AMC has put its own unique stamp on television by successfully marrying drama to genre TV. The results have been fantastic shows like Mad Men, Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead, and even Rubicon was a solid entry (may it rest in peace).
AMC’s new show The Killing – an American import of the Danish series Forbydeisen (“Crime”) – attempts to put a dramatic twist on the standard crime procedural formula, and the result is a show that shows promise of long-term gains that will unfold at a slow-burn pace.
For those who don’t know, here’s a quick synopsis of what the show is about:
The Killing is a crime procedural presented in a unique format. Each episode will focus on one set of principal characters associated with the murder of teenager Rosie Larsen – including the detectives investigating the case (Mireille Enos and Joel Kinnaman); the dead girl’s parents (Brent Sexton and Michelle Forbes); and a City Council Present with political ambitions (Billy Campbell). As each of these groups get sucked deeper into the mystery of Rosie’s death, the effect of one brutal slaying will reach farther and have greater impact than anyone ever expected.
If you haven’t seen the show yet, take a look at this 4-minute preview that introduces you to the main cast of characters and the grisly crime that brings them all together:
The pilot episode of The Killing is intriguing, if not thrilling. It quickly becomes apparent that this show isn’t going to be a plot-point-to-plot-point thrill ride, but rather a slower and deeper journey where characters are the focus, rather than the “whodunit?” mystery. These debut episodes do a good job of baiting the hook; they introduce the characters effectively and give us little, tiny, peeks into the depth and complexity these characters will ultimately display.
The show opens by introducing us to Seattle police detective Sarah Linden (Big Love‘s Mireille Enos). Linden is that a archetypal cop with the uncanny radar for police work - to the point that the opening of the show (Linden on her gray morning woodland jog, juxtaposed to the titular act of violence) suggests that her sensitivities are so strong, she can almost sense death’s presence when it’s close.
That intimacy with the darker side of life could be one reason that Linden is leaving Seattle and moving her young son to California, in order to be with the new man in her life. Of course, in typical fashion, Linden gets pulled back in just as she’s about to step out the door. Thankfully, the cliches pretty much end there.
Street-smart narco cop Stephen Holder (Snabba Cash star Joel Kinnaman) is stepping in to replace Linden when the odd pair get called out to investigate a possible crime scene in the woods, where some kids have discovered a bloody sweater. The other cops on the scene (including Holder) think there’s no crime to investigate – but Linden has that feeling in her gut. After pushing the issue, the cops stumble upon a clue – an ATM card with the name “Stan Larsen” on it.
The name belongs to happy working-class couple Stan and Mitch Larsen (Justified‘s Brent Sexton and True Blood‘s Michelle Forbes, respectively). The Larsens live in nice little neighborhood row house with their brood of kids – including their teenage daughter, Rosie. Upon talking to the Larsens, Linden’s fears grow: Rosie hasn’t been home all weekend, and her story about staying at a friend’s house turns out to be a lie. In actuality, nobody has seen the young girl in days.
The cops’ next logical step is to interview students at Rosie’s school. The missing persons emergency interrupts a debate by two local politicians which was being held at the school. One of those politicians is City Council president Darren Richmond, a young and ambitious candidate hoping to become mayor.
After kindly conceding his debate appearance to the needs of the police, Richmond’s aid sees a golden opportunity: Richmond can use the tragic death of his wife years earlier, combined with this recent disappearance of a local girl, as the perfect “hard line against crime” political capital. But Richmond is a man of staunch principle and will do no such thing…for now, at least.
The title of the show should already imply how Linden and Holder’s investigation ultimately pans out (with Rosie found murdered). However, it’s a credit to the show that despite knowing the outcome, the climax of the pilot still proves to be poignant and powerful. The cast of strong actors should be thanked for that. There are also some nice twists put in place in order to firmly intertwine the plot threads of the core characters (the detectives, the Larsens, Richmond and his staff.)
The second hour of the premiere – entitled “The Cage” – delves into the immediate aftermath of Rosie’s murder, with the police trying to snag any leads they can, the Larsens trying to balance their grief, and Councilman Richmond being put on the defensive after his campaign is linked to the crime.
Like I said before, the pacing of this show is slow-burn – the entire pilot is a essentially an hour-long buildup to the title of the show. However, taking time with the “whodunit?” mystery is OK if there is something else to hold our interest. And luckily there is: the characters.
My early favorite is detective Holder, though he admittedly comes off as somewhat of a douchebag for most of the pilot (with Linden being his even-tempered foil). However, towards the end of the second episode, we get to see that Holder’s douche persona is actually his sharpest weapon as an investigator. The scene at the high school where Holder tricks a couple of teenage girls into spilling a secret was great and kept me guessing about his character.
Forbes (whose steely expression is always a blanket covering her characters’ true depth) is a close second; I look forward to seeing what unresolved mother/daughter issues are haunting her. It will also be interesting to see if Mitch’s relationship with her husband (which starts off seemingly strong and happy) erodes under the weight of their grief. Definitely want to see how that plays out.
As the main character, Linden is OK – though her stoic attitude isn’t the most engaging feature for a leading lady to have. I hope that over the course of the season we see Linden being less disciplined, less robotic, and exposing more of her idiosyncrasies and flaws. The same goes Councilman Richmond: despite his squeaky clean manner and stoic attitude, there are hints that Richmond is fighting to keep some serious demons at bay.
Final thought: The showrunners will also have to quickly resolve the fact that Linden has one foot out the door; two episodes in, and the contrived excuses for why this lady can’t simply get on a plane and go started to feel a bit cumbersome and contrived.
All in all, The Killing was a very intriguing show and definitely has potential for some great storytelling to come. Series like HBO’s The Wire have demonstrated just how rewarding the end results can be when you invest the time to truly explore characters and how they (and entire communities) are affected by the ripples of violence. Hopefully The Killing will be able emulate that power, while telling its own tale.
The Killing launches its two-hour series premiere Sunday April 3rd @ 9pm /8c on AMC.