and Holder, the palpable fear on Sarah’s face as she faces the same horror as the Larsens, the sense that both these detectives are so damaged but trying so hard to return to “normal” relations with their respective families. During her 10 hour search for her missing son, Sarah must face not only fear of loss but also her inadequacies as a parent. Best moment? When Holder compares Sarah to an orphaned cat who has never been taught to hide her own feces.

Heres the rub.  Do you know what was the primary trouble with this episode? It wasn’t an episode of The Killing.

My partner, sitting on the couch with me as we watched, exclaimed half way through the episode, “what happened to the Rosie murder?  This season is too short for a one-off.”

He’s right, of course.  In a show that has marketed itself as a murder mystery–inviting the audience to become detectives and search for clues–an entire episode devoted to the personal life of the head detective seems odd.  No, scratch that, it seems downright mad.  What happened to Rosie, indeed.

Sure, we learned one little nugget–Rosie did visit the casino on Native American land on the night she died.  But otherwise, there was nary a mention of the Larsen parents, the police chief, poor Bennet Ahmed and his suffering wife…also missing was Darren Richmond and the election, but I doubt anyone noticed that [though I do have to say, it would have been neat if we could have seen some of those campaign billboards that both sides of the election have been buying.  You know, in the background of a shot of Sarah and Holder–maybe covered by graffiti?  A small wink to the audience that the regular world of The Killing continues to exist].

Instead of learning about Rosie, her family, the investigation, and various clues, we learn about Sarah and Holder.  This is the strength of The Killing–developing damaged and secretive characters searching for redemption.  From the first episode, critics (and viewers, I hope) have been moved by the Larsen heartbreak, intrigued by the stoicism of Sarah, and amused by the slightly-off Holder.  It is characters–not the murder mystery–that brought us in and keep us here.

How funny, then, that AMC seems to think this show is a murder mystery.  I wonder if the writers think it is a murder mystery.  Because it most definitely is not.

If this series was a murder mystery, the driving tension would be clues–something more akin to a procedural.  We wouldn’t waste all this time on moody scenery and silenced characters screaming inside.  If this series was a murder mystery, the pieces of the puzzle would build rather than wander off in various incorrect directions.  If this series was a murder mystery, we would care about Rosie Larsen–a girl we know not at all.

As the criticisms of this series mount, week to week, I increasingly wonder if our expectations are off, guided by marketing that now seems inappropriate?  Because we expect the primary tension to come from suspense–who did it?  why?–we are continually disappointed.  This is despite the fact that if we looked at this show as a character study, we might find it brilliant on a weekly basis.  Then we’d be annoyed that the murder mystery occassionally detracted our attention from the characters.

So I’m choosing to shift my expectations, murder mystery be damned.  I can’t wait to meet Jack’s father, to learn what kind of terrible choices Sarah must have made with that relationship.  I am excited to see the Larsen marriage strained by Stan’s imprisonment.  It isn’t that I want the Larsens to break up, but the almost impossible to imagine circumstances in which these two, previously  contented, people find themselves offers viewers a new layer of horror and anger–bravura acting may be ahead, so go ahead and fasten your seatbelt.  Heck, I’m even interested to see if boring ol’ Darren can pull it out, as long as they give me a reason to care more (hint: I need to know more about his relationship with his wife and why that led him to public service–connect the dots a bit here, people).

I loved “Missing” because it was a tense, carefully written, exceptionally acted hour of television.  It is an example of what this show does best.  What a pity that we didn’t know until now what this show really should be.

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