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The Killing review: A beautifully harrowing Nordic noir

Grade: A-

While jogging through the woods early one morning, a female runner discovers a fresh corpse haphazardly thrown into the brush. Roll credits. Enter the FBI. The sexy, will-they-won’t-they Crack Duo is discussing some triviality concerning their world at the bureau and that damn red tape. After receiving the call that a young woman has been found dead, they travel to Middle America to inspect the scene. Middle America is actually a backlot in Los Angeles, but that’s okay. Crack Duo finds some piece of evidence that would have otherwise remained undiscovered if not for their incredible intellect. Interject some line of implying sexual tension between the two. Crack Duo then goes to interview the grieving family whom can either be: those two people who you see in other shows sometimes or a previous Oscar winner who’s role in the episode is pure Emmy-bait. Either way, there’s lots of crying, yet they know some piece of evidence that is completely relevant when they mention it to Crack Duo (use musical cues if appropriate). Turns out, their little girl wasn’t so innocent. She was into bondage. Or a prostitute. Or was a transvestite. Or all three.

Crack Duo then goes to the Tranny Leather Brothel, which apparently is so common knowledge among the small town denizens that it may as well be in the yellow pages. The male half of Crack Duo makes some snarky remark about our straight-laced female detective in chains; she then retorts with something equally witty and oddly provocative. Crack Duo then meets with the madam. This person may also be an Oscar winner or an actress from a recently canceled project from the same network. Turns out it’s not the madam. But our Ms. Not-So-Innocent was with some patron the night of the murder. Warrants are written, houses are stormed, arrests are made. And Crack Duo feels pretty damn good about themselves.

An abundance of these crime procedurals populate the airways. Some work fairly well (Castle is a good diversion due to the exceptionally strong dynamic between Nathan Fillion and Stana Katic) while others are woefully forgettable (insert some joke about the forgotten). While AMC’s newest series may seem on paper to resemble these CSI-like offerings, The Killing most closely resembles 24 or Damages. Instead of finishing a somewhat novel murder within the confines of a 42-minute episode, The Killing looks at one murder investigation over a 13-day period. And it makes all the difference.

To understand The Killing, it’s imperative to examine its source material; the series is adapted from the Danish series Forbrydelsen (literally “The Crime”). The popular show relied heavily on its Nordic scenery to evoke a continual melancholy through the use of rain, overcast and temperate forests. There has been a resurgence in these slow, Nordic crime stories centering on “broken” characters, exhibited most prominently in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series. For the American series, the producers of The Killing intelligently chose Seattle as its backdrop. Though highly populated, Seattle is the only major city within the Pacific Northwest and is subjected to a constant torrent of rain. The Killing‘s first two hours are filled with gray clouds, wet forests and an overall muted color pallet.

Leading the cast are Mireille Enos (Big Love) and Joel Kinnaman (Snabba Cash) as Sarah Linden and Stephen Holder. Linden isn’t the usual Hollywood cop sprinkled through crime procedurals; instead of existing as an oblivious sex symbol, she dons shapeless brown sweaters and jeans. She’s smart, granted, but unlike the recent Body of Proof, Linden is almost as mystified as the viewer. She achieves her success through constant examination of the details, not through an innate knowledge of stock Hollywood stories. Linden also is a woman of few words, often favoring silence over exposition. This is especially evident when paired with Holder, her younger, seedier novice partner. Holder oversteps boundaries occasionally, yet only receives a look of disapproval instead of a lecture. Holder knows it, and even after calling Linden out for her quiet judgment, she remains professional. And while Linden uses her an archive of knowledge on homicides to solve Rosie Larsen’s murder, Holder relies on more unconventional methods. One of the oddest yet most memorable scene within the first two episodes is where Holder smokes marijauna with two high school girls in order to obtain information. Yet Holder also has an interesting perspective on Linden; he reads people well, and Linden has her fair share of secrets. It’s not a partnership that either necessarily finds ideal, but their relationship makes for quality television.

The only blemish  on an otherwise amazing two hours is in its third storyline: the political narrative. It’s currently ill-fitting to the overall storyline. While the story of the family (which is purposefully omitted) remains one of the poignant threads within the two hours, the political narrative of Darren Richmond (The 4400‘s Billy Campbell) seems divorced from the overarching story. Currently, their narrative seems to be a red herring: the show seems to overtly hint that a member of this team committed the homicide. Yet that would be too simple. But if a member of the Richmond’s political team did not commit the murder, then the plotlines of Richmond and company become irrelevant.

Beyond that slight issue, The Killing remains as an incredible addition to AMC’s stellar line-up. It’s a beautifully dark and woefully horrifying examination of not just a murder, but the grief of losing a child. Of leaving your home. Of losing a friend.

The Killing airs on Sundays at 10pm, only on AMC.


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