Starring: Mirielle Enos, Joel Kinnaman, Billy Campbell, Brent Sexton
Two things you can rely on – it’ll always be raining, and there will always be another twist. The first two seasons of this American adaptation of the hit Danish show deal with a whopper of a case. Supposed to be heading off to sunny California to give up policing and get married, Seattle PD’s Sarah Linden (Mirielle Enos) instead finds herself investigating the murder of a schoolgirl, alongside her dubious replacement, an ex-methhead called Holder (Joel Kinnaman). Is it a random slaying, or is there a deeper motive? No more able to stop working homicide than she can stop wearing woolly sweaters, Linden has to know, and she keeps on missing her plane as developments occur and the clues lead first this way, then that.
It does occasionally feel as if everyone in Seattle is a suspect at one time or another, but what keeps the show grounded is its sense of the strain the investigation places on those involved and the collateral damage it causes. The dead girl’s father (Brent Sexton) finds his haulage firm in trouble as customers stay away, embarrassed by the cloud of tragedy hanging over his family. Drifting in and out of the frame is mayoral candidate Darren Richmond (Billy Campbell), and his already accident-prone campaign starts to spiral out of control. And then there’s Linden herself, a paradoxical figure – a remorseless seeker after truth who’s in denial about her disintegrating relationship with her son. Mirielle Enos brilliantly captures the various sides of her character – the personality as rough as sandpaper, the soft underbelly of neuroses, the rigid game face which she occasionally wrenches into an unconvincing smile. Even if she sometimes seems more laden with baggage than an airport carousel, it’s quite a first for American TV, having a female lead who’s so raw, so dressed down and grainy.
The investigation reaches a new pitch in Season 2. As if the weather, the long hours and being a single mum weren’t enough, Linden now has to contend with a high-level conspiracy. As election day looms closer, the cover-up gets deeper, and she is in danger of losing everything she has because of this one case. Two seasons is a long time to wait for a resolution, but it all pays off in a harrowing and bleak conclusion that shows the series at its height.
The first two seasons are faithful to the Scandinavian original in some respects (the political chicanery, for example), but inevitably Americanized both in terms of plot points (a dodgy Native American-run casino becomes a player in the unfolding scandal, and you don’t get many of those in Denmark) and in dramatic tone. Different enough, you could say, to make it worth seeing both.
The third season eschews smoke and mirrors for a more simple yet resonant tale. Hookers and teen runaways are being brutally murdered, and the spate of killings seems to link back to one of Linden’s earlier cases. This time the ticking clock is the countdown to the execution of the man convicted of that crime. With Linden herself in a place of fragile calm throughout the season, the emphasis is less on personal trauma that on the simple nuts and bolts of working the case. Even more so than in the previous two seasons, the subsidiary characters are nicely sketched in. Some of the liveliest scenes are to do with the sharply individualized street kids – tough, cynical, forgotten by society but still touchingly full of hopes and dreams. And the death row sequences are more than just Green Mile stuff, with the prison guards given quite complex and surprising character traits. Visually, the same damp, gloomy ambience is maintained, building to some truly eerie set-pieces such as the one where Linden stumbles upon an isolated pond that has been used as a dump by the killer, the purple of the medical-grade body bags a sickly note of colour among the autumnal greys and browns.
Like most TV cop shows, The Killing has moments when it pushes things too far, but it’s always compelling viewing, and it boasts a commanding lead performance by Enios. Who would have thought that rain, woolly sweaters and the occasional corpse would make for such a winning combination?
The Emmy nominated The Killing seasons one to three comes to DVD and Blu-ray for the first time as one complete collection and also as single disc releases, with season two and three, all making their UK home entertainment debut.