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The Killing 

The guy on the left, definitely inhales.

click to enlarge The guy on the left? Definitely inhales.
  • The guy on the left? Definitely inhales.

When young homicide detective Steven Holder drags on a joint, hoping to coax a freeway skate park full of gutter punks with the musky smell of ganja, Joel Kinnaman, the actor who plays Holder, pulls the smoke deep into his lungs and holds it.

It’s a simple act that identifies the two best things about AMC’s new procedural, The Killing — two things that make up for a crawling pace, the occasional descent into clichéd meditations on grief and power, and more scenes of nighttime rain than even a show set in Seattle should sink to.

The first is that Kinnaman actually inhales when he smokes, unlike Bill Clinton and unlike basically all actors in Hollywood. There is a verity to the portrayals in The Killing that shames even the grittiest TV offerings. I’m not talking about beautiful people getting blood-spattered while not wearing stage makeup. I’m talking about actors who are so plainlooking that all the makeup in the world couldn’t make them beautiful.

The show’s lead detective, Sarah Linden, wears clothes so dowdy she sometimes looks pregnant. She also looks to be about four feet tall, with no pains taken to make her appear taller. Aside from being driven by the cases she takes, she’s the most boring lead TV character I can think of. Which makes her, in a perverse way, one of the most interesting.

The second thing is that the detective’s weed smoking draws no decisive comment at all. Whether it’s to flush out users or because he is a user himself, we aren’t sure. He certainly looks like a burnout, but he’s also a former narc, so perhaps he’s just used to the uniform of the streets.

In shows less comfortable with moral ambiguity — which is to say, all shows currently on TV — Holder would be identified early as a troubled saint or a devil in search of his own perverse justice, as with Timothy Olyphant’s Raylan Givens in Justified or Michael Chiklis’ Vic Mackey of The Shield.

The most interesting people aren’t the ones who slide easily into established cultural archetypes. This is true, too, of characters. It’s an act of courage to make your main characters boring on the one hand and a complete moral cipher on the other.

It hasn’t made The Killing riveting television yet, and maybe that’s the point. I’m deeply curious to find out how much more boring a murder investigation can get.

The Killing (Sundays, 10 pm, AMC)


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