If you like cop shows that have an off-screen crime that’s solved neatly in an hour minus commercial time, The Killing is not your kind of show.
AMC’s new series is tense and uncomfortable. The unspeakable horror of a teenage girl’s brutal murder is present in every minute of the show. The characters are not upper class or traditionally beautiful. Nobody stands around cracking jokes until the coroner shows up. And by the end of each episode, hope is a million miles away.
So why watch a show that makes you feel so desolate? Because The Killing is one of the best shows on television right now — maybe ever.
Mireille Enos (Big Love) plays homicide detective Sarah Linden, who is set to leave her Seattle career to join her fiancé in another city. But the murder of Rosie Larson is not something Sarah can easily leave behind. When we see the girl’s drowned body lifted out of the trunk of a car, with her father screaming her name as he is restrained by police officers, we know that Sarah will not rest until the case is resolved.
Sarah’s replacement, Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman), comes on the scene and somewhat reluctantly becomes her partner on the case. Stephen’s a former undercover narcotics officer used to solving crimes by any means possible — not exactly a match for Sarah. But we won’t see any Lethal Weapon type antics here. The Killing is about, well, the killing — not how opposites turn into buddies.
We see Rosie’s murder from three different perspectives: Sarah’s, Rosie’s parents (Michelle Forbes and Brent Sexton), and a politician (Billy Campbell) whose mayoral campaign car held Rosie’s body. Part of what makes The Killing so riveting is that we have time to actually get to know these people. When Rosie’s mom Mitch sinks beneath water level in the bathtub to get a sense of what drowning is like, our anguish is palpable. When Councilman Richmond and his staff maneuver to keep his campaign on track despite the murder, our disgust is equally tangible.
As a remake of Danish series Forbrydelsen, The Killing maintains the pace of the original. Each episode is a day and one of the few complaints I’ve read about the show is that it moves too slowly. But the mood feels right — it goes emotionally deeper than the fast-paced police dramas we’re used to in the U.S.
Showrunner Veena Sud chose wisely in allowing Sarah to be the intelligent, somewhat subdued character she was in the Danish version. I really can’t think of another woman TV detective like her. She doesn’t wear makeup or Prada to solve crimes and she doesn’t spend time chatting or sucking up people. She actually doesn’t change her expression too often, although Enos is somehow able to let us in on what she’s thinking and feeling.
Beyond telling viewers of the original that the outcome is different in the U.S. version, I hesitate to say much more about the story because watching The Killing unfold is so rewarding. But I will say this: I have not been able to stop thinking about the show since watching its first three hours last night. I can’t remember the last time I was so affected by scripted television — and I can’t wait until the next episode. For now, the first three episodes are available for free at AMC’s website.
If you’ve watched The Killing, you’re probably chomping at the bit to tell people why they should be watching, too. Here’s your chance. What do you think of The Killing?