Monday, April 15, 2013

On Not Handling The Truth

The Danish detective series The Killing is misnamed. In the first season, the death it opens with, of a young woman chased through a forest, is far from the last. By the end of the run of 20 hour-long episodes, two removal men, a policeman, a civil servant, and a politician have all been killed. All of these deaths occur as a result of the investigation into the first, led by the stubbornly maverick Sarah Lund. Lund is the programme's draw, its beating heart. She struggles against the politicking and dull managerialism of her colleagues and superiors, and sacrifices her personal as well as professional life to find the man who murdered that young woman. It's her who we follow through the twists and double twists of the plot as it throws down false lead after false lead, incriminating one character after another, shifting its feet and slipping the weight of incriminating evidence to those it appeared to have exonerated. Yet this, over 20 episodes, creates a difficulty. In order to draw us in, Lund has to be drawn in each time another new suspicion is raised. This means that by the end of the season, she has been convinced that two schoolboys, a teacher, two different politicians, one more than once, and a removal man all committed the initial crime, none of whom did. Although initially the circumstancial evidence that she finds so damning seems compelling, it begins to wear thin as the realisation that the story will continue to be spun out dawns and the speed at which she reaches judgments, her indignation at and determination to sidestep the obstructions of proper procedure, seem increasingly misplaced. By the time the culprit is found, she has told the victim's family the case has been solved several times, been kidnapped and, separately, caused a colleague's death by rushing off to follow leads without support, allowed an innocent suspect to be beaten half to death by a vengeful father, and had her badge taken before hijacking a colleague's car at gunpoint, quite apart from the five other violent deaths her investigation has led to. This is not the behaviour of a police officer vindicating her instinctive and superior judgment over that of  pettifogging and self-interested bureaucrats; it's an abuse of public authority. Yet she is supposed to be the character we sympathise with, a woman devoted to her job, prepared to sacrifice everything for it, and who merely needs to be set free to do it properly. It's to the show's credit that it manages to sustain the impression that she alone knows what she is doing for so long, despite the fact that she manifestly doesn't. Nonetheless, by the end, you do wonder whether the series wouldn't have been better, shorter.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

On The Authority Of Science

Bernard Williams on a certain kind of postmodernist:

Now it is a real question whether the intellectual authority of science is not tied up with its hopes of offering an absolute conception of the world as it is independently of any local or peculiar perspective on it. Many scientists think so. Some people think that this is the only intellectual authority there is. They include, counterfactually speaking, those defenders of the humanities... who think that they have to show that nobody has any hope of offering such a conception, including scientists: that natural science constitutes just another part of the human conversation, so that, leaving aside the small difference that the sciences deliver refrigerators, weapons, medicines and so on, they are in the same boat as the humanities.