Checked-Out Parents

The new AMC drama The Killing is a merciless, riveting slog through despair and the unrelenting Seattle rain as two homicide detectives are obsessed with trying to solve the murder of a teenage girl and the girl’s parents are floundering in an ocean of grief, trying to comprehend what seems unfathomable.


As I’ve been watching this compellingly artful “who dunnit,” I’ve been intrigued by the fact that three of the main characters are so focused on the murder case that they can’t seem to see anything else, including their children. How often on contemporary TV do we see parents (who aren’t substance abusers) depicted as being checked-out other than on the 1960s Mad Men? It feels so thoroughly realistic and yet simultaneously sorrowful to watch unfold.


The lead character in this freshman drama is Sarah Linden, a single mom with a 13-year-old son. In the show’s first episode, Linden was wrapping up her final day as a Seattle homicide detective. She’d packed up her apartment and was planning to bring her son Jack with her to move to sunny Sonoma and marry her fiancé Rick . . . until 17-year-old Rosie Larsen went missing. By the end of Linden’s shift, Larsen’s body was found in the trunk of a car that had been submerged in a lake.


From that point on, Linden became so fixated on the case, that everything else fell by the wayside, including her move, her engagement and even the needs of her son. Desirous of continuing to investigate the Larsen murder, Linden temporarily relocated herself and her son to a friend’s houseboat and continued sending Jack to his old school while she tried to solve the case practically 24/7. Her fiancé was left to cool his heels in California as he planned their wedding alone and she gave him precious little information about her intentions.


But the biggest damage Linden’s preoccupation caused was to her son Jack who, over the course of a few days, e-mailed graphic murder scene photos that he found on his mother’s laptop to a bunch of friends and those photos wound up on TV where the Larsen family eventually saw them. Jack was also smoking cigarettes and drinking beer with other middle schoolers on his mother’s friend’s houseboat, and hurled insults at that friend when she kicked Jack’s friends out. (In The Killing’s first episode, Linden was called away from the crime scene after Jack was booted from school for smoking.) When Linden finally came home in the wee early hours of the morning after Jack’s impromptu beer party, her friend told her she needed to take care of Jack, saying, “Your 13-year-old son is obviously acting out all over the place and you’re nowhere to be found.”


Linden’s response? Linden woke the kid up in the middle of the night and dragged him to a cruddy motel. Previews for the next episode have Jack blowing off school -- the school he was slated to leave when he was supposedly moving to California - and his mother, who is trying to locate a killer, didn’t know where her own son was. (It’s also been vaguely mentioned that Linden nearly lost custody of her son because of a similar obsession with another case. Jack’s dad is apparently not in the picture.)