The Killing: The Complete First Season Blu-rayA tv review article by: Paul Brian McCoy
Follows the police investigation of the murder of a young girl, tying together three interlocking stories as investigators chase a variety of leads.
I have a problem with AMC's The Killing. I can't help it. I've seen the original and loved it. Because of that I have a hard time evaluating the Americanized version as anything other than a watered down, louder, brasher version of an absolutely brilliant crime/political/family drama.
But I'm going to try.
For those of you who don't know, The Killing follows the investigation into the murder of high school senior Rosie Larsen (Katie Findlay) while simultaneously examining the breakdown of her family in the aftermath. Alongside this, we also keep tabs on the Mayoral campaign of City Councilman Darren Richmond (Billy Campbell), and the strange coincidences that tie him to the murder.
I should probably go ahead and discuss the elephant in the room.
After thirteen episodes, there's no resolution. The case is nowhere near solved by the season finale, which caused an untold amount of moaning, wailing, and gnashing of teeth on the internet as soon as the credits began to roll. On one hand, I can understand the fan outcry. We are trained as viewers to expect our resolutions. We've been raised on crime procedurals that solve a case every episode, and devoting an entire season to one murder investigation is commendable for the sheer level of detail and frustration that it entails. When the season finale airs and there's still no killer (or not one that gets brought to justice – or even really identified), viewers have a right to feel cheated.
The structure of the show also lends itself to feeling that we should be getting some closure. Every episode is a single day in the investigation and while it's common sense to know that a murder investigation may take longer than thirteen days, there's still the internal flow of the narrative that builds and builds toward that finale. When we don't get that closure, instead getting a six-month or more hiatus before the story picks up from the very next moment after the screen went black, it can feel like we're being played.
Especially when this is a show that lives and dies on how well the red herrings are established, revealed, and explained. When the season ends with a cliff-hanger, it suddenly feels like we're not watching a remake of Forbrydelsen, but maybe we're watching a remake of Twin Peaks. Hell, I've found myself thinking of Rosie Larsen as Rosie Palmer, especially given the marketing slogan "Who Killed Rosie Larsen?" Plus, Rosie Palmer is an appropriate name given all the Emmy wanking that goes on.
But more on that later.
So the fan outrage is justified to a degree. The problem is that we're dealing with a pretty close remake – sometimes too close, sometimes not – of a very successful original program. The Danish series ran for twenty episodes, which, while still a quick murder investigation, allowed it to breath and twist and turn, becoming one of the most popular television series in Danish history. And when it was broadcast in the UK it was being hailed as one of the best shows on television.
The American version, therefore, has a lot to live up to, and if they were going to break it into two thirteen-episode seasons, they should have warned people. Forbrydelsen is virtually unknown here, so your average viewer would have had no idea that there was going to be more story later. Now, in the aftermath, the creative crew and AMC suits act like it's no big deal. They act like we all should have realized it wouldn't be over so quickly. But that's arrogance on their part. If the show had failed and not been renewed for a second season (like the far superior AMC show Rubicon), then the fans would have been right.
Luckily, this is a very well-made series with enough melodrama ladled over the skeleton of the best cop show since The Wire that it was almost guaranteed to succeed. Whether or not those fans who felt burned will come back, we'll just have to wait and see. I imagine they will. You don't get so pissed off that you swear never to watch something again because you're impassive about it. Those fans will be back to see who killed Rosie.
I don't think I will, however.
For me, the problem isn't that the story isn't over in a tightly structured season-long arc. The problem is that the writing isn't anywhere near as good as people are giving it credit for. In fact, when The Killing stays close to its source material, it can almost be good – in spite of ham-handed dialogue that doesn't even stand up to translated UK subtitles most of the time.
When it strays from the source, it can be downright painful to watch. Mainly because, as I mentioned before, when it strays from Forbrydelsen, it seems to be referencing Twin Peaks instead. Not the quirky originality of Twin Peaks, but the meandering, almost losing the plot, sensationalized melodrama of Twin Peaks. But Twin Peaks was satire. This isn't.
When we discover that Rosie was working nights as an internet call-girl and taking a ferry up-river every week to hang out at an Indian casino, I really half-expected to start seeing haunting dreams of a midget talking backwards.
On top of this, the performances leave something to be desired. Again, this is a problem for me because I have seen the original, where we watch a grieving family break down gradually and believably over the weeks of the investigation. In the original, the performances are quieter – more internal. There's no wailing and screaming "NO!" at the sky until much later, when they just can't take it anymore. The build is everything.
In the American version everyone wears their emotions on the surface. There's an attempt to play at some sort of internal conflict, but that's only as the series wears on. The first couple of episodes are so filled with so many loud, shouty, Emmy-wanking emotional explosions that I was completely turned off (and stopped watching the show during its original airing).
Don't get me wrong. These are still believable reactions, but they're commonplace on TV and cliché in their desperate attempt to be taken seriously. They're realistic, but this isn't real. This is art. And good art should break with what we expect. In this show, everyone acts like they're "supposed" to act on a TV show, despite the blind assertions of the creators that they're avoiding TV clichés. They're not. And I don't know if that's just promotional bluster or blind arrogance.
There's a lot of talk on the promotional materials and the creator commentaries about how internalized the performances are. How you can see what's going on with them by their looks, expressions, and body language. It's specifically mentioned with regard to Mireille Enos (playing Sarah Linden) and Brent Sexton's (as Stan Larsen) performances, but I'm afraid that pointing them out specifically is a bit of misdirection on the creators' parts. Their performances are easily the least impressive as they both have a hard time projecting that anything is going on behind their eyes.
Enos is a blank where she should be expressive; staring into space as a substitute for recognizable thought processes going on. And Sexton plays every passing emotion with a flinch, an eyeroll, and/or a vocalization. It's the most surface-level performance in the cast.
There are a few notable performances, despite the cliché direction, writing, and melodramatic bullshit dialogue. Michelle Forbes as grieving mother Mitch Larsen is excellent throughout. I would have preferred to see her go more low-key initially, but she's the real stand-out here. She's the only actor to really project an internal life – and this is a show that relies on silences and pensive looks (when they aren't screaming at each other). I would have loved to see her in the lead detective role of Sarah Linden. She could have made this something great.
Swedish actor Joel Kinnaman (who was recently announced as the new Robocop) does the best he can as new partner Stephen Holder. He only breaks the typical wise-ass cop stereotype because his character is written as a completely different type of cliché. He's the street-wise, undercover vice cop who became a junkie. So now he goes to his meetings, treasures his sobriety chip, and acts like a dick nearly ALL THE TIME to hide his pain. He's pretty unlikeable as the show begins – and staying with that characterization would have been the stronger way to go – but as the show goes on he becomes sympathetic as we discover just which clichés he's actually playing. You see, he's hurt and struggling with a family that doesn't want to see him.
Haven't seen that before.
We really get a faceful of this in Episode 11, "Missing," where an entire day of the investigation is abandoned because the writers feel we need to spend time humanizing our cops. This is where we get force-fed what a good guy Holder really is as he supports our hero, Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) as she spends the day looking for her runaway 15 year-old son. Yeah, she's got family problems and can't maintain relationships due to her severe involvement with fighting crime. Not a cliché there, either. I'm sorry, but making your troubled cop a woman who grew up in foster homes doesn't mean it's still not a cliché.
"Missing" completely destroys all of the momentum that had been building over the previous few episodes, which hadn't been all that bad, overall. They'd moved the plot forward and provided some very interesting interactions between the other characters (and also moved the show away from their original US missteps to the warm embrace of the Danish plot points). "Missing," on the other hand, was tedious, hard to watch, and seemed to only be included in the season to pad out episodes (remember, we'll get twenty-six instead of twenty, so the US team has to bulk it up) and again, wank for Emmy consideration.
The Blu-ray release of Season One isn't a bad package, but it doesn't really add a lot to make it worth the purchase. There are a couple of audio commentaries, one with showrunner Veena Sud on the pilot, and the other with writer/producer Nicole Yorkin and actress Mireille Enos. Sud's commentary was particularly frustrating as she gives only lip service to the source material and acts like her scripting and showrunning is really what makes The Killing something special. I disagree. The source material provides every single unique and quality element of this production. To say otherwise is simply arrogance and narcissism. And I was completely turned off by her introducing herself as "The creator of The Killing." That's just wrong. The Yorkin/Enos is pretty useless and annoying given how many times they gush over the quality of the writing and how talented the writers are, using points taken directly from the Danish original as an example of how creative the Americans are.
There's a 17 minute making-of documentary where the actors and makers talk a lot about what makes this show different from your standard American police/political/family dramas. There's not a lot of insight here either. The deleted scenes are a waste of time and the gag reel is remarkably unfunny, except for one moment between Billy Campbell and Tom Butler as the current Mayor that made me laugh. It was the most enjoyable moment in the entire 13+ hours of this release.
We also get an extended version of the season finale. That's where you'll find the Yorkin/Enos commentary. There are maybe two or three short scenes added that really don't add a lot and again, aren't really worth the inclusion when we've already got a deleted scenes section. The overall extras package ends up being more of a vague gesture at giving the viewer something extra than actually committing to it.
The video is 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer and the show is spread over three discs and looks good. I found myself enjoying the beautiful sweeping cityscapes of Seattle (while the rest of the show is filmed in Vancouver) more than the actual show, so take that as you will. Seriously, if they had taken the time and money that was spent making Seattle look gorgeous, and used it on script rewrites and rehearsals, then this might be something special.
All in all, we've got a truly mixed bag here and I can't really recommend it highly. If you've not seen the original and can deal with the mystery being spread over two seasons, you may be able to overlook the flaws in writing and acting that I can't. With that caveat, this is essentially a pretty average series that isn't nearly as groundbreaking as everyone involved seem to think it is.
Is it better than your bog-standard CSI: Fill In the Blank? Yeah. No argument there. But to hear these adaptors talk, you'd think there was never a The Wire, The Shield, Breaking Bad, Justified, or any number of television shows in just the past five to ten years that really did and continue to break boundaries and craft excellent television.
I'd give it an as-objective-as-humanly-possible 3 stars.
In my heart of hearts it gets 2 at best.
I'd rather have watched a dubbed version of the original than sit through this. To be quite honest, I'd recommend buying the BBC release of the Danish series and a multi-region player over spending money on this arrogant, self-satisfied release. Although with the original you don't get to play a drinking game based on spotting cast members from Battlestar Galactica and Stargate.
The Killing: The Complete First Season was released on March 13, 2012. New episodes of the show begin airing tonight, Sunday April 1, 2012.
Paul Brian McCoy is the writer of Mondo Marvel and a regular contributor to Shot for Shot, Streaming Pile O' Wha?, and Classic Film/New Blu, all here at Comics Bulletin. His first novel, The Unraveling: Damaged Inc. Book One is on sale now for Kindle US, Kindle UK, and Nook. You can also purchase his collection of short stories, Coffee, Sex, & Creation at Amazon US and UK. He is unnaturally preoccupied with zombie films, Asian cult cinema, and sci-fi television. He can also be found babbling on Twitter at @PBMcCoy and blogging occasionally at Infernal Desire Machines.