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TV Review: The Killing – “Pilot; The Cage”

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It’s not often that a network can make several hit series in a row. Most new shows do not last into a second season. Yet, perhaps because they take their time, and only add series sparingly, AMC has yet to have a miss. First there was Mad Men, which was followed up by Breaking Bad. Last fall, The Walking Dead set the bar even higher, but this past Sunday The Killing did not disappoint. Four very different shows, but each amazing in their own right, and each very deserving of much viewer attention. I think they all could make a Top 10 list of best TV shows currently on the air. What will AMC think up next?

Of course, AMC can’t claim all the credit for the concept. The show is based on the Danish series Forbrydelsen, translated as The Crime, though billed as The Killing when aired in English-speaking countries. Forbrydelsen‘s first series, which follows roughly the same plot as AMC’s new version, spent twenty episodes on this initial case, as opposed to AMC’s thirteen ordered installments. A second series, only ten hours this time, has been made with a different cast, and a third is in the works. It is assumed that AMC will end the first case by episode thirteen, though it’s unknown if they will change the cast for a follow up second series, which already looks like a likely possibility.

Unlike traditional procedurals, which only have an hour to present all the facts, the structure of The Killing allows a deeper exploration of all facets involved. Over thirteen hours, there is much more character development, for the detectives as well as the suspects. With such a large playing field, no one potential killer stands out in the beginning, as possibilities will be slowly toyed with. If it is done wrong, it can get awfully boring. AMC seems to be doing it right, though, like a great novel, albeit a pretty long novel. The richness of each element, especially the characters and setting, can be celebrated and taken their time with. I highly approve of the conceit.

Tone wise, AMC’s The Killing is reminiscent of The Girl With the Dragoon Tattoo, a slow moving, but very gripping, Swedish movie and book series. The writers, actors, and director all manage to make a gradual mystery unfold in a way that keeps interest throughout. Intensity can be achieved, even if action is lacking. In the first two hours alone, I was easily hooked. Not an easy thing to do, but AMC has done it again.

The Killing begins a bit slowly, though not dull, as Detective Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos, Big Love) begins her final day on the force in Seattle before moving to California with her fiance (Callum Keith Rennie, Battlestar Galactica). It happens to be a Monday, which seems an odd day to be a last day, but whatever. Her replacement, Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman), arrives early and begins to move into her office. A bloody sweater and a credit card are found in a field, and Linden and Holder are sent to investigate. Little do they know that these are just the first clues in the murder of a teenage girl, and Linden will not be getting on that plane to leave the city at the end of the night.

Enos is amazing! I didn’t realize she had it in her with her understated double role on the HBO series, but she can carry a show! She stares pensively just as well as January Jones, and her very pale skin fits perfectly with the weather and scenery. Enos conveys much without speaking, and definitely is a screen presence. Kinnaman’s Holder is the perfect second banana, being so different from her, and yet more intelligent than he initially lets on. His finding the cage in the basement of the high school proves his worth, which was in question until then. I think their partnership will certainly end up being a valuable tool to solve the case.

I think it is fairly apparent that Holder may also be a love interest for Linden. While her relationship appears relatively solid in the opening moments of the pilot, she puts her job before her fiance, surely an upcoming source of conflict. He forgives her the one day delay easily enough, but this season will go on for thirteen episodes, all of them centered around Rosie’s killing. As Linden is the main character trying to solve the murder, her delay will be stretched out, and I assume, so will her guy’s patience. But Holder is already fond of her, and he seems to enjoy their clashing. Plus, Holder gets along very well with her son, Jack (Liam James), more so than the other guy.

Regardless, as to whether the series decides to go there with its leading crime solvers or not, there is certainly wonderful chemistry to be played with and tweaked. Will Holder keep getting in the way, or will they slowly learn to work together? I think mostly the latter, but with a healthy does of the former mixed in for good measure. I can only hope Rennie’s character will later show up back in Seattle to mix things up between the partners.

Meanwhile, Mitch (Michelle Forbes, True Blood, In Treatment) and Stan (Brent Sexton, Justified, Life), whom the credit card belongs to, are starting to feel that something might be up with their daughter, Rosie. They last saw her on Friday, when they left to go camping, and Rosie was supposed to spend the weekend with her friend, Sterling (Kacey Rohl). Yet, the school reports that Rosie did not attend classes today. Stan asks Sterling where his daughter is, but a search of Rosie’s secret boyfriend Jasper’s (Richard Harmon) only turns up that he’s sleeping with a much older woman. No one knows where Rosie is. The the detectives arrive and start asking questions.

Both parents are familiar faces in the television landscape. While I only mention two of Forbes’s credits above, she has at least half dozen more worth keeping in mind. But this is a departure for her. I’ve never seen her play the grief stricken mother before, and she does it as beautifully as any other part. She makes the part realistic, yet unpredictable. Sexton might not be quite as well known, but he’s ‘that guy from that show’. Surprisingly, he is a wonderful foil for Forbes, playing things in quite a different way, while still very believable. It’s their togetherness, though, that solidifies the performances.

Seemingly unrelated, Councilman Darren Richmond (Billy Campbell, Once and Again) a widower who doesn’t talk about it, prepares to announce a major endorsement in his run for mayor against the incumbent. But it seems he has a leak within his camp, and it is most likely one of his two most trusted advisers, Jamie (Eric Ladin, Mad Men) and Gwen (Kristin Lehman, Drive, Judging Amy), the latter of whom he is also sleeping with. Then Rosie’s body is found in a car that belongs to Richmond’s campaign, and though the car was reported stolen Saturday morning, Darren just hopes the endorsement is a done deal before the endorser finds out his secret.

I can’t quite figure out Richmond. One moment he’s compassionate, the next he’s worrying how events will affect his poll numbers. I think he is purposely being kept shady until he can be ruled out as a suspect, or revealed as the murderer, though my gut tells me he’s not it. Which may be precisely why I should suspect him, considering how well this show is written. I do think his staff will be revealed to have some part in something secret, whether it relates to the murder or not, and thus is born a satisfying B-plot.

The Killing continues on AMC Sunday nights at 10 p.m. ET.

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About JeromeWetzelTV

Jerome is the creator and writer of It's All Been Done Radio Hour, a modern scripted live comedy show and podcast in the style of old-timey radio serials, and the founder of the Columbus-based entertainment network, IABDPresents. He is also the Chief Television Critic for Seat42F.com and a long-time contributor for Blogcritics. Plus, he works fiction into his space time. Visit http://iabdpresents.com for more of his work.
  • There was one big miss: Rubicon, which was actually pretty decent once it picked up steam around the seventh episode. But by the time it got interesting everyone had already given up on it.

  • John – You are right that Rubicon never picked up in viewers, but it was beloved by critics. I didn’t include it in my list because of the mixed message, with positives and negatives in its favor.

  • This is a great beginning, and I hope the show maintains its quality.

    It has some similarities to “Twin Peaks,” with the high school girl’s murder and the rainy northwestern setting. It lacks David Lynch’s deadpan absurdism/humor…although the ambiguous young ‘hipster’ detective is certainly interesting. Would a cop actually share a joint with minors to get information? Maybe this was a detail from the European version that doesn’t translate well.

    And just my two cents: it’s several million times better than the stupefying film version of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.”

  • jks

    The cop smoking a joint and touching the teen girl to help her do it came off as SO creepy. I’m going to have a hard time warming up to that guy at all. I hope he doesn’t become a love interest.

  • WendyG.

    Terrific new show. Enjoyed it very much! And a great review too. As Mad Men seems to be in limbo (grrrrr) and Breaking Bad (arguably THE best show on TV) isn’t coming back until the summer, this will do nicely. Can’t figure out why so many people watch reality junk, when these great dramas are on now.

  • Fionella

    I loved the pilot, but being a very (compulsively) reliable/punctual person, I was disturbed (not in a good way) by the fact that the female detective keeps postponing her trip to meet her fiancé. She is SO sympathetic, I found this Kafka-esque device annoying. How long will it go on? Is it really for the best because she doesn’t really want to get leave (a bit of a cliché)? Thoughts?

  • I completely sympathize! I am always an early person, but my wife is always late, and since we’ve been married (less than 2 years), it drives me crazy! I would not be surprised if her continued lateness destroys her relationship.

  • Well, if she does leave to meet the fiance, we have no show, right? It’s an old device, really, but it works every time. Her real love is her work.

  • Fionella

    I think you could have the show without that complication. Her boss should not have given her a case in her last few hours on the job…that’s stupid. It’s hard to believe either that he would give it or that she would take it. It’s a manufactured dilemma and hard on the woman, who has to be self-sacrificing no matter what choice she makes. It’s painful to watch. I have to wonder: Would they do this with a male hero?