Seattle is the ugliest town in North America, maybe in the whole world. It rains every day, and especially every night, in Biblical proportions. Many of those ships in the harbor are lining up pairs of animals from the Seattle zoo, those who haven’t drowned already. Penguins drown in the Seattle zoo. Fish drown. When it isn’t raining, it is gray overcast, so low that you can rarely see the top of the Space Needle, which is slowly sinking into the mud. The last time the sun was seen in Seattle was in 1897, during the Gold Rush. It caused a panic. Fifty-six people died of third-degree sunburn. Hundreds were blinded.
Just kidding. Seattle is a great town, I’ve been there many times. The whole Puget Sound area is delightful, with its many ferry boats and pleasure boats and houseboats, its mild climate, its hills and bridges and Pike Street Market and water, water everywhere you go. There must be more shoreline in Puget Sound than any urban area in America. The above paragraph is what you would think Seattle was like from watching this series, if you’d never been there. It is true, they get a lot of rain in the winter (so does the Portland area, where we live), but I have seldom seen the kind of torrential monsoons the producers have created here for atmosphere. I imagine the Seattle Chamber of Commerce thinks about just giving up every time the show comes on. How would you get people to come to a dismal shithole like this?
I pity the cast. At least half their scenes are played in the rain, and to make “movie rain,” to make rain visible to the camera, you have to spray water in quantities you seldom see outside of your shower stall. These poor folks probably got wet more often and more thoroughly than anyone since the cast of Titanic.
Okay, enough of that. This AMC series was based on the wildly popular Danish series “Forbrydelsen,” which means “The Crime.” It was also a smash in Great Britain. Reading about the plot on Wiki, it seems they have stuck very closely to the original, the main difference being that the Danish series was 20 one-hour episodes, and the American remake is only 13. Each show chronicles one day in the investigation of a nasty murder. We got caught up in it—something we rarely do—and have been enjoying it. As I write this we have seen 11 episodes and I haven’t the faintest idea whodunit. My original suspect seems to have been cleared. It is well-written and well-acted, and though the pace is slow, it doesn’t bother me. I like it that when you have 13 hours to tell a story, you can take your time, devote some space to character rather than plot. They may have overdone it on the rain (see above), but there’s no denying Seattle is rainy, and it does provide a gloomy setting.
The two main roles, new detective Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman), and veteran Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) are very well-played. What is striking is that he looks to be about six-foot-five, and she tops out at about five-foot-nothing. The top of her head comes up to about nipple-height on him. (I’d say it’s comical, but the fact is Lee and I are a similar couple, and I don’t see anything funny about that!) One thing I never, never suspected is that Kinnaman is Swedish. Not “of Swedish extraction,” real Swedish, born and raised in Stockholm. This is his first English-language film! I swear, those Nordic people really learn their English. He has absolutely no accent, he passes easily as an American.
One Week Later: No, could it be …? Not him, he was the last one I would have expected … but it looks bad for … I’m not saying.
Two Weeks Later: So it really was … or could it be that … if not him, then who …? As you may have read, the ending was ambiguous. We think we know who did it, but the last two minutes … hell, the last two frames, leave room for doubt. It may not have equaled “The Sopranos” as a mindfuck, but it was close.
And, with a little chance for reflection, it didn’t bother me all that much. At least, not as much as it seems it bothered a lot of people, judging from a few articles I’ve read. People are screaming bloody murder! They did after “The Sopranos,” too, and I adjusted to that. So I’m thinking about why people are so angry.
It comes down to expectations. The murder mystery, in books and films, is a form, a dance performed between writer and reader or viewer, as stylized in its way as Japanese noh or an Indonesian shadow play. You violate it at your peril. It’s like stepping on the toes of your dance partner. This is whether it takes place in Agatha Christie’s drawing room or the mean streets of Los Angeles. Both extremes of the genre have rules in common. And the primal rule, the one you can’t violate, is that at the end you find out who did the killing. Readers will tolerate any number of red herrings—in fact, we want them—so long as, in the end, we know whodunit, and that it might have been possible, in the real world, for us to figure it out.
And that exposes the basic lie behind these stories, doesn’t it? The real world. Which bears little resemblance to the world of murder-mystery fiction. Most crimes go unsolved in the real world. A great many murders go unsolved. There are no neat little bows to wrap the real world in. Even if a case is resolved, there is always another chapter.
But shouldn’t writers stick to the rules? They know what we expect; how dare the writer fuck with our heads? Well, if all you want is just another entry in the mystery genre (and I do, often, I read a lot of them and enjoy them), sure, why not? But is no one allowed to break out of the mold now and then? To shock us with a teeny dose of reality? Personally, I’m grateful for those. That’s what David Chase was really telling us when he left Tony S. and his family sitting in that restaurant with all those sinister forces seeming to be drawing in for the kill … and just stopped. Hey, viewer, this series was never like the usual tired old crap, why did you expect it to end with Tony coughing up blood? You can say it was a gimmick, but isn’t wrapping it up neatly—and nothing wraps things up quite like death—the real gimmick? The one we’ve been conditioned to expect, even demand? The lie that comforts us, the one that says the real world always makes sense? Tony Soprano was a fictional character, and the series was ending. Live or die, his goombahs would be up to their old psychopathic tricks next week whether he was around or not. Yet we demanded closure. Shit, you get closure in every book and movie, don’t you? Do you need it all the time?
You could take a less forgiving attitude, I guess, and it may even be true: That same week it was announced that there would be a second season of “The Killing.” Okay, maybe the ending was calculated to bring viewers back next year, to see what happens next. If so, it would hardly be the first time a series ended on a cliffhanger, would it? And if so, the evidence so far is that they managed to alienate a large part of their audience. But I think they were maybe crazy like a fox. I think that when the new season opens most people—like me!—will be tuning in to see more.