Seattle cops Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) and Stephen Holder (Joe Kinnaman) investigate the murder of a high school senior.
The Killing is clichťd, overextended, and so complex you canít help but wonder if the resolution will be a letdown. But itís also intriguing, smart, well mounted, and engrossing as hell. As familiar as it can be at times, getting sucked in is easy. The mystery genre has reached a point where about all you can hope for is expert use of shopworn storytelling tropes; in that respect, The Killing delivers.
Iím going to keep my comments spoiler-free. I didnít watch the series during its original broadcast; I knew it was a murder mystery, but beyond that I knew next to nothing. Where mysteries are concerned, I prefer going as uninformed as possible. I tend to start trying to figure things out as quickly as possible, but I didnít want to start before Iíd even seen any footage. But there is one thing I think you should know: the mystery here is not resolved by seasonís end. According to Veena Sud, who developed the series (itís based on the ongoing Danish series Forbrydelsen), that wonít happen until the finale of Season Two.
Why did I tell you that? Well, most people who watched the show during its initial run on AMC didnít know they wouldnít be getting the whole story, and many of them reacted violently when the season finale ended with yet another cliffhanger. (Some of them reacted even more violently when Sud more or less questioned their intelligence, suggesting anyone who took umbrage would be better off watching something of less intellectual appeal. Her lack of tact was rather shocking.) I canít really say I blame them. There was no indication the show would take longer than a single season to reach its conclusion, so it was only natural to assume it would wrap things up in its thirteenth installment.
Then thereís this little fact of life: the longer a story strings you along, the greater the chance youíll be disappointed by the outcome. Ever read The Stand? Did you watch Twin Peaks or Lost? Each took its own sweet time reaching a conclusion that was, to put it mildly, underwhelming (and in the case of Twin Peaks, one that showed an enormous amount of contempt for the faithful). Iíve been burned enough times to be wary of any tale of considerable length, so Iím definitely worried. I plan on seeing the series through to its end, but if Iím left unsatisfied, Iíll be blaming myself as much as Sud and her collaborators.
That it will take the show twenty-six episodes to reach its end is something of a gimmick. Each episode represents a separate day in the investigation. Thereís no good reason the show couldnít get things done in one season, but shows that last only thirteen episodes generally donít have much of a life in repeats and/or syndication, and the ďComplete SeriesĒ tag doesnít look too appealing on a thin DVD or Blu-ray package. But thatís neither here nor there, really.
As I said above, I enjoyed whatís offered here. Itís certainly not great, and it doesnít even try to bring anything new to the genre, but as someone who used to be a voracious reader/watcher of mysteries and still enjoys the occasional one (read/watch too many of them and itís easy either to burn out or get jaded), I found much to like in The Killing.
Shortly before I started the series, I was told it was akin to Mystic River, which is an apt description. Were Dennis Lehane ever to leave Boston for Seattle, this is the sort of story he might be expected to pen. Everyoneís a potential suspect, red herrings abound. The mob plays a role (although in this case itís a mob comprised of people from former Eastern Bloc nations), and a certain aspect of the investigation means itís only a matter of time before the FBI comes in and screws up everything. Most characters have pasts that are always on the verge of rearing their ugly heads, and the wealthy are portrayed as having sexual appetites that would sicken any right-thinking person. In other (and far fewer) words, itís par for the course as modern mysteries go.
But while itís not completely successful, it is quite well told. Could it have been done in one season? Probably. If not, could this season have run ten episodes without losing anything? I think so. It sags a bit during its middle act, and sometimes moves in fits and starts, but it doles out the twists and turns smartly, hooking you even when you know itís leading you down another dead end.
Despite their familiar nature (the obsessed cop is obsessed for the same reason all obsessed cops are obsessed), Linden (Enos is extremely well cast) and Holder (not in a million years would I have guessed Kinnaman was born and raised in Stockholm; this guyís so good at portraying a reformed American punk [his accent if flawless] I was sure he was from the States) are extremely likeable protagonists, and you want to see them succeed. If the show goes on past its initial run (which largely depends on whether or not all of those pissed-off viewers who vowed not to come back for Season Two make good on that vow), thereís a chance theyíll be the sort of characters youíll gladly follow (which is the real hook of any good mystery series).
As solid as the mystery is, arguably the showís best achievement is its portrayal of the dead girlís parents. A good portion of the story involves their reaction to their childís murder, the grief, anger, and numbness. The father (Brent Sexton) and mother (Michelle Forbes, convincingly playing a middle-class wife/mother, something I never expected to see) handle their loss in completely different ways, but itís always believable, always a natural extension of their personalities. Thatís something that is often ignored in tales of this nature; that The Killing not only makes it an integral part of its tale but also makes it vivid and real is something for which Sud and her collaborators should be commended.
Thereís another reason quite a number of viewers felt betrayed when the end credits of the final episode started to roll, one that has nothing to do with being left hanging (or to twist in the wind, depending on to what extent that feeling of betrayal ran). I wonít spoil it for anyone, but I will say this: I saw it coming. Truth be told, Iím a little surprised everyone didnít.
The show is presented in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The 1080p transfers have been encoded with AVC; the thirteen episodes have been spread across three 50GB discs. Iím not entirely sure if any of the video flaws are due to compression (the first two discs contain five episodes each, while the third houses the final three episodes and the video-based extras), but the image here has a number of issues. The show has a cold, hard, desaturated look (although set in Seattle, itís filmed in--hereís a shocker--Vancouver, apparently during what passes for that cityís rainy season), full of steely grays and blacks; the image is also quite grainy (the showís shot on Super 35 film, which helps explain why), which adds to the gritty feel of the story. Those blacks can get very thick at times, which leads to some crush. The grain can get coarse and noisy, occasionally to the point where it explodes (thereís a shot early in Episode One where Enosís face looks like a pulsing burst of digital noise). On the plus side, thereís a fair amount of detail, and clarity can be strong under the right conditions.
The only audio option is a series of DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 tracks. The sound mix is front-heavy and narrow, even for a television series. Surround action is so sparse it might as well not even exist; youíd expect at least some of that rain to be spread to the rear, but it almost never happens. What went into the mix sounds very good--dialogue is clear, natural, and weighty, and the excellent score gets a fantastic presentation--but I think even a slightly more expansive, slightly airier mix would have made for a more effective listening experience. English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles are available.
You get two commentary tracks here. The pilot episode features a track by writer/executive producer Veena Sud, whose discussion focuses primarily on the challenges of translating the original for an American audience. The season finale (which is presented here in slightly extended form) features a track by Mirelle Enos and writer Nicole Yorkin, who provide something of an overview of the season as a whole. Both are worth a listen.
All of the following are presented in high-definition:
An Autopsy of The Killing (17 minutes) is your standard making-of piece.
Whatís labeled a collection of deleted scenes (13 minutes) is actually just a compilation of several alternate takes and slightly extended bits.
Closing things out is a gag reel (5 minutes).
In no way does The Killing reinvent the mystery wheel, but itís still a fundamentally well done, fundamentally satisfying tale.