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Monday, April 4, 2011

The Killing: "Pilot" and "The Cage"

Presented together, the first two episodes of AMC’s The Killing, a long-form mystery adapted from the Danish Forbrydelsen, make for an intriguing premise with the capacity to become a fascinating work of television. However, the main selling point of the series, that it tracks a single murder case in nearly real time (each episode is meant to represent one day of the investigation) renders it difficult to really review these early episodes. So much of the success of The Killing will depend on how the mystery progresses, and of course on how it is solved.

The strength of the show’s format is that it allows the tension of the case to mount tremendously. Unlike a serial like CSI or Bones or the like, the victim and her loved ones aren’t just necessary inconveniences getting in the way of the main characters. The episode doesn’t even begin with the finding of the body, the way most such shows would. Instead that takes almost the whole hour, and the scene where it is discovered becomes all the more wrenching because of the delay.

Thus, the pilot seems to serve as an instruction on how to watch the series. There are several fake-outs, such as a supposed body discovery revealed to be a set-up for a going away party, or a wife’s panicked phone call to her husband revealed to be about a leaky sink. Though their repetition might be wearing, it is a useful reminder not to expect anything too soon. This case will take some time to crack.

The Killing’s star detective is tough, inscrutable Sarah Linden, who keeps fighting against herself to stay on the case of a young high school girl found dead in the trunk of a sunken car. The case begins on Linden’s supposed last day with the Seattle PD. She and her son are set to move to Sonoma, CA with her fiancé.

Linden is accompanied on the case by her replacement, Stephen Holder, a former undercover narcotics agent whose creepy persona eventually reveals itself to be a cagy way of getting information from unlikely sources. It’s delightfully uncomfortable to watch him interact with the other characters, as in an early scene where he asks Rosie’s high school teacher if he had slept with his student, calling her a “hot piece of ass.”

The Killing also follows Darren Richmond, a candidate seeking to displace the incumbent mayor. The sunken car turns out to have belonged to his campaign, placing him and his staffers in an awkward position. There seem to be other secrets within the candidate and his campaign, which I’m sure will be explored throughout the season.

Whether or not it concludes satisfactorily, The Killing looks like it will be an entertaining ride while it lasts. The show has borrowed its source’s Scandinavian broodiness and cynicism well, and the Seattle setting allows for outrageously poor weather to set the scene. I’m looking forward to trying to figure out who did it.

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