Having never seen the original Danish TV show Forbrydelsen, on which this American remake is based, I can’t comment on how accurately it hews to the structure of the original or how closely it replicates the wooly jumpers of the female lead. Looking at this with untainted eyes shows an impressive piece of work, one that is particularly nuanced for a network television show, set in a washed out dreary looking Seattle that is at the same time both oppressive and dreamlike, like a fairytale in police garb. And like all fairytales, this deals with the nasty things that befall children and the deceptions of adults. In this incarnation the Big Bad Wolf stalks political corridors or the grounds of schools looking for prey.
Ostensibly a whodunnit, (Season 1 & 2 deal with the murder of Rosie Larsen, a working class teenager, while Season 3 deals with a serial killer who targets homeless teenagers) this is a sprawling look at the socio-political networks that make up a city, while also exploring the effect that modern media has in fabricating narratives out of real life tragedy. It may not have the forensic detail in exploring the topography of the criminal elements of a city that made The Wire so much more than just a straightforward cop show, but it, unusually for an American network show, depicts the lives of blue collar and low income people in a manner that is both unvarnished and also in the main, empathetic and warm (although it loses some of its hard won praise by revealing that Rosie’s father was once an enforcer for the Polish mob). By also mixing in Native American rights, sex tapes, hostility towards muslims, a gubernatorial election that is inextricably linked to the death of Rosie Larson, and the breakdown of two relationships in the course of the first two seasons, you have a show with a lot to work through.
What makes this stand out from the glut of TV policiers is the work of the two leads. It may be hackneyed as all hell to have the damaged but gets results good cop, but it gets worse when you then find that Sarah Linden (Enos) is also just about to retire from the force. Add a recovering meth head partner Holder (Kinnaman) into the mix and you could have an overload of eggs in one basket. That it works is due to some fine acting from both, and writing that never asks for sympathy. At times, these characters are borderline unlikeable. Linden is cold to the point of autism, emotionally inexpressive and a borderline unfit mother. Her partner is if anything worse, by turns petulant and irritating. With a somewhat laissez faire approach to police procedure, he talks in faux hip hop lingo and acts like a teenager who has just been grounded by his parents. That by the end of the season you come to like these people is down to some fine writing that reveals character through action and reveals them as characters every bit as fragile as those they seek to protect. The empathy then is hard won, and as much as Kinnaman’s role skirts dangerously into asshole with a heart of gold, there is still an element of self destruction on the surface that rings true.
In truth, the actual murder of Rosie Larson is the least important aspect of the show; this is more an investigation of loss and bereavement than a serial killer thriller. The anger and heartbreak of the parents is the emotional core of the first two seasons, both dealing with grief in a way that pulls them further apart than together. When the mother, Mitch (Forbes), leaves her husband and attempts a drink and sex bender, it feels less for titillation and more the need to erase the past and reset, an act of giving into primal urges removing the torture of remembering the death of her daughter, an act she is unable to erase completely when she tries to help a homeless teenager. It is an emotionally draining episode equalled only by the one in which Linden searches for her own missing son. Misery may be its metier but it does it so well. It is a shame then that the political aspects of the show feel undercooked, the political dealings more like an episode of Dallas than a nuanced investigation into governmental corruption. That it plays such a pivotal part in the unravelling of the mystery means we spend more time in the politicians' banal company than is needed, padding out the show to the detriment of the more nuanced storytelling the other strands of the plot have.
Like most whodunnits, the journey is always more satisfying than the reveal, and in this The Killing is no exception. By turns convoluted and simplistic, with a resolution that requires a complete about face from a major character that blows the subtle storytelling out of the water, in the end these first two seasons offer the great and the banal - the writing is great, the plotting is elementary.
With the main story wrapped up, the third season, by necessity, has to press the reset switch. It also has to find convoluted ways of getting Sarah back onto the police force, as in the beginning of the show she is now a transit authority employee. Holder is still a homicide detective, now paired with the jaded and lazy Detective Reddick (Gregg Henry). Like the previous seasons, this has a scope wider than just a murder investigation, taking in teenage homelessness and a debate of the morality of public executions within the prison system. What it also has is a tightening of focus. The three narrative through lines intersect and weave together like a sailors knot. It may veer slightly more to traditional police procedural, but now has a more muscular plot to go with its character arcs.
The season may start with some hard won normality in both leads life, but by the end of this season they are both more broken and emotionally fragile than ever before. The narrative this season works better with the characters' choices having emotional repercussions that echo through this season. The murder of a homeless teenager opens up an old case for Linden, and calls into question the culpability of death row inmate Ray Seward (the reliably creepy Peter Sarsgaard) which leads to her reclaiming her detective shield and reawakening a relationship with her partner on the original case, Skinner (Elias Koteas). Add to the mix a gaggle of teen runaways, by turn cynically streetwise and heartbreakingly fragile, and you have a heady mixture of misery and shattered emotions that is the sine qua non for this show.
This season is helped immeasurably from some sterling work from film directors such as Lodge Kerrigan, Keith Gordon and Jonathan Demme, who add cinematic grace notes without destroying the visual palette of the previous seasons. Kerrigan does wonders with an episode that is essentially a two hander, as Linden is kidnapped by a suspected murderer. Filmed in close up, in the claustrophobic confines of a car this is a textbook example of how to create tension through dialogue and action. Every expression is writ large, behaviour is action. In this single episode, Kerrigan has created a companion piece to his disturbing Damian Lewis starrer Keane.
The other standout episode is from series creator Veena Sud, which examines the issue of capital punishment in a way that is curiously reminiscent of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s A Short Film About Killing. It's a quietly devastating piece of television, which doesn’t quite have the intellectual rigour of the Polish director's masterpiece, but offers difficult questions that network television rarely asks. As a climactic end to a series, it would have been amazing. That the two remaining episodes resort to formula so readily is one of the biggest disappointments of this season.
Like all episodic TV, there are longeurs and a sense of drawing things out that are less irritating when viewed as a box-set. The parallel narratives may occasionally be infuriatingly opaque before they combine together, but as a whole this is just a mite better than what has gone before. Resolution, however, has always been a problem for this show, and this season is no exception. Throwing away the hard earned emotional beats, it instead embraces the schlocky serial killer stylings of many a Seven imitator, and pulls out a deus ex machina worthy of a Scooby Doo episode (fortunately, at no stage does the villain mention he would have got away with it if he hadn’t been for meddling kids). It may leave on an interesting route for the fourth season, but by doing so it has undermined the good work beforehand.
By turns exceptional, but with a sometimes meek need to kowtow to cop show formula, this is an always interesting but flawed show that at least pushes mainstream US television into some interestingly murky waters. On the whole, brilliantly directed, with a cast regularly knocking this out of the park, this is a show with a compelling combination of American and European sensibilities that gives it an abrasive uncomfortable edge.
A more than adequate selection, including commentaries on certain episodes, an extended season finale, a gag reel and deleted scenes and picture galleries. Audio and picture quality are fantastic. The murky washed out palette of this show benefits greatly from a HD transfer. An interesting set of extras for fans of the show.
By Jason Abbey