TV Review: THE KILLING, 1.1 & 1.2 - "Pilot" & "The Cage"

Denmark's 2006 TV series Forbrydelsen (The Crime) has been wowing a niche audience on BBC4 over the past few months, but here comes the inevitable US remake. Fortunately, it's from cable channel AMC, who have established themselves as the new home of high-quality US drama in recent years (owing to the success of Mad Men, Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead), so it'll come as no surprise to find The Killing is a tremendous remake, if currently slavish to the Danish. "Who Killed Rosie Larsen?" It's a question that'll sound familiar to audiences who remember the media buzz surrounding Twin Peaks, another small-town murder-mystery show that had audiences wondering "who killed Laura Palmer?" in the early-'90s. The Killing is essentially that landmark David Lynch/Mark Frost series, minus its off-kilter ambience and surreal flourishes, here shepherded by Veena Sud (Cold Case), who cleaves very close to the Danish pilot for her Seattle-set remake.

Homicide detective Sarah Linden (Big Love's Mireille Enos) is about to leave rainswept Washington state for sunny California with her 13-year-old son Jack and fiancé Rick Felder (Callum Keith Rennie), when she's dragged into "one last case" when local teenager Rosie Larsen (Katie Findlay) is reported missing over the weekend, following a Halloween party at school. Partnered with her replacement, ex-narc cop Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman), Linden brings her enviable skills to the investigation, during the critical 72-hour period, interviewing Rosie's mother Mitch (Michelle Forbes) and father Stan (Brent Sexton), as the local area is searched and Rosie's final known movements are uncovered. Meanwhile, the missing person's case threatens to disrupt Council President Darren Richmond's (Billy Campbell) campaign to become Mayor, as his plan enters an important phase.

There's absolutely nothing that's particularly original about The Killing (the premise is practically a cliché of the police procedural genre), but the secret of its success is how the story's being told. It helps that the format of the show means this one case will be fully explored over 13-hours, which will result in a much more realistic and thorough representation of real homicide investigations, but it's the overall tonality that really clinches the deal. The oppressively grey skies of Vancouver (standing in for Seattle) are a familiar sight for TV audiences, made famous by The X Files, and The Killing makes full use of the city's wet, chilly atmosphere. The camera practically lurks in aerial shots of the town, the hiss of rainwater is omnipresent, and people are permanently blurred in their cars through slick windscreens. The weather sets such an appropriate, somber mood that it stains everything around it. It feels like nature itself is crying over Rosie's abduction and murder.

The actors are also on great form. Enos has a the pasty features of a woman who's been squinting into wind and rain her whole life, but it's prying into the darker nature of human beings that's left indelible marks on her soul. As Sarah Linden, she's reserved, considered, intelligent, pragmatic, and the best person you want to be heading up a murder investigation, as her boss Lieutenant Oakes knows only too well, hence him persuading her to delay her move to California. Kinnaman offers a less experienced partner in Holder, but one whose street smarts come in handy; Forbes is magnificent as Rosie's mother, bringing palpable pain and anguish to the part; Sexton's a wounded bear as Rosie's dad; and Billy Campbell is great as the local politician who appears sympathetic, but has a campaign team steering him into making decisions that benefit his career over what's best for the police's investigation. The first two episodes tackle the familiar beats of murder plots; the report, the search, the discovery of Rosie's body (told in a virtuoso extended scene that draws power from its unflinching nature), the confirmation of identity at a morgue, the aftermath for the family, and the discovery of additional evidence that deepens the case. The scripts also do a brilliant job of introducing the characters (not too many so you get confused by a parade of faces), giving you a real sense of what they're all about, and ensuring that most will give armchair sleuths pause for thought about their back-story and alibi for the day Rosie disappeared. Is the culprit Rosie's best friend? Her affluent ex-boyfriend? The nice man running for Mayor, or one of his employees? Linden's fiance? For anyone who's seen Forbrydelsen, it's been confirmed that the remake's culprit, and their motivation, has been changed, so The Killing should play like an alternative path through the same basic story.

Overall, The Killing is slick, assured, sharp, poignant storytelling, covering familiar ground in a manner that feels fresh, immersive and compelling. Like any murder-mystery, the beginning and ending will be the most naturally gripping ends of the tale, so it remains to be seen if The Killing can keep audiences glued to their televisions in the trickier middle. But if the plot unfolds as meticulously as I assume it will, the characters are enriched by the time spent exploring them, and there are enough twists/turns and red herrings to keep the story deliciously knotted, The Killing should be just fine. Who killed Rosie Larsen? I don't know, but I have my suspicions already, don't you?
WRITER: Veena Sud DIRECTOR: Patty Jenkins (1.1) & Ed Bianchi (1.2) CAST: Mireille Enos, Billy Campbell, Joel Kinnaman, Michelle Forbes, Brent Sexton, Kristin Lehman & Eric Ladin TRANSMISSION: 3 April 2011, AMC
You can read more reviews at my blog, Dan's Media Digest.
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