'The Killing' provides a murder mystery at the core of a moody drama
For some viewers, particularly parents, AMC's "The Killing" may be too much to take. A cross between "Twin Peaks" and "Murder One," the show promos ask, "Who killed Rosie Larsen?" Detectives delve into the Seattle teen's mysterious death, bringing "The Killing" to life.
American TV viewers consume murders without hesitation on a weekly basis in procedural crime dramas like the "CSI" and "Law & Order" franchises. But even on the rare occasions when those shows tell stories involving the death of a child, they're almost never as raw, palpable and grim as "The Killing," an engrossing, well-made drama series that viewers should embrace despite its tough subject matter.
Starring: Mireille Enos, Billy Campbell.
Tonight's two-hour premiere (9 p.m.) opens with the juxtaposition of Rosie (Katie Findlay) frantically chased through the woods and homicide detective Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos, "Big Love") on a morning jog, her last day on the job before moving to Sonoma, Calif., to marry her fiance (Callum Keith Rennie). But those plans get derailed when she's called to a park to investigate a potential murder after a girls' bloodied sweater turns up.
Sarah is paired with Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman), a former narcotics detective who seems like a stoner himself. They're an odd pairing: She's quiet and steely, forever squinting into the distance as she processes a crime scene; he's loud, a bit of a creepy close-talker and sometimes asks questions that seem overly blunt and inappropriate.
The tone of dread and foreboding in the first episode makes "The Killing" a more intense than usual viewing experience. Given the show's title, you know going in that this isn't a light-hearted show, but it's difficult to watch the upset and frustration of Rosie's parents, who go from thinking she's merely out with friends to a far more awful outcome.
Michelle Forbes ("True Blood") play's Rosie's mother, Mitch, and in typical Forbesian fashion, her emotions are quicker to surface than those of the more serene Sarah Linden.
As Sarah, Ms. Enos creates an at-times inscrutable character pulsing with empathy. "You know I'm not one for words," Sarah says. It's true, she opens her mouth sparingly -- more often to pop in a piece of gum than to say anything -- but Ms. Enos capably gives life to Sarah's innermost feelings, allowing them to roam freely across her face.
What saves "The Killing" from total downerdom are its multiple stories. That's obvious from the get-go in tonight's first hour (the pilot), and it continues in the second hour. Although the focus is on the murder investigation, "The Killing" also shifts to show how Rosie's family is coping, and then shifts again to the mayoral campaign of Seattle city councilman Darren Richmond (Billy Campbell), who may or may not be connected to Rosie's murder.
This political story is as much a mystery as Rosie's murder because of Richmond's background -- we first glimpse him in a cemetery -- and because of leaks from his campaign, which may have come from one of his top two staffers, one of whom he's sleeping with.
"The Killing" brings to mind "Twin Peaks" because of its foggy Pacific Northwest locale and because it's the murder of a teenager, but "The Killing" lacks "Peaks" dark humor. "The Killing" also conjures "Murder One," the 1995-97 Steven Bochco-produced series, because in its first season, "Murder One" also followed a single case that explored the notion of power (in Hollywood, not politics) and its role in a crime.
"The Killing" makes good use of its soggy Seattle setting, which casts an appropriate pall over the proceedings. (The show is actually filmed in Vancouver, making use of some of the same locations as seen on other series shot in Hollywood North, most notably Daniel and Amanda Graystone's mansion from "Caprica.")
Based on the Danish television series "Forbrydelsen," "The Killing" was developed for American television by writer Veena Sud ("Cold Case"), who wrote the first two hours. She and pilot director Patty Jenkins ("Monster") set the show on a slow but purposeful pace that helps build suspense and also keeps viewers slightly ill-at-ease. That's not always comfortable, but it is compelling television.
First Published April 3, 2011 12:00 am