The day following that day, I was at a complete loss. I bumbled out of my home in a haze, wandering through a New York City that felt draped in dread and heartache. The subways were packed, but silent. People nodded softly and sadly to each other, as if we were all afraid of breaking to pieces at the slightest friction. I went to see a movie for work. It made me weep. I listened to music on my way home, which made me weep. (“Quiet Uptown” on repeat will do that. Spin hard into this pain of the unimaginable.) I padded about my apartment, too distraught to do chores, too distracted to write. So I looked through my emails for those TV show screeners I meant to watch for review: The Killing Season.
Created by documentarians Joshua Zeman (Cropsey) and Rachel Mills (Mavis!), the new A&E series begins with the producing pair investigating the unsolved LISK killings. 10 women—all sex workers—found dead along Gilgo Beach in Long Island. Zeman and Mills pore through police reports and news items. They speak to the families of the victims, who’ve been easily forgotten because of seeming police apathy toward murdered sex workers. And they plunge down the rabbit hole of web sleuths, amateur profilers, and conspiracy theorists. And the farther down this rabbit hole we go, the more unnerving the possibilities.
Maybe it’s not one serial killer on Long Island, but two, facing off in a gruesome turf war. Maybe some of these killings connect to similar murders in Daytona. Before long, LISK seems not like a lone uncaught murderer, but one in a sea of active serial killers who dot America, slaughtering sex workers and leaving them to rot along our vast highways.
It was around this discovery in episode three that I began to panic. I know. Why the hell did I watch—much less binge-watch—a show about serial killers the day after the election? When stressed, I often turn to true crime shows, be they podcasts (My Favorite Murder being my go-to), documentary films, or anything on Investigation Discovery’s line-up. It’s sort of turning into the spin. Like these shows reflect my darkest fears about the world and humanity. But at the end of them, we have answers. We have justice. The unimaginable has been faced down. But The Killing Season reveals not only are there a dizzying amount of serial killers active in the U.S., but also that the FBI is too busy chasing down potential terrorists to bother dedicating even a single profiler to this cause. And I felt my chest tighten in fear and alarm. I thought of the election and how little it seems our nation values the safety of women. And I had to shut The Killing Season off. Switch to Raising Hope. Mentally run away.
For days, I pushed The Killing Season from my mind. But it always strolled back, refusing to let me forget the faces I’d seen of the women lost then overlooked because their jobs make people uncomfortable. I thought of these disenfranchised women and their families, and I grieved for them as I do for the nation I thought I knew and the future I expected lay ahead of us. And then, I realized all hope is not lost. We can’t get these losses back. But there’s hope to be found in that people like Zeman and Mills will fight back on their behalf. They challenge the silent police force that’s failing the victims and their families. They look for leads where the newspapers didn’t bother. They seek justice and inspire the families to not accept this new normal of apathy. And in doing so, they did the same for me.
I’ve not finished the whole of The Killing Season yet. I’m pacing myself, because its revelations are disturbing, and demand the kind of time to process that is better suited to a weekly viewing than my tendency to binge. Yet I wholeheartedly recommend this chilling series. Not only does its moody tone play like a beacon to true-crime fans, but Zeman and Mills’ travel-stacked investigation is laced with intense moments and unnerving discoveries. But most crucial of all, these determined documentarians reject the standard narrative of these victims that assumes sex workers are fated to die horribly, as if it’s a rule instead of a crime.
The pair uses the term “sex worker,” never prostitute, hooker, or whore. They diligently paint the backdrop of economic depression that led many of these women to the only work they could get, work that led them to the fringes of society and out of safety. They offer the victims’ families a venue to share the character of these women who are cruelly known predominantly as grainy photos on the evening news. As they seek justice for these victims, Zeman and Mills treat them with empathy and humanity, remembering them not as junkies and screw-ups, but as sisters, daughters, lovers, and mothers.
The Killing Season was completed before a Trump presidency seemed possible. And while it never speaks of the election or politics, its message aligns incredibly with the road before us. We can choose the apathy of the status quo, and turn our eyes away from the blood, our backs from the victims and their families. Or, we can reject that apathy, and join the growing chorus for justice, for humanity, for a world that works harder for all people, even those cast to the fringes.
The Killing Season airs on A&E Saturday nights at 9/8 c. You can catch up on episodes one through four here.