Note: This post includes spoilers for seasons 1-3 of The Killing. It also includes violent images after the jump of a type allowable on cable television and so may not be SFW or appropriate for all readers.
Recently, GLG’s Phoebe B. has been writing on white male violence, discussing television’s problematic obsession with white men committing and fixating on the murders of white women and how, further, these tropes can be read as constant infantilization. A while back, I wrote on how depictions of rape in critically-acclaimed Hollywood films function as body genres that foreclose empathy and activism. This post builds on these discussions with a reading of the representation of dead female bodies in the AMC/Netflix show The Killing, which begins in a compelling, even feminist vein before devolving into tired, exploitative modes in later seasons.
Who killed Rosie Larsen? This question drives season 1 (and, alas, season 2) of The Killing. The show also quite consciously evokes its predecessor Twin Peaks, the ur-“Dead Girl Show,” to use the terminology of Alice Bolin in her discussion of this genre. However, The Killing—like counterparts The Fall, Top of the Lake, and Pretty Little Liars—complicates this core narrative by putting a woman in the role of detective and mystery solver. Mireille Enos plays Detective Sarah Linden, a complicated woman, haunted by her past and obsessed with discovering who murdered 17-year-old Rosie. Because of its female-centric perspective, I argue that in season 1 The Killing takes a divergent path in the representation of the murdered female body.
Feminists including Martha Nussbaum have long articulated the problem in objectifying people, most commonly women. A common feature of said objectification involves chopping up the female body into parts or otherwise denying the subjectivity of a woman, for example, by obscuring her face or head.
I add that, often, Dead Girl Shows similarly objectify female bodies through dehumanization and bifurcation. The goal in these shows is less sexual titillation and commodification than to evoke a repulsion aligned with body genres, a la Linda Williams.