Sarah Linden

Written by @EllieDangerous
Few good stories can pull off a hero like Sarah Linden, but ‘The Killing’ gets it done. Played with some serious edge by Mireille Enos, Detective Linden starts out broken and ends up broken. Emotionally demolished and never rebuilt, this complex protagonist seems unfixable — a brave and realistic move on the part of the writers. But you saw how her entire story arc ends... did the unfixable detective really end up fixed, right at the last moment?

Spoiler Alert
For fellow fans of 'Forbrydelsen', the Danish TV series that championed Scandi noir on the small screen, please note that I don't talk of Sarah Linden and Sarah Lund as one and the same person. As with all the best US remakes, 'The Killing' takes its characters in epic new directions to 'Forbrydelsen'. It's good to respect the obvious connection, but Linden isn't an American version of Lund.

But she is broke. Broke as a bowl in a bull's favourite china shop. Despite those lovely warm jumpers, Linden is cold. This, you would think, is not a great personality to have when you're raising a kid, but somehow Jack seems like a pretty normal teenager right from the off. He's as sullen as his mom, and does the stupid things you'd expect from any teenager. Yet Linden's parenting skills do need fixed. Short of making sure he's not bleeding to death in an alleyway, Linden regularly forgets about Jack, and does sidle into the realm of neglect. Would you force your schoolkid to stay alone in a strange motel room all day?

Her being a naff caregiver shouldn't be much of a surprise. When we learn how much Linden, a grown-up ward of the state, still relies on the social worker she had as a child, alarm bells don't necessarily start ringing but they do start chirping a bit. Social worker Regi seems like she'd be a steadier parent to Jack than Linden could be, and I'm almost tempted to say that Jack's father could be too... but we never do learn why Linden is so freaked out by him.

But the core of their mother-son relationship is dead strong. Linden and Jack do things to protect each other, and care consistently through all four seasons. When she lets him go, it's for his own good. We see that Linden was always capable of loving a kid, and being loved by him in return, but she was never capable of being the reliable rock he needed. Maybe that part of her was unfixable; or maybe there was nothing to break. Not everyone has the potential to be an awesome parent.

Speaking of reliable adults, maybe that's why Jack takes to Holder so much. Forget the guy's immature jokes and badass attitude; what Jack really likes about Holder is that if you call him, you get him. Holder is always there for the little man. And he's always there for Linden too, which of course freaks her the hell out.

After all, Linden is a perpetual runner. Don't tell me she wasn't secretly relieved to lose her nice fiancé Rick and her weird ferry boyfriend. She even runs from Jack and Regi half the time. The only thing she doesn't run from is danger; and, while we're on the subject, that's a huge part of why 'The Killing' is such a thrill.

Linden spends a lot of her personal life running from the would-be mutual affections of the off-beat, languid Detective Holder. But, oops, she accidentally falls into a series of close and comfortable routines with him, from smoking in their cop car to devouring take-out at his place. He's the only person Linden doesn't routinely run from; on the contrary, she grumbles that she doesn't want a partner, then proceeds to put her life on the line to save his neck. More than once.

At times he's the Watson to her Sherlock, getting trailed along while she follows her next lead and keeps him in the dark, but most of the time they're full-fledged partners. It's a closeness that happens accidentally, and she never knew that was possible. Nor did we, to be honest. Sure she had other relationships before Holder, but her smile was sort of frozen back then. With Holder, she doesn't even need to smile.

That's why I think there really was a seemingly miraculous "fix" at the end of the 'The Killing', and it is both real and well-done. Linden and Holder end up together, in whatever manner you imagine, but not before she runs again and then finally — finally — makes the choice to stop running. It's a slow-burn fix that happens naturally over the course of four seasons, but there it is. The crippling wound on her psyche, a wound that ensured she remained an unhappily solitary creature all these years, heals over, leaving a big scar and a ray of light.
I never had a real house to grow up in. You know, home. I never belonged anywhere. And all my life, I was looking for that thing, you know? Thinking that it was out there somewhere. That all I had to do was find it. But I think... maybe that home was us. It was you and me together in that stupid car, riding around, smoking cigarettes. I think that was everything.
Ellie Ball is the founder of Good Characters, and someone who enjoys coffee cake a great deal. She is a graduate of the Scriptwriting MA at Goldsmiths, University of London. For fun and respite, check out her TV analysis articles on Bang2Write or tweet coffee cake at her @EllieDangerous.
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Published on 23 October 2016

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