Thesis idea: The Killing was actually a show about the many ways children get lost and discarded in our modern world by parents who are intentionally or unintentionally awful at the most important responsibility in their lives.
"Why are you doing this to yourself?"
"Why are you doing this to yourself?"
Those are the words of an unhealthy addiction. Those are the words I asked myself, aloud after midnight, four separate times in the past two weeks as I wound my way through the final two seasons of The Killing.
If you tried watching The Killing and stopped in the middle of, or at the end of, its first season, no one would really blame you. While those first two seasons provided many of the elements of a first-rate TV drama -- compelling and flawed characters wrestling with murky issues and mysteries -- it worried so much about the plot, full of red herrings and misdirections that were more annoying that exciting, that its flaws arguably overshadowed its brilliance.
If you stuck with it, or if you return to it and give seasons 3 and 4 a chance... well, I can only speak for myself, but a few things seem certain to occur.
First, you'll be depressed about the human condition. We, as a species, suck. We have small granules of beauty and love buried inside mounds and mountains of manure. Even the people you want to like, want to love, are so annoyingly, agonizingly flawed, that you want to pull your hair out and jump into a cold, cold river.
Second, you'll never allow anyone you know and care about become a police officer. The absolute only acceptable reason to allow this to occur is if their other choice was to become a prison guard. There might be nothing more horrifying in all of life than to be a prison guard. This isn't a judgment of the men and women who do these jobs. Rather, it is a judgment of the job itself.
Further, you’ll be reminded that calling the American justice system “the best of bad options” is sad, true, and frightening.
Third, you think of the children.
If there was a single never-ceasing undertow coursing through The Killing, from start to finish, it is the plight of neglected, discarded and abused teenagers.
Rosie Moody, the murder victim at the heart of the first two seasons, is a girl desperate to escape the bonds of her highly dysfunctional family. To make matters sadder, the Moodys aren't dysfunctional in some over-the-top way. They're just flawed at the core, on a daily level, arguably due to a past from which the parents cannot ever fully recover. Watching Rosie's mom utterly abandon her kids to go find herself hurts to watch because it's real even if it makes no sense to some of us.
Rosie's friends are all equally screwed-up, no matter what socioeconomic layer of earth their parents occupy. Rich kid, poor kid, middle-class kid, it matters not.
At several points in the first two seasons, I wondered if the Peanuts gang might have inspired the author. Instead of being amused at the absence and meaninglessness of adults, maybe the Peanuts gang were doomed to become lost adolescents swimming almost aimlessly, but desperately, in the flow hurt and confusion.
Seasons 3 and 4 go deeper into the world of lost teens, and the creators hold the lens of blame ever more tightly on the adults around them who fail them from birth until their very last breaths -- either the last breaths of the teens or the adults... 'cuz odds are they ain't all surviving the show, if any of them do.
The collection of homeless, abandoned or runaway teens are products of parents who either had no idea how to raise children or hardly ever tried. The mother at the heart of Season 3 is the stuff of nightmares not because she is violent or evil in some Dateline NBC way, but rather because the abuse she doles out is brutally aggressive indifference and bitterness, blaming her daughter for a life that turned sour.
The parents of the privileged boys in Season 4 substitute money and therapy for any meaningful connection with their children. One of the most damning scenes in the entire series -- and the series is chock full of damning scenes -- is in the final season when Linden and Holder visit the home of one of the more sociopathic-seeming boys at the military academy. His bedroom walls are plastered with pictures of models whose faces have been scratched out or defaced. It is Serial Killer Misogyny 101, but the mother stubbornly insists it's just a phase, because that's what the therapist says.
Linden's son turns out OK not because of her parenting skills, but in spite of them. Arguably he has found enough additional caring adults in his life to piece together something like a decent sense of growing up. Or maybe he just got lucky and fought through the odds. Linden, a product of the foster system who (somewhat understandably) has the parenting instincts of a can of cat food, never really had much after which to model herself, and the first two seasons are often agonizing to watch for her defiant lack of nurturing instinct.
Perfectly, the series concludes by wrestling with the question of whether Detective Holder can become a decent and responsible father. From the first episode, Holder is the only occasional glimmer of hope for the rehabilitation of adults in the entire series. Yet the odds still seem stacked against him. Is the responsibility and frustrating joy of fatherhood enough to keep a tweaker who still struggles not to relapse on the straight and narrow path?
I didn't wake up the day after finishing the series being thankful for what a great father I am. I felt, and continue to feel, this gnawing pressure to be better at it. And I feel haunted that I do not know how to fill in holes for more teens desperate for meaningful relationships with healthy adults. More importantly, I'm not sure if I am even capable. How many starfish can one person save?
Mother Teresa famously said when asked what we could do to promote world peace, "Go home and love your family." The Killing aims to remind us that her words might just be spot on.