Analysis of The Killing: Tragedy and Motherhood



By: Glynis Neely

The Killing is an American adaptation of the Danish series of the same name, both created by Veena Sud. Seattle police detective Sarah Linden (Mirelle Enos) spends most of her time hunting down murderers, when she is not caring for her young son Jack or sabotaging her personal relationships. She and her partner Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman) work homicide together, but Linden develops an unhealthy attachment to the victims. These young victims can no longer speak for themselves, so she desperately tries to give them a voice. Throughout the series, Linden’s parenting experience is frequently juxtaposed with the mothers who are grieving over their lost children. Tragedy destroys their families and becomes profoundly life changing, some of them finding purpose through the loss.

The dynamics within their relationships are varied, but all of these mothers had a difficult time raising their kids. The fulcrum of the show’s dysfunctional mother-child relationships is between Linden and her son Jack. When introduced, Jack is about 11 and having a rough time living with his mother; their relationship is incredibly fraught. Linden’s tunnel vision with her cases often impedes her ability to take care of herself, much less Jack. She habitually leaves him with her former social worker Regi, to whom she’s always been close, or on his own in an empty motel room.

She may not be there for Jack all the time, but she is determined to keep him with her at all costs – even to his detriment. She refuses to let him live with his father because she doesn’t like him, though by all accounts he seems like an ok guy who clearly wants to be a part of his son’s life. She could probably settle down somewhere, but she doesn’t seem able to commit to a permanent home. Jack is so young and confused by his place in his mom’s world that he begins to act out and rebel against Linden’s incredibly strict and dismissive attitude.

She is constantly struggling to make the right choices, but Linden cannot bear to be present enough to properly parent Jack. After the reunion with her own mother in the final season, her actions make a lot more sense. She was abandoned at a young enough age to remember how happy she was with her mother and the subsequent years spent in foster care hardened her considerably. She realizes she can’t offer Jack exactly what he needs, but she is his mother and loves him deeply, so she shows it to him the only way she knows how. Their relationship matures alongside Jack’s growth; he becomes more in tune to who his mother is, eventually accepting her flaws.

After the death of their daughter Rosie, Stan and Mitch Larsen’s working class family is torn apart as they struggle to deal with their loss. Mitch (Michelle Forbes)  and Rosie had an especially complicated relationship when she was alive. Mitch was incredibly strict with her and they constantly fought. She only wanted the best for her daughter, but all Rosie wanted to do was explore the world; Mitch wanted to shield her from as much of it as she could. She saw so much of her audacious, younger self in Rosie and it scared her. She never told Rosie the whole truth about who she really was and where she came from, so she feels guilty and can’t help but think it was her fault that this happened.

The family struggles to stay together in the midst of their grief and money problems. Mitch’s sister Terry steps in to help out as Mitch continues to spiral into a deep depression. She reaches a point where she can’t even bring herself to care for her two boys. Stan tries to help more around the house while simultaneously running his business and it takes a toll on him. When Mitch discovers their bank account is empty, she is so overwhelmed that she abandons her family to go on the road and find some semblance of clarity and understanding. Yet no matter where she goes, Mitch sees Rosie all around her. When she comes home after some experiences have opened her eyes, she feels like she understands who Rosie was and not who she wanted her to be.

A year after her efforts to find Rosie’s killer gets her kicked off the force, Holder draws Linden back in to the Seattle PD after a young woman’s body is found mutilated. She follows the trail to a marsh nearby and discovers a dumpsite with dozens of bodies. The victims turn out to be female, some as young as 12, and most likely connected to the first victim. So the hunt for the serial killer targeting homeless teen girls begins. Then a 15-year-old girl named Kallie Leeds, who was living on the streets, is reported missing by her friend. Linden questions the girl’s mother Danette (, but she doesn’t seem too concerned about her daughter’s whereabouts or believe that she’s missing at all.

Danette is a poor, single mother who generally does not pay a lot of attention to her daughter’s well being. She is more concerned with her boyfriend and her self image, that she doesn’t seem to realize she is actually a mother. In fact, the night her daughter went missing, she had told Kallie she wasn’t welcome to crash there. She tells Linden about how easy it was to take care of Kallie when she was young because she just looked up to her mom. As soon as she became a teenager and parenting became more difficult, Danette threw in the towel. But Linden doesn’t have sympathy for her when she continues to act like there’s nothing wrong.

After some time, Danette starts to become concerned that maybe her daughter is really missing after all. They didn’t have a healthy relationship, but it seems strange she would go this long without stopping by. Linden does not warm up to her despite the change of heart, but the guilt in abandoning her daughter when she needed her most really motivates Danette to start looking for Kallie. A part of her probably realizes it might be futile, and it ultimately is, but she continues to look for her daughter. It took losing Kallie to finally realize she needs step up and be the mother she deserved all along.

After the shock of discovering the identity of the serial killer, Linden takes on a new case investigating the murder of a wealthy family and their surviving son Kyle. He returns to his military academy under the watchful eye of headmistress, and now guardian, Colonel Margaret Rayne, an excellent Joan Allen. Even before the murder, Kyle was not exactly popular with his peers, and it only gets worse when he returns to school. Many of them think he had something to do with his family’s death, so he spends most of his time alone or bullied. His family was also very hard on him as the adopted child, and he felt they resented him for being different. The frustration he experienced at home seeped into every area of his life, creating a very angry and cynical adult.

Margaret takes him under her guardianship and tries to make life normal for him, and he seems to trust her judgment. She wants to be a maternal figure to Kyle, but she has trouble showing compassion, much like Linden. Margaret stands by him to the best of her abilities, even putting herself in harm’s way to protect him, no matter how fruitless the effort. She continuously blocks the detectives from speaking to Kyle and seems to be the only one who has his best interests at heart.

These women came to different understandings at the loss, or burden, of their children. They all lost a piece of themselves when they became mothers, but it took tragedy to make them realize what they had all along. Margaret gave up her child but tried to do right by him when she could, even if she knew it was wrong. Danette couldn’t be a supportive mom to Kallie and treated her horribly because being a mother was too hard. It took losing her daughter to find that inner strength to become a better person.

After leaving because it all was too much for her too, Mitch comes home to take care of the family that still needs her. She finally understands her daughter and the family moves on, but they never forget about Rosie. And despite everything she put him through, Linden and Jack ultimately come to an understanding. She was unable to truly step into that motherhood role for Jack when he was growing up because she never felt good enough to do the job, but she finally found her place in his life. It takes sacrifice to be a mother, but in the process they lost their way. It took tragedy and hardships to get them back on their path and finally forgive themselves.

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