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Blu-ray Review: The Killing – The Complete First Season

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The AMC cop show drama The Killing is based on the Danish series Forbrydelsen, which debuted in 2007. The Killing: The Complete First Season is now available on Blu-ray. The Killing is kind of like an episode of Law & Order that is stretched out to examine every last detail. Set in Seattle, the show capitalizes on the city’s gray rainy days to set the mood. For the most part, The Killing is an intriguing show that spends a lot of time examining its characters while slowly introducing new plot twists. At times the show can move a little too slowly, making it easy to lose interest in the side storylines. But then the show will throw an unexpected curve ball, hooking the audience right back in.

The story of The Killing is similar to the 1990 show created by David Lynch and Mark Frost, Twin Peaks. The Killing does not have that earlier show’s absurdity, humor, or supernatural aspects, but many of the story elements are similar. Both shows take place in the Pacific Northwest, centering on the investigation of the mysterious death of a high school girl. The murder victim, Rosie Larsen, is shown in photographs and video clips as she is remembered by her friends and family and investigated by the police. Secrets about Rosie’s life are slowly revealed through these little bits of evidence throughout the season.

Rosie’s parents, Stan and Mitch Larsen (Brent Sexton and Michelle Forbes, respectively) are grief stricken and barely able to accept the brutal death of their daughter. Mitch especially finds it difficult to continue with day-to-day life and caring for the couple’s two younger children. Stan wrestles with his guilt over his daughter’s death. The events unfold primarily through the eyes of the homicide detective investigating the murder. Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) was on the verge of leaving her job to marry her fiancé when she got wrapped up in the search for the missing Rosie. After finding the body, Sarah is unable to leave the case behind. She’s teamed up with the detective originally sent in to replace her. Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman) is an ex-narcotics detective transitioning into homicide, who clearly has a few skeletons in his closet.

There are a lot of characters to deal with including Sarah’s thirteen-year-old son Jack (Liam James), the Larsen’s family friend and employee Belko (Brendan Sexton III), and Rosie’s teacher Bennet Ahmed (Brandon Jay McLaren). All of these characters play varying roles of importance in the story. Seattle mayoral candidate Darren Richmond (Billy Campbell) also factors into the storyline due to the circumstances of Rosie’s death. For most of the first season, Richmond’s involvement is unclear and the scenes involving his staff feel out of place in the show. While the scenes involving the detectives and the parents are gritty and realistic, the scenes involving the politicians feel stiff and forced.

What’s best about The Killing are the performance of the two detectives, as well as Rosie’s parents. Sexton and Forbes effortlessly transition from silent shock to rage as they work through their grief. Enos and Kinnaman do a good job of portraying the detectives as real people. They are dedicated to their jobs, but are flawed and sometimes distracted from their work by their personal lives. The weakest performances belong to the politicians. Those characters just don’t have the same grit as the others in the show. The murder mystery is intriguing, but the investigation is so drawn out, the story borders on tedium. There are several episodes where it feels as though nothing happens.

While enough twists are thrown in to keep viewers watching, some of them are difficult to grasp. The show suffers from too many red herrings. For every bit of genuine intrigue there is a bit of contrivance that sets things back a little. Perhaps the biggest complaint about The Killing: The Complete First Season is the lack of a satisfying ending. In fact, there is not a real ending to the season. It feels as though the story is wrapping up, but yet another twist is thrown in during the final moments of the last episode that changes everything. It’s hard to know what to think of this. The twist could be a fatal flaw to the entire series, but maybe it’s not. It’s impossible to tell at the point season one ends. I don’t know if that is good or bad, but it is unsatisfying. At the very least, anyone who is intrigued by the first season will likely want to tune in to season two.

The Killing: The Complete First Season looks good at times on Blu-ray, but it is an inconsistent transfer at best. The show’s look is intentionally shadowy. Even the daylight scenes are fairly dark, due to the constantly overcast, rainy skies. But there is a general lack of detail caused by the unusual amount of grain. Some interior scenes do have the level of clarity expected of Blu-ray. If the show was intended to look extra grainy for aesthetic reasons, they should have kept the look consistent throughout. Instead we have a show that alternates between a fairly strong appearance and an overly grainy one.

The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is simple but effective. There isn’t anything wrong with the way it presents the show’s audio, but it isn’t that interesting either. The dialogue is clear and easy to understand, which is impressive for a show that has so much mumbling and slurred speech. There isn’t much activity in the rear speakers, aside from the frequent sound of rain and other light ambience. Most of the show is pretty muted, so this is an acceptably low-key audio presentation.

Special features are not extensive, but there are a few worth checking out. There is commentary from the show’s creator Veena Sud on the pilot episode that helps explain the differences between this and the original Danish series. The final episode features commentary by the show’s star Mireille Enos and one of the writers, Nicole Yorkin. A 17 minute featurette “An Autopsy of The Killing” should definitely not be watched in advance of all 13 episodes, as it includes a discussion of the season finale. The deleted scenes were almost all deleted for good reason. The gag reel is kind of fun because it shows the cast, normally so deathly serious throughout the episodes, having some lighter moments.

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About Sherry Lipp

Sherry Lipp is an entertainment and food writer who specializes in film and television reviews. She has published the gluten and grain-free cookbook Don't Skip Dessert.