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.


– 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"?

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