The Killing "Head Shots" Review: Low Points

The Killing S0304: "Head Shots"

I am not the most optimistic or upbeat of people. I don't mean to suggest that I'm overly negative; it's just that, in most situations, I tend to assume the worst, rather than the best, will happen However, I normally don't apply this rule to people until I have some evidence of or exposure to their behavior, because when considering the ways in which the universe works, I often worry that it's out to make our lives a little more difficult. Sure, it can be a rather unpleasant way to experience things, but it's why I try to see the best in others, to think about how things could be better, even if I'm fearing the worst.

Oh boy, does The Killing just strip away that idea and leave me feeling horrible about the human race.

Earlier this week, in my review of Hannibal's penultimate Season 1 episode, I discussed the sense of dread and stress I experience when I watch that show. The dread is somewhat cathartic, though, as it releases pent-up emotions while still providing some genuine thrills. Such reactions are part and parcel of the horror and thriller genres, and they're also why we often consume those genres.

But I don't get much catharsis from The Killing in its melodramatic bent. Melodrama, at least classically, builds emotions throughout the duration of a piece, and it normally culminates in pushing both the characters and the audience to cry as a way of release. The Killing rarely provides an avenue for a good sob. Instead—and the series has done this since its first season—it piles awful and depressing on top of awful and depressing, as if just wants to see how much you can take.

From a genre standpoint, this is a criticism of both the show and this episode in particular, as "Head Shots" was decidedly heavy on the awful and the depressing. At the forefront was Becker, the head guard on Death Row, who decided to beat Alton until Seward took his antibiotics after seeing the way Seward and Alton were beginning to bond. Seward, as Alton had observed, had tried to remove the last bit of his old life—and probably his sense of humanity as well—by using the razor (still no idea who smuggled it in through the soap) to remove the tattoo that honored his son.

There was no allowance for humanity or happiness here. Seward summed it up best in two different lines: "Hope’s the same as faith: Bitch’ll kill you faster than this place will." and "They won a long time ago." They were trite observances within prison narratives, and when you throw in some sadistic and/or conflicted guards with horrible home lives—Mrs. Becker all but undressed herself in front of Gabe (and her own son), another depressing moment—the Death Row storyline entered cliché territory as it contrasted the guards with the likeable and/or tortured prisoners. It was nice that Peter Sarsgaard and Little JJ were there to at least make the episode interesting to watch from a performance level, as they're proving to be The Killing's saving graces, but I'm half expecting it to turn into The Defiant Ones.

Unsurprisingly, things didn't go much better for the homeless kids, Twitch in particular. After supposedly failing his drug test, his probation officer forced him to have sex in the back of his car. No clear reason why, other than a desire to sleep with the aspiring model. And again, there wasn't much happiness to be found. Twitch relapsed and shot up, and then, while jonesing for another hit, went to an amateur reenactment of The Warriors at a skate park only to have the crap beaten out of him, killing his chances of getting to Los Angels in a month.

Perhaps Twitch's probation officer just couldn't stand the idea of someone getting away from the misery of The Killing's Seattle and knew that raping the teen may tip him over the edge. The traumatic experience no doubt contributed to Twitch's drug use, but he also probably wanted to feel as ugly on the outside as he did on the inside, hence the self-destructive choice to head over to the park. 

Even the police weren't completely immune to the overwhelming sense of doom. While they managed to make a bit of headway in the case, Linden's pet theory that the sex tapes and Mama Dips' hotel were somehow connected to the remains found in the pond was losing traction. Helping that along was Reddick, who was happy to undermine, question, and dismiss any of Linden's ideas, attempts at investigative work, and just her as a detective overall. 

This storyline was less obviously sad than the other two plots, but it's sad in that this unambitious man has decided to make an attempt to drag down Linden and Holder's investigation with his constant stream of resentment and bitterness. It'd be one thing if he were questioning the case in a way to propel it forward, but he's not. He wants to stay on a single, narrow line of investigative work, and it seems like the easiest one possible: He doesn't want to help, and it's just very sad. However, on the upside, our two core detectives have decided to ignore Reddick, and Linden even told him off in one of the episode's few cheer-worthy moments, so perhaps there's a silver lining somewhere in all this gloom.



RAIN-SPLATTERED NOTES

– Speaking of silver linings, the episode's biggest one was, of course, Holder's attempt to get Bullet to eat some food. "Like some big, hairless, albino Bugs Bunny" had me laughing a good bit, as did Bullet saying that her body was a temple. The eyebrow arch Holder responded with indicated, for me anyway, that his estimation of Bullet had just gone up a few notches.

– Pied piper. What a wonderful nickname for a serial killer. Thanks, Goldie!

– One thing I'm still working through with regard to The Killing, and this season in particular, is its attitude toward women, especially given that it's coming from a show with a female showrunner. I want to feel like there's an indictment of the (patriarchal) system here, one that addresses violence against women and has women helping with that violence (i.e., Mama Dips), but it's not coming through for me except in drips and drabs (i.e., Reddick's hostility toward Linden). As a result, I feel like the show is settling for more standard, melodramatic procedural fare without interrogating the systematic causes of the crimes it's concerned with. Something to continue to mull over at the season progresses.


What'd you think of "Head Shots"?

Comments (42)
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Noel Kirkpatrick, as a reviewer, you'd make a great McDonald's counter worker.
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kiki511, as a commenter, you'd make a great customer filling in the McDonald's customer experience card.
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If Twitch was willing to give the probation officer a B.J., then was receiving him really a big deal? Doesn't seem like a huge "stretch" to me. Plus he was an aspiring male model -- if he actually made it (doubt it) there would be a lot of favors he'd be doing in that industry.
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This is tough, dark and depressing indeed.
I'm so happy.
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I feel that it is not posible not to think of the reasons for all that violence and lack of humanity while you are watching The Killing. All these aspects of Seattle's life are portrayed in a sad realistic way, sort of trying to be objective about these people's lifes, but expecting that the great crudity of it all will be enough to make us wonder "why". And then, as the story evolves, we can go and fill in the blanks of "why", get to understand better everybody's reasons. Plus, at the very end, we WILL get our catharsis and "good" will prevail over "evil", since the police will find the killer for sure. Since it already happen once, now we know that Holden and Linden WILL find the killer. Maybe that is what is keeping us going in this trip of discovery that is watching The Killing, at least now in season 3.

About the attitude towards women, I suspect there will be some catharsis effect as well at some point... But just for now, the fact that Linden and Bullet can defend themselves as they do in environments so full of aggresive male half-lifes, it is gratifying enough. Yes, she was raped, but she dealt with it a lot better than the young man did today. And he DID have an option. She didn't.
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I do wonder must they do the "rape a kid very episode" thing. The hardest part to stomach while watching the show are the homeless kids. Last episode was better.
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It just gets better and better. If I wanted happiness and smiles I wouldn't watch a show named The Killing.
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I really didn't mind this episode, in fact, in might have been my favorite yet. They played Linden's insecurities better than they have in awhile and I appreciated her put down of Holder's partner (but likely the best part of that was Holder's attempt at not smiling because he has wanted to defend her, but she doesn't give him a lot to work with). I was a little confused on the Seward story line, I get they, guards and prisoners, are all stuck there together and there are weird power plays. But, well, they have to do a flashback or something so that we can understand him better. It was just so random that he actually likes someone enough not to have them suffer. I know Linden thinks he is innocent, and I know he clearly isn't the serial killer (since it appears we saw him at the end of the episode), but I wonder if he was somehow in league with him because the kid knew where the bodies were and I suspect Seward might actually have killed his wife, but just used the serial killer's methods, because, he kind of seems a little twisted.
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I wanted to write The Killing off after S02; I wasn't even going to give time in the schedule to this season. Wow, that would have been an error in judgement. This season is really good, in the sense that each episode touches me in a visceral and disturbing way, although every episode makes me want to take a scalding hot shower afterward. The plot arcs now have some seriously lousy excuses for humans being and the horror factor just keeps increasing for me.

In regard to Noel's point of catharsis, or lack thereof, I find some emotional payoff in the little ways people strive to be better, do better: Linden returning to work the case, trying to show respect for Reddick until he more than proves he doesn't deserve any, Holder trying to be a better cop and better man, pushing to crack down on the 99th & Aurora flophouse, reaching out to Bullet, Bullet doing whatever it takes to try to find Kallie, working to trust Holder, looking after Twitch when it was obvious he was in a bad way but not needing to know why. Otherwise, this show paints a truly dismal portrait of humanity.
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We're jumping into a murder/rape investigation of young girls/women and a pedophile ring. Happiness and smiles aren't gonna come that many times. Prepare yourself.
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Weren't we in Portland in season one and two and now in Seattle now?I distinctly remember that The Killing was in Portland, because in season one a man living there made a very interesting comment that I can still remember. Can someone clarify?
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Was always in Seattle.
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Okay :)
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I liked this episode. And I'm okay with depressing stuff, gruesome reality that is. It's a lot better than raining all the time) And yeah this season is full of hideous repulsive pathetic evil characters. Most hatred I have towards mother of the year of missing girl. I think everyone here is portrayed badly except homeless kids who are ultimate victims in Killling universe. And I like scene in guard's house with his creepy family. That was almost Lynch-like. So dark and absurd. No hope for anyone in Killing universe.
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I think Alton is an undercover cop
I also think the negative attitude in the show is towards men rather than women - goldie, twitch, the prison guards and Reddick are all painted as narrow minded and threatened by women. It doesn't do a great job on female characters either, but it adds a bit more substance to their characters - they are doing things for a seemingly significant reason - money, food or shelter for example - while a lot of the male characters are driven by petty reasoning.
i still think its an improvement over the last 2 seasons
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This pseudo-Darwinian, with sprinkles of Malthsian, vision of the skid row in mid to large populated cities wants us to reinforce our belief that social acceptance and cohesion is the name of the game. The problem is not that these children are abandoned, but that despite a surface connection among each other, there is no cohesive social bonds to protect them. even if they sleep with each other and support dreams,we have seen that even among the closest friends there is no real self preservation. Bullet is being fascitious when she claims that her body is a temple to Holden, when we know that she was raped and beaten up. When Holden direclty asks her in a sincere attempt to assist her, he is rebuked. When the would be male model is also raped, he goes and self-destructs, when a social person would have told something to someone. More importantly for us, these two rapes so very close to each other as seperate events, tell us that sexual abuse is a way of life; hence the response of that young woman who escaped the clutches of the Pied Piper is not release, in all senses of the term, but to not only continue in this life of failure, but to bring new canon fodder children into it as well.
It is not violence of one gender against another as it seems superficially; it is the violence of a society against its fringes.
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I appreciate your analysis and it is most certainly not my intent to jump down your throat, however I think you may have over-intellectualized the issues you discuss. I'd argue that rather than a "pseudo-Darwinian, with sprinkles of Malthusian, vision of the skid row in mid to large populated cities" the series has presented a fairly realistic portrayal of life as a street kid in Seattle (full disclosure, I lived there) or many urban areas with a high year-round population of homeless and indigent youth. And the problem is very much that these are throwaway children, Linden has said it over and over and it is the reason so much film has been devoted to Kallie's worthless sow of a mother. There disenfranchisement and alienation are products of being throwaway children, not the root causes of it.

Moreover, it is oversimplifying an extremely complicated issue to assert that the unwillingness of rape and sexual assault victims to report or disclose abuse is a symptom of lack of cohesive social bonds; on a macro level, in some cases, I agree this is indeed a factor, but this does little to take into account the other attributing factors and the individual realities of victimization. In both cases presented, both victims have more pressing micro level concerns influencing their behavior, especially the gender and sexual orientation issues of each, the socio-economic pressures impacting each and the predatory/adversarial relationships to law enforcement well established prior to the abuse incidents.

These children are high risk for a reason, they are targets of predators because they are vulnerable and less likely to report, especially children like the two victims presented. The data on sexual assaults against adolescent boys is inherently limited by the unwillingness of these victims to report, regardless of their socio-economic status, and the GLBT community has deep roots in counseling and treatment for sexual abuse survivors because this is not a new or rare phenomenon either.

I can understand how anyone can think as you do, that the natural inclination of any human being is to tell someone, anyone, when something bad happens, when they are hurt, but that is not the case, and failure to do so is not necessarily evidence of shortcoming in the victim or their society. When one is a victim of violence and abuse, it may feel that the only thing remaining within their control is the choice to tell or not tell and exercising that choice, or not, is not and should not be viewed as an indicator of the victim's psycho-developmental health or the general health and productivity of their society. If you want to look at a similar phenomenon in a completely different socio-economic setting, look at sexual assault issues at university dormitories in Western countries. The behavior of victims does not change much from the street kids, as sad as that is to accept.

I do not disagree that the series is painting a truly horrifying picture of a reality experienced by thousands of children across the country and the world, but I think you are striving to take a high-level, intellectual view of issues the show is attempting to offer very tight, visceral, personal portrayals of, and in doing so you are dehumanizing the issues. I can totally understand the desire to do so, I find a great deal of the subject matter to be difficult to absorb and sit with, but I think that is the reaction the show means us to have.
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Emmiegirl- That was probably one of the best comments I've ever read on here. Ever.
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I agree one hundred percent!!!!!
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First and foremost, I am sincerely very sad to learn that you went through something like that. I understand you maybe a little more than you give me credit for, as I have had my youth and later life ruined by a civil war, then several other wars that were shorter in time but just as brutal. What you interpret as my over intellectualization , and its dehumanizing of abusive situations, is my way of dealing with it; but I would suggest to you that the dehuminizing is more directed at me, than at the victims of such abuse.
Second, I want to thank you for your time is writing this and expressing all that you have.It was maybe not that easy , but whatever it took as effort, I appreciate it fully. My first reaction is that we agree on an unsaid fundamental, and that The Killing this season is dealing with something that is worthwhile discussing and giving our attention to. All your remarks and observations are on the target, and I certainly don't feel any ill-intent or insult, and on the contrary I am honored that you have written this, in part to me.
Of course I am oversimplifying an extremely complicated issue; and the reason is sheer lack of space and maybe shared interest with the other commentators, excluding yourself, of course.But I am not worried, because we will have all that during the episodes to come to go more in depth.
I am not going to lose time criticizing your input since I agree with it and the differences in opinion are not worth it. Having taken your framework of reference regarding law-enforcement, we see Holden going out of his way to help Bullet and is rejected, until we see now a kind of coming together and maybe a way to held each other within the investigation. However, even if successful, what can law enforcement really do to alleviate the suffering of this population, even if the hostility is dispersed? Is it the job of law-enforcement to find solutions for them, and if yes, in what way?
The sociology of this population well described by you would imply that there is a culprit, an intiator to these kids' misery; the parents, as one the missing girls who found a shut door when trying to connect to her mother, which probably lead to her death?Is it that well established fact that abusees become abusers in their adulthood and choose professions which facilitates their impulses: the taxi driver, social worker,and perv pimp? So how do we break the cycle?how do we fight the indifference?
I think that some of the answers lies within the realm of this particular investigation, which I suggested elsewhere, is transcendent to simple police work. The clues we will find are going to adress the crux of the matter i which this mess exists and maybe some of the solutions.
You see I barely scratched the surface of a decent comment and it is so long :)
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Actually i think this season is going with the message that social acceptance and cohesion is an illusion, and that the reality portrayed is the norm. There has not been too many complaints that this version of Seattle is unrealistic or that it is in any way exaggerating the amount of homeless children there - in fact some have commented that it is very realistic.
The reaction to the two rapes by the victims again highlights, for me anyway, the larger negative attitude of men in this series - Bullet copes, but Twitch spirals into self destruction.
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Malthusian, EDIT BUTTON please!!!!!
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They may be threatened by women, but they get to act against women in that regard, including assault, murder, and rape. They get to commit violence, and are rarely criticized, in-show, for it.

And I don't think that Dips gets a pass for her reasoning, which is hardly significant. She's just a lousy human being, like everyone else.
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Btw, it feels good to see you participating in this comment page. Thank you :)
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I agree that they seem to paint everyone as lousy or damaged (except Holden so far this season), but the men are painted as the the big bad, while the female characters are portrayed as weak, flawed and mostly selfish.

Even Linden has lousy character traits (lied to Holden, has slept with her now boss-cant remember if he is married - and has obvious trust issues), but compared to Reddick, she is a saint and a better cop

So far this season only Holden and Bullet are the shows only really morally grounded characters.
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Alton an undercover cop, please expand when you make this kind of comment.What makes you think that?
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Apart from the beating, all he has been trying to do is get a conversation going and bond with Seward for some reason. Also the fact that there is no one else on the cell block - its just a theory and there have been no hints to support this
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Great review - I think the episode was more interesting in focusing on the investigation although again, another teen raped by an adult and on top one who should be protecting them (the parole officer). Seriously? How many adults do we have in The Killing not just being neglectful towards kids but actually exploiting them? Oh yes and the boyfriend of the missing girl's mother is a sex offender too. Add to that the creepy guard's family situation and his beating up Alton to get Seward to comply (is that in the death row manual?) and yeah, definitely a pile of depressing over more depressing stuff.
I found Reddick's unnecessary aggression towards Linden hard to believe - sure I could see that he'd bitch behind her back as he has been doing but why antagonise her so openly? Unless he is also going to be involved in the child porn ring? Is the show trying to show that everyone is evil or at the very least corrupt?
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Reddick doesn't have much to lose by being openly hostile toward Linden, and given the lack of female faces in the precinct, it's not like anyone's going to call him on it.
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I think this is by far the best episode. I could connect more with the plot, characters & their tragedies well in this episode. I loved the fact that even the small characters are well written. For example, Linden's interaction with the mother of the missing girl. She doesn't give a damn about her daughter but there are moments when she come face-to-face with the impending tragedy. The office politics also was portrayed well. The interaction these 3 officers had in the first 3 episodes makes more sense in this episode when we get to see Reddick's jealous & manipulative side. Holder and Bullet shared a great moment. Yes, the reviewer is right - there was sadness throughout. But that's an indication that show is going well. If the show could make us sad then it's an indication that it was successful in making us invest in the plot & characters. Killing generally has got a sad undertone - it was the same in season 1 & 2 as well. I think that's what makes it different from rest of the crime shows where we only get to see stylish, fast paced shots.

Hm, can't wait for future episodes!
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While I agree with you, I have to say, I don't know yet if the mother is going to be a small character... For what we know, she could even be the killer herself and that could explain why she's not worried about her daughter at all (she knows she didn't kill her) - Yep, probably a bit of a stretch at this point :) but we now know that she is the filmer's girlfriend.
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Hm, how would that be possible? A women killing other women, especially street kids (mostly)? I don't think so. As for the guy who filmed it - lol, he will never be the killer considering the fact they have introduced him like a prime suspect in this episode. In case of The Killing, the killer wouldn't be obvious one. So, it's very clear that this guy is just a distraction, for a while. Yes, the mother knew it was him in the video. But I guess she knew he didn't do it. Plus, she's madly in love with this guy (like most of the street girls, including the one who reluctantly revealed his name). But I'm not entirely discarding your idea - weird, but could be true considering it's a suspense thriller. Moreover, a woman was involved in the crime in the first case.
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yep, as you say, the mother doesn't seem to be an obvious choice at this point, and she is related to our current suspect, and that makes her a possible future suspect or even the killer, so at the very least, the character will be more important to the story that it looked so far...
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I really liked this episode.
The Killing has always put the family at the heart of the police investigation ; all the characters have deconstructed family : from Linden, to Bullets and her friends.
I'm glad this episode choosed to develop the relation between Bullet and Holder ; their moment was delightful and showed that those two characters have a lot in common.
I'm also glad that Linden and Holder decided to work together again : this weird duo works very well.
As for the general sadness that comes from the show, I'd say that it represents a realistic view of police work. That and the fact that apparently, Seatle is not the sunniest city in the US.
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I think you hit several great points in your great review, Noel.But I would like to add to your assessment of the forelorn. The Killing has maintained one of the greatest elements of the european thriller, especially theScandinavian kind, that sense of deep "shadenfreude", the happiness of seeing others feel miserable that is crucial in German literature. the term is ore than that, but I think it is for the interested to seek the more information not to spoonfeed with ones own interpretation of the term. Once that understood, catharsis is possible.
This is not just an investigation in serial murder, but it is the overpowering need not to rise on the occasion, to remain in the muck,to just accept misery.
Holder is by his own nature,the one who despite personal difficulties, has never participitated in this shadenfreude, he has always dismissed it-yet without Linden, he has also failed. Linden cannot be but the proponent of this tale, precisely she is part of that misery but she fights it and her struggle is through the investigation.In the same way that an investigation will find false clues, red herrings, obstacles and deprivation; her life has its similar parallels and in finding the truth, in resuming justice to this unjust world, she has but a fleeting moment of triumph, of resurrection, of repentence...when at last she finds the truth and goes back to write the final report.
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I appreciate, and like this comment, though I don't think catharsis is possible under your rubric of shadenfreude. The "pleasure" in the suffering of others is sort of the foundation for tragedy and melodrama (especially melodrama), but classically, there's a release of some sort, on screen, stage, or page, that allows the audience a similar release. A part of this is the episodic nature of the show, and its love of cliffhanger endings that deny that release, but another part is that episodes -- and this is increasingly true of many cable shows -- are rarely as self-contained as they used to be, and the release may not come until the last few hours of the season.

It's a long delay of gratification, as it were, and sometimes not always for the better. It's a reason why, I'd guess, that the reaction to the S1 finale was so adamant: the catharsis of knowing was delayed, again. (I talked about formatting and expectations a bit earlier, so won't re-hash.)
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Your excellent answer is actually why strictly horror series have not worked as tv series, because the catharsis was too far in the episodic ature of the seriesas you well summize.
I agree that this episodic nature of the series and lack of a final ending has been detrimental for closure, but then why among all genres, do the horror franchises have so many sequels, more than any other genres of fimed media? I would propose that this schadenfreude does not need a final catharsis in which not humanity is saved but that specifically it is the viewer him/herself that is saved, even if momentary.
In the Scandinavian gloom, the foggy nature of the environment is itself so prone to create misery that survival meant to release all that is uncessary and maintain the core of what makes humanity. this may be a key why Scandinavian countries are legendary in their free spirit, free sexuality and so on.
In terms of The Killing, I think seeking a catharsis is perhaps missing the point, because it will not come; Again, it is there that a police investigation takes a more transcendent form and the catharsis is finding the small clues that will lead finally to resolution, hence my comment on the aspirations of Linden as a heroine.
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Schadenfreude
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THE KILLING is wonderfully depressing. Noel, happy you will continue to watch.
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