My taste for British and European TV mysteries predisposed me to like The Killing, the cable mini-series that finally ended its run this last weekend on AMC. That’s “finally” with a sigh of relief.
The Killing is a series that most viewers seem to absolutely love or totally hate, no Mister In-betweeners. As I maybe do too much for some, I stand somewhere in the middle, though, in the end, I think the series a failure. I watched it from first to last and while I enjoyed much of it—the acting and direction, the rainy, Gothic-noir atmosphere—the sins washed away the virtues.
The Killing is an American adaptation of a Danish series called Forbrydelsen (The Crime), reconfigured over here by Veena Sud (an American of Canadian, Filipino and Indian Hindu descent). The Danish version’s first season followed one case for 20 episodes, one day per episode, in one season. It was a huge hit, especially in England where it beat Mad Men in viewer ratings. A third season with a new case is now in production. It’s even ignited a fashion craze.
The American version won’t be welcomed back. It takes the same mystery plot, the murder of a young girl, but strings it out over the course of 26 days and 26 episodes, then splits that into two seasons. A lot needs to happen, but, in the end, as finely made as the show was, its scripting let it down. Not much in the way of surprises did happen and some of them stretched credibility to the snapping point. So many red herrings were flying around, it started smelling like a fish market.
While I didn’t feel as burnt by the reversal at the end of season one as many others, I wondered if they’d run out of rabbits to pull from their hats during season two. And they just about did. Toward the end, we were squirming with irritation and, when the far-fetched reveal came, we shrugged with relief.
I’m all for realistic depictions of flawed detectives who make errors of judgment and who war against the corruption within and without (as in Prime Suspect and The Wire). I can even get with the bad guys escaping justice. But detectives Sarah Linden and Stephen Holder (played by Mirielle Enos and Swedish actor Joel Kinnaman, both excellent in difficult roles) break down so many wrong doors, run out so many wrong threads, and have soooo many personal problems that I wanted to give them both a big big hug before taking away their badges away for good.
I felt almost as intensely against them as I did toward Kenneth Branagh’s mind-blowing, absurd portrayal of the Swedish cop Wallander (the BBC version, guaranteed must-miss TV)—I don’t want these two anywhere near my murder. The Seattle police department is portrayed as being so muddle-headed, I’d much prefer the Baltimore cops in The Wire to be the ones picking over my bullet-ridden corpse.
Much has been made about The Killing’s similarity to David Lynch’s surreal Twin Peaks, but I sensed its real ambition lay in the realist direction of The Wire. If true, then this show really misses the end of the dock. Focusing its lens on a single murder keeps The Killing from taking a wider view of its Seattle setting than it seems to yearn for. It never weaves a genuinely absorbing Dickensian tapestry, a goal The Wire achieved and then some. It never achieves true verisimilitude and instead settles for gloomy attitude. It’s not nearly as deep as it wants to be.
Copyright 2012 by Thomas Burchfield
Thomas Burchfield has recently completed his 1920s gangster thriller Butchertown. He can be friended on Facebook, followed on Twitter, and read at Goodreads. You can also join his e-mail list via tbdeluxe [at] sbcglobal [dot] net. He lives in Northern California with his wife, Elizabeth.