5/30/2011

Rain keeps falling: "The Killing" (2011)

This is my first entry in English, so please bear with me. Here goes:

I would like to think that The Killing has more to offer than what Michael Sicinski (via Twitter) identifies as "its sole purpose: making Mireille Enos a star." This said, ten (of altogether twelve) episodes into the series I find myself leaning towards Sicinski’s harsh verdict, delivered in the shape of a rhetorical question: "Can we just pull the plug and move on now?"

Even though The Killing has done a pretty good job of establishing Enos’ most peculiar and astonishing (television) screen presence – a presence that, as much as it is a calculated, marketable feat, will haunt anyone uncomfortable with the kinds of characters and styles of acting female television performers are commonly relegated to – the series may seem to fall short of its original promise: to explore the ramifications of a single murder in a caleidoscopic vision, tracing the catastrophic event’s many ripples (as if it was a stone thrown into a pond), from its immediate familial surroundings, where the waves hit the hardest, to the remote shores of local government powermongering.

These ambitions in mind, I can readily understand the naysayers’ disapproval. After a few intense episodes that centred around the hard to endure suffering of the bereaved and from there gradually opened up towards other strata and spaces of the social, The Killing’s initial slow moving expansivity has been bundled and redirected into the orderly course of whodunit dramaturgy – or maybe it has been this way from the very beginning and mine was wishful watching.

I don’t know why Sicinski doesn’t like The Killing, but my first guess would be that he fosters a similar sense of disappointment. But there is something else that I find displeasing about the series, something that I feel has to do with my viewing experiences as an occasional consumer of European or, more precisely, Scandinavian and German police procedurals. (This is where I should point to the fact that The Killing is the American remake of a Danish series entitled Forbrydelsen, which I haven’t yet come around to seeing.) It concerns some stylistic choices – the stereotypically reduced colour palette with its darkish-blue dominant; the warm (if dampened) lower-middle class interiors, pitted against the power elite’s cold glass-and-steel-environments – but also the constant intimations of an almost existential and thus inescapable dark side to humanity, exactly the kind of best-selling angst The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Niels Arden Oplev’s film, not Stieg Larsson’s novel, which I haven't read) carries to the market.

It’s not all bad, though. The pain that the victim’s parents have to go through is rendered in images that are neither too much nor too little, images that instead of seeking a supposed right balance between closeness and distance move back and forth between the two, confusing them, so that a respectful long take can feel singed by despair while a close-up might take us far away from the face whose affectivity it strives to capture. Another defining feature of The Killing’s design deserves mention. Although some might deem the ceaseless downpour of rain a cheap device in the service of the commodification of angst, to me it appears as a very effective and befitting building block of a muddled world that knows no solid ground. Much like Rubicon, another amc-series that, as Simon Rothöhler demonstrates in Cargo #8, betrays a deep sense of "epistemic scepticism", The Killing takes place in an ever shifting, never quite self-identical Seattle, covered in rain and mist. It also heaps plot twists upon turns like there’s no tomorrow – but here the series comes too close to the well-known game of switching suspicions to hold my attention.

The reason why I am still watching and, contrary to Sicinski, don’t want to pull the plug yet, is not a desire for a finalized knowledge of who, in the end, commited the crime. The reason I haven’t moved on is because in some respects (and admittedly not sufficiently so) The Killing itself is a moving thing, a state of being beautifully allegorized by Mireille Enos’ character, who is supposed to lead a murder investigation without standing on firm ground herself. From the first episode she is trying to leave Seattle, her job, the killing behind for another life that she never quite reaches. Meanwhile she stays, of all places, on a boat.