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Television Collision: The Killing Keeps Television Alive

Written by: Phoebe Raven, CC2K Staff Writer

Move over, network television, it’s all about the premium cable TV channels these days. The month of April definitely belongs to HBO, Showtime and AMC in the world of television, because even though finales are approaching all over the place,TV critics and fans alike cannot stop talking about Mildred Pierce (HBO), The Borgias (Showtime), The Killing (AMC) and the upcoming Game of Thrones (HBO). And this is rightly so.

Honestly, it’s a little hard to care about Thirteen returning to an already burnt-down House – be it from prison or paradise – this Monday night, when Episode 3 of AMC’s The Killing has ripped your heart out and torn it to shreds on Sunday night already, in the process showing you what “crime shows” should really be about.
No one really needs to watch the countless CSI’s and Law & Order’s, or Castle, or Hawaii Five-O or any of the other crime shows out there. But people need to watch AMC’s The Killing and remember how truly horrifying murder really is.

Every run-of-the-mill crime procedural pretends to show you the grief of a bereaved family, but mostly they get one small scene crying in a hallway and then we move on to interrogations that always run the same course until the crime fighters have enough evidence to yell at the suspect and put them away “for a really long time”.
We’ve become so incredibly insensitive to murder on television, we are actually rooting for bodies to look extra-gross (see Bones) or the killing method to be extra-ordinary (see CSI:NY etc.) or the suspects to be extra quirky (see Castle). The horror of what really goes along with a murder no longer hits us.

Every now and again these regular crime shows will attempt a shocking episode and deal with the murder of someone young, someone innocent or someone especially loved, but even this is just “going through the motions”. The emotion, the guilt, the conflict, the suspense, the heavy feeling in your stomach – those are not things you get from watching CSI or Law & Order. These are the things you get from watching The Killing though.

AMC’s new hit (and really, AMC is on a roll with Mad Men and The Walking Dead) is based on a Danish TV series called Forbrydelsen, which literally translated means “the crime” (you can decide for yourself who to blame for sensationalizing the title for America). I actually caught a few of the episodes of the Danish original on German television a few years back and already back then I was fascinated by how dark, gruesome and oppressive this story is. Leave it to the Scandinavians, who live in murky daylight half the year and pay outrageous prices for alcohol, to come up with the most haunting, horrifying and emotionally raw crime stories there are. In the literary world it is a well-established fact that Scandinavians do crime better than anybody, see Henning Mankell, Arne Dahl, Jo Nesbø, Anne Holt, Helene Tursten, Åke Edwardson, Johan Theorin, Camilla Läckberg…

The Danish Forbrydelsen is set in murky, rainy Copenhagen, AMC’s The Killing is set in murky, rainy Seattle and never once do you get a break from the dreary, gray, exhausting look and feel of it. Even the days have a shadow, every movement feels heavy and like it’s taking a lot of effort to even fulfill, it takes all you have not to break down and cry every single minute while watching. This is an extremely good thing. I am not at all implying that The Killing is boring, but it is paced much slower than what you are used to from watching as many as two cases wrapped up on any of the CSI’s in neat 40-minute-packages.

The Killing follows a more realistic speed of police investigation and by real world standards, it is still fast. The Danish original had 20 episodes, each of them covering one day of the investigations. AMC’s version is scheduled to have 13 episodes and I am fairly certain that’s already stretching the American patience to catch one single killer. But as much as I have knocked American remakes of already great shows in the past (most recently Being Human), so far I am completely convinced that AMC’s version is turning out just as stellar as the Danish original, if you keep in mind the context.

The casting for The Killing is pretty impeccable. Mireille Enos as Lead Detective Sarah Linden brings exactly the sort of awkward, no-nonsense, offish air to the screen the part requires. Sarah Linden is a mother and she is engaged to be married and supposed to move to San Diego to be with her fiancé and yet you get the very distinct sense that those “life things” confuse her and the only thing she really knows how to do well and without doubting herself is being a police woman. Yet you’d be remiss to say Sarah Linden doesn’t know how to deal with emotions, on the contrary. Rarely have I seen a detective speak so gently and yet honestly with the family of a victim as Sarah Linden does with the Larsen family (with the exception of a white lie about how much pain Rosie was in when she died).

The eldest child of the Larsen family, daughter Rosie, is the victim of The Killing and one of the greatest strengths of the show is its unwillingness to pull away from the pain of the Larsen family as they deal (or at least try to deal) with the tragedy that has hit them. We see mother Mitch Larsen (the excellent Michelle Forbes, you know her from True Blood) slowly realizing that something terrible must have happened to her daughter, even before the detectives have even found her body. Detective Sarah Linden sits at her kitchen table and asks her simple questions about when she last spoke to her daughter Rosie, and not even Linden knows at this point that Rosie is dead, but as the conversation goes on, it dawns on both women and to see this unfold is truly suspenseful and engaging television. The kind that gives you a punch in the stomach at every turn it takes.

Brent Sexton portrays Rosie’s father Stan and if all the work Sexton has done on Deadwood, Life and Justified hasn’t convinced you of his talent, then his role in The Killing as the father who takes care of his two little boys and his wife in the aftermath of losing his only daughter will most definitely make you his fan and thank him for making you cry over and over.
Like when he finds his wife listening to the message on the answering machine Rosie recorded over and over again and all he can do is kneel down next to her and helplessly bury his nose in her hair.

The grief and how much room it rightfully gets to take up on The Killing might be my favorite part of the show, because it reminds us of what we have long forgotten: that murder does happen and it is not some fun puzzle for GQ lab technicians to piece together during a puny song-of-the-week montage. Murder is not for us to laugh at because the suspects are such “characters” that prompt endless puns and give themselves away by their tanning salon habits. Murder is gruesome, murder is devastating and someone is always left behind trying to pick up the pieces.

But if you are unwilling to tune in for the family’s suffering alone, then the actual case has enough to keep you going as well, because it quickly becomes political, when Rosie’s body is found in a campaign car of Darren Richmond, who is running for Mayor of Seattle and the election is in 24 days. Richmond has some secrets to hide, not the least of which is that he is sleeping with his female campaign manager.

He is not the only suspect though. Rosie’s best friend Sterling knows more than she lets on about the last night her friend was still alive. And spoiled brat Jasper and teenage drug dealer Kris have a lot of explaining to do about that video found on someone’s cell phone. Don’t you think for one minute that Sarah Linden’s partner/replacement Stephen Holder’s ex-narco ways are enough to get the truth out of the party-hunting, drug-testing teenagers at Rosie’s high school, where things go on our parents have nightmares about every night, yet we assure them “Everything’s fine”, when really nothing is fine at all.

When you watch The Killing, you are in for a gripping, heavy, beleaguering ride that will gut you every single week and what is the point of television if it is not being this emotionally involved in what we see on the screen?



Need more TV coverage? Listen to a new “Television Collision: Podcast Extra”, Episode 2 below.



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