The Killing and the Death That Dare Not Speak Its Name

One important feature of AMC’s The Killing, (the subject of yesterday’s post), which it inherits from the Danish original Forbrydelsen, is its focus on the effect of the central murder on the victim’s family. In so doing, the show manages to be, besides the imperfect police procedural, a painful examination of the most commonly ignored aspect of the modern homicide drama (whether on television or in cinema). This focus derives its particular poignancy because it centers on the bitterest blow of all: the loss of a young child.

The slow, downward spiral of the parents’ relationship is one of the most unfortunate, yet common, consequences of this kind of tragedy. No parental partnership comes through the aftermath of a child’s death unscathed. Mutual blame is, of course, the most common and corrosive reaction. A child’s death–amongst the most incomprehensible instances of this world’s indifference to human sensibilities–is always at the wrong time, for the wrong reason, and something, no matter what, can be found in his or her past whose provenance is traceable to one parent’s decisions and agency. The stage is thus set for a vicious cycle of angry, sorrowful recrimination.  (I once read a case study of a couple who had lost their only child in a hit and run accident; one parent blamed the other for the decision to ever have a child and thus expose them to this eventuality; the other, in turn, blamed the partner for not wanting to have a second child so that their loss could have been somehow lessened; the apparent irrationality of these responses is besides the point; what they reveal is the terrible, unhinged grief that a child’s death is bound to evoke.)

In The Killing, the close contact between the police and the Larsen family’s grief and sorrowing is also shown to have the unfortunate effect of skewing the investigation and leading it astray: the detectives feel compelled to bring about a speedy resolution of the mystery, thus probably leading them to be a little too hasty in drawing conclusions about the identity of the killer and thus provoking, most unfortunately, a violent episode of vigilante justice directed against an innocent. This violent retribution further corrodes the parents’ relationship for as Stan Larsen points out to his wife, Mitch, he acted so in order assuage her anger at the putative suspect.

A homicide drama’s inclusion of the emotional and psychic trauma inflicted in the victim’s family moves the genre away from its conventional sanitized treatment of murder. This focus on grief and loss means the viewer is forced to reckon with a grim, unglamorous reality often elided by, ironically enough, the increasingly gruesome depictions of victim’s bodies and lurid descriptions of their injuries. It ensures that viewers are made to confront the impact of the killing in a domain outside that of its investigation, where there are no chases, no hunts, no satisfying captures; there is instead, only a hurt and a pain that might diminish over time, but never, ever, goes away.

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