Justice for All

I was glad to see that the ratings for The Killing were good the first night out. It’s an excellent show, and an unusual one as I wrote in The Atlantic last week:

Part of what’s so unusual about The Killing is its format: the 13-episode season is devoted—much like the shorter runs of British series like Prime Suspect or State of Play—to solving a single crime. American procedural shows tend to have a case per episode, a body of the week. Even those that are dedicated to unraveling a larger conspiracy, be it the Baltimore drug networks of The Wire or the identity of the mysterious man in White Collar, generally have at least one mystery they can solve definitively within the programming hour. By contrast, The Killing has only one problem to unravel, and its progress can be maddeningly slow.

But there’s something authentic about that itchy impatience, the fits and starts of an investigation. Enos was pregnant with her son while she was filming, and said she avoided doing the immersive and intensive research she might have otherwise pursued. But Veena Sud, the show’s creator and executive producer, has worked on an unconventional cop show before, the dreamy procedural Cold Case, and had spent time with undercover police officers. Enos says she had help from an unexpected source—one of the still photographers for the pilot was a former homicide detective.

“His hobby had been photography, that’s kind of how he kept himself balanced,” she says. “He retired, but it had been his part-time profession, being a still photographer. He understood both worlds.”

The comments on the piece were illuminating for me, particularly the sense that a show with a female cop as the lead on her own won’t make it. I don’t know that I believe that’s true: certainly, The Closer has a following. But it is revealing, I think, that the mixed-team partner setup has become the hallmark of our police shows. It wasn’t so long ago that Law & Order: Special Victims Unit could partner two white men, John Munch and Brian Cassidy. But I think that pairing would be impossible now. Partner teams are always varied by race or by gender, and there’s much less of a sense most of the time that one person is the lead partner, whether it’s Olivia and Eliot on Special Victims Unit, or Mary and Marshall on In Plain Site. I do think The Killing is unique in the sense that an experienced woman homicide detective is leading an investigation while showing a younger male cop the ropes. But the show is the same as its counterpart (if not peer) shows in its insistence that the police force has to represent all of us.