Police procedurals don’t usually lure me, but the TV series The Killing reeled me in. In one weekend, I binged the first two seasons on Netflix. The show is tense, suspenseful, and gripping. And really bleak, both visually and emotionally.
In the first two seasons, two homicide detectives – Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) and Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman) – investigate the murder of a teen girl in Seattle, a city that doesn’t seem to get a single ray of sunshine through all 26 episodes. Almost all scenes are washes of gray, and so are the characters. Family secrets, political intrigue, and personal struggles gnarl the case. And there are plenty of twists and red herrings to keep you guessing.
As complex as its mystery, The Killing isn’t all plot. The two leads are deeply carved and wonderfully played. Linden is hard, aloof, and mostly not very nice, but she betrays tenderness. She cares, perhaps too much. As her own rough past surfaces, you begin to understand the fears that drive Linden’s obsession with the case. Her single-mindedness may be great for solving crimes, but threatens everything else: her relationship with her son, her rapport with her partner, and her own mental cohesion. Ironically, it’s when Linden is at her toughest do you see the most of her vulnerability. I’m not sure if I totally like her, but she is definitely engaging.
Her partner Holder is a likeable dude that brings levity to an otherwise deathly serious show. As a detective new to homicide, Holder is the apprentice to the veteran Linden. But Holder offers more than what you would expect. He may seem silly, even loserish at times, but under the slacker veneer is a man who is thoughtful and caring, with much to contribute to the partnership. It’s no surprise that he may be driven by some of his own dark history as well.
The Killing isn’t for everyone. It is slow, but I didn’t mind the pace because I was absorbed. The show, basically a Seattle noir with a Nordic vibe, reminds me of the Swedish Stieg Larsson movies. After all, The Killing is a remake of a Danish TV show. Also, if you like the miniseries Top of the Lake*, you will probably like The Killing. Both have the same measured pace, depressing vibe, and intimate focus on a female detective.
The first story arc spans the first two seasons (13 episodes each). Much to my disappointment, the series was canceled after four seasons. Boo.
* Top of the Lake is a beautifully filmed missing-persons mystery set in New Zealand, starring Elisabeth Moss. Those who have seen the TV series Mad Men will recognize her as Peggy Olson. She is equally compelling in both shows.