This afternoon, Entertainment Weekly's Ken Tucker makes the argument that AMC's once-ballyhooed but quickly reviled The Killing — which failed to solve the central murder mystery by the end of the first season, as they sorta promised they would — has lost much of its mojo in its currently airing second season. We think he has it backward.
Tucker says that he now watches the show simply to see if the show's writers "can dig themselves out of their plot holes and get this contraption up and running again," which sort of implies that the show was ever up and running. The first season, which was frustratingly dominated by a suspect who proved to be a complete red herring, was a real muddle, a meandering and downright dull example of why figuring it out as you go along isn't always the best approach to this kind of show. So if Tucker was writing about The Killing in general, we could mostly agree. As a series it's disappointing. But he's talking about the second season specifically, which, to our mind, has actually been significantly better.
The show is still far from perfect. Tucker is right to criticize the overabundance of Brent Sexton's angry, grieving dad stuff. And he's right that the Billy Campbell getting paralyzed storyline is an odd distraction (though that may have reentered the main flow of the plot last night). But beyond that, the murder mystery has taken on satisfying new angles — troubled boyfriend with a secret! questions of paternity! the Polish mob! — that have almost turned the show into an extended, somber, elegant Law & Order: SVU episode. The show's chief mistake last season was to go for grim and gritty realness and only half-deliver. Nothing is worse than melodrama pretending it's verite. But in the past few episodes, the show seems to have loosened up a bit. They don't seem concerned that the mystery is getting big and lugubrious and operatic. The show's heavy-handedly gray palette and insisting music suggest that the show still takes itself pretty seriously, but it's at least gotten a little more relaxed in terms of story, which is where it really counts.
We watched the show last night with someone who had never seen the series, and were surprised to see that she was fully engaged, and afterward deemed the show entertaining and said she might have to watch again. More surprising was that we agreed. The Killing isn't, as Tucker suggests, a good or "hot" show that has gone astray. Instead it's a show that was astray from almost the very beginning that's now finding a new enticing rhythm after embarking down a slightly altered path. So we're gonna buck current thinking and suggest you give The Killing another chance. It still fails at being the high art it clearly fancies itself, but there's something fun and soapy bubbling up all of a sudden that's making the show kinda, well, fun.