AMC has quickly become a go-to source for high quality, unconventional television. They built their reputation on Mad Men and Breaking Bad, now they are adding some genre fare to their lineup. Last fall we had The Walking Dead, now comes The Killing. The series will unfold over 13 hours; the first two episodes premiered on Sunday evening.
The premiere episode of The Killing wastes no time establishing a dark and dreary atmosphere. Homicide detective Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) is jogging on a trail in Seattle. Her peaceful excursion is juxtaposed with scenes of a teenage girl being pursued through the woods at night by an unseen assailant.
It’s Sarah’s last day on the job before she moves to sunny California with her son to get married. Wouldn’t you know, a local girl has gone missing, forcing Sarah to take one last case before her replacement arrives in a few hours. Rosie Larsen is 17, and has been missing for the whole weekend.
Sarah is tiny, pale, contemplative and reserved. Mireille Enos captures the nature of Sarah perfectly. You might recognize Enos as Jodeen on Big Love.
When Sarah’s replacement Stephen Holden arrives, Sarah is kind of horrified, and so are we. Holden (played by Joel Kinnaman) doesn’t act or look like a detective. He looks like he would be more at home at the local trailer park than in the station. He’s not well-spoken, and comes across a little creepy when he makes a lecherous comment about the missing girl. Sarah takes him along to show him the ropes as she starts working the case.
At the heart of the show are the missing girl’s parents, played by Michelle Forbes (wonderfully cast as Mitch) and Brent Sexton (Stanley). Along with their two boys, the Larsens are the perfect portrait of a happy working class family. Watching their last moments play out while they are blissfully unaware of the horror that lies ahead of them makes your heart really break for them. These characters immediately earn your empathy and affection. They are so normal and unassuming that it is a real punch in the gut to see what they go through in the first two episodes.
The third grouping of characters come from a political campaign. Darren Richmond (Billy Campbell) is running for Mayor. Some sort of relationship seems to be taking place between Darren and his campaign advisor Gwen (Kristin Lehman). It is alluded to that something tragic has happened to Darren’s wife. He visits her grave during the episode, and Gwen makes mention of her. Darren seems to shrouded in mystery. He receives some cryptic phone calls and it seems like he is hiding something.
During the first hour, Rosie’s body is found in the trunk of a car in a pond. The license plates are traced to Darren’s election campaign, complicating his political run, to say the least. A power struggle between Darren’s campaign and the local police force is set into play. Darren’s team wants to do damage control by calling a press conference immediately, while the police are trying to bide some time while no one knows they have found the body.
It speaks volumes about the cutthroat nature of politics that the girl is of little consequence to the political team. Their only concern is how to use her death to their advantage. They also have no problem disregarding the wishes of the detectives.
Once Rosie’s body is found, the second hour deals with the hell that the Larsens have been thrust into. They have to identify their daughter in the morgue, deal with their grief, and try to put on a brave face for their sons. Forbes and Sexton are excellent in these scenes. An ingenious plot device has Mitch (Rosie’s mother) hearing her husband find out that their daughter’s body has been found. He has dropped his cell phone, but she hangs on the other end and hears him screaming and crying. It is absolutely harrowing to watch her come to the grim conclusion while collapsed on her kitchen floor, miles away from her husband.
We also start learning about some of the bit players on the series. Everyone is a potential suspect. There is Rosie’s frightened friend Sterling, and Rosie’s old boyfriend Jasper (a pompous rich asshole). There are also her classmates, the politician, and her teachers. I’d even throw detective Holden into the fray. His dubious methods (he coaxes some school girls to smoke some pot with him to get them to talk) are just plain wrong. Something is off about him.
Holden finds out about “The Cage” from the stoned girls. The cage is a dank basement area of the school. When the detectives go down there, they find a bloody mattress and some bloody hand prints on the stone walls.
Sarah has already missed her flight, and her boss has begged her to stay for 24 hours to help out. From the look on her face when she sees the hand prints, she’ll be sticking around a while.
So what did you think of the show? I liked it a lot. It is an extremely dark and serious crime drama. There is not an ounce of humor or quirkiness on the show (so far), and I am more than okay with that. The Killing is based on a popular Danish television series, perhaps explaining the stark nature of the show.