Judge Erich Asperschlager has hidden the identity of Rosie Larsen's killer somewhere in his review. Or has he?
Our reviews of The Killing: The Complete First Season (Blu-ray) (published March 27th, 2012), The Killing: The Complete Third Season (published August 13th, 2014), and The Killing (Blu-ray) Criterion Collection (published August 16th, 2011) are also available.
Who Killed Rosie Larsen?
Based on Danish TV series Forbrydelsen, The Killing joined AMC's impressive stable of hour-long dramas in April of 2011. It was an instant hit with viewers and critics, who praised its mood, acting, and story. As the season went on, however, that support wavered. The same critics who gave the pilot glowing reviews grumbled about the lack of progress in the central murder mystery. The complaints came to a head with the controversial season finale, sparking fan outrage on the internet. Now, with the second season premiere at hand, The Killing: The Complete First Season gets a second chance to win over audiences on DVD.
Facts of the Case The Killing follows the aftermath of the murder of 17-year-old Rosie Larsen (Katie Findlay, Crash Site), in Seattle—as it affects her grieving parents Stan (Brent Sexton, Deadwood) and Mitch (Michelle Forbes, 24), her brothers (Evan Bird, Fringe; and Seth Isaac Johnson, To the Mat) and aunt (Jamie Anne Allman, The Shield), her best friend (Kacey Rohl, Red Riding Hood) and ex-boyfriend (Richard Harmon, Trick 'r Treat), her teacher (Brandon Jay McLaren, Tucker and Dale vs. Evil), and a mayoral candidate (Billy Campbell, The Rocketeer) with a strange connection to the case. The murder is discovered on what is supposed to be homicide detective Sarah Linden's (Mireille Enos, Big Love) last day on the job, before moving with her troubled son (Liam James, Psych) to join her fiancee (Callum Keith Rennie, Memento) in California. She is compelled to stay with the investigation, however, joining in an uneasy partnership with her ex-narc replacement, Holder (Joel Kinnaman, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo).
Depending on your point of view, the following is either a spoiler or a public service announcement: the Rosie Larsen case is not solved in The Killing's first season. Having that knowledge may kill some of the tension, but it also allows new viewers to set their expectations accordingly. In interviews, series creator Veena Sud has said the mystery will be resolved in the second season. This means fans can enjoy a twenty-plus episode arc with the confidence that the twists and turns won't go on forever. If you can live with temporary lack of closure, the thrill of the hunt is enough to recommend the show.
I have often wondered what it would be like to experience Lost on DVD instead of having watched it as it aired. Part of the fun was the fan chatter and theorizing that happened between the episodes. The wait from week to week is less kind to other shows. The Killing is a highly serialized drama that unfolds slowly. I can imagine that watching certain episodes on their own would be frustrating. Having it all on DVD fixes that.
While some TV critics complained that the season got worse as it went along, I found it to be consistent. Not every episode centers around the Larsen murder, but the series moves along at a steady, deliberate pace. Sud and her writers spent a lot of time crafting their story, dropping hints in early episodes that pay off much later. This puzzle piece construction works well, especially when you watch the episodes in quick succession. The marathon approach is a double-edged sword, however. Even as it helps to gloss over some of the story's weaker elements, it highlights other problems.
The Killing locks itself into a strict timeline, where each of the 13 episodes represents one day in the murder investigation. The tightened format keeps things moving, but it also forces the writers to use shortcuts. Many of the breaks in the case come down to dumb luck or coincidence. Through constant cell phone chatter, characters receive key information, find incriminating videos, and even use phone numbers to locate suspects. We live in a high-tech time, but The Killing plays like a mystery where the next answer is only a Google search away. Technology isn't quite the omniscient giver of clues it is in CSI's superlabs, but it's close.
The mystery is kept mysterious through a string of false leads and red herrings. The twists stack up during the flurry of activity as the investigation heats up at the beginning of the season, and then again as the season winds to its cliffhanger ending. The guessing game is fun, but The Killing's strength isn't the complex plot, it's the complex characters. With the exception of some younger actors, performances are strong across the board, but the most memorable characters are those at the core of the story.
Mireille Enos's steely Linden is the protagonist. She makes an impression in the pilot, but mostly as a pissed off detective who wants to get out of town. The turning point for the character comes midway through the season, as she changes from George Bailey itching to leave Bedford Falls into a vulnerable, driven heroine. The more we learn about the guarded Sarah, the more human and sympathetic she becomes, giving real punch to the unsettling finale. As Linden's replacement/partner Holden, Swedish actor Joel Kinnaman manages to be mysterious, despite being as chatty as Linden is quiet. Although they never quite agree about protocol or the right way to talk to suspects, Holden and Linden's friendship is the foundation of the series. Their burgeoning partnership provides a counterpoint to Stan and Mitch Larsen's crumbling marriage. Brent Sexton and Michelle Forbes bring to life all of Sud and her writers' research into the real-life experiences of parents who have lost a child. Like Enos, most of their acting is done internally, having to use body language to express feelings their characters are too shell-shocked to express with words. At times, the actors are better than the scenes they're in, especially when asked to play yet another long stretch of silent grief, or yell at one more person that they don't know anything about their family.
Having seen The Killing in both standard and hi-def, it's hard to recommend the DVD over Blu-ray or HD streaming. It's a decent transfer, but this is a dark show, and shadow detail is almost completely lost in standard-definition. The 5.1 Dolby surround mix is solid. Sound design is an important part of the show, and although the audio is front-heavy, the occasional directional effect adds to the experience.
The Killing doesn't come with a ton of extras, but there should be enough to keep fans distracted until the start of Season Two:
• Pilot Commentary: In this first of two set commentaries, Veena Sud talks through the process of creating and casting the series, choosing a pilot director, and the research that went into writing a believable murder investigation.
• Finale Commentary: Writer Nicole Yorkin and Mireille Enos gush about the show, give behind-the-scenes info, and talk about the exacting writing process. They acknowledge the finale controversy, though they tread lightly, offering a defense of the lack of closure and the ending twist. The "wait and see" approach is more palatable given that we're on the verge of the show's return. I don't think it will placate the angriest of fans, but I doubt they were going to buy the DVD anyway.
• Orpheus Descending—Extended Season Finale: The fourth disc comes with the option to watch the season finale either as it aired, or in this slightly longer version that adds three extra minutes. There are a couple of interesting extra moments, but nothing that really shakes things up.
• "An Autopsy of The Killing" (16:54): This featurette is the closest this set has to a making-of doc, featuring interviews with Veena Sud, the actors, and producers. Sud wanted to delve into the effects of murder in greater detail than most TV. She became involved with the project after the idea of adapting the Danish series was pitched to AMC. From there, she brought her own interest in tough female cops and gritty dramas to the writers' room, where they hashed out the story and the ultra-secret identity of the killer.
• Gag Reel (4:48): A standard collection of missed lines and giggling actors.
• Deleted Scenes (12:56): There's a lot here, time-wise, but not much meat. Most of these scenes are extra beats to sequences that made it into the series. Hang on until the end, though, for a few tantalizing bits that were cut from the finale.
The Killing doesn't always strike the right balance between red herrings and character drama, but it is addictive. Rosie's murder is what brings viewers in, and the controversial season cliffhanger will be what entices them back for Season Two. But that's not why the show is worth watching. The Killing is at its best when the mystery fades into the background, letting the well-drawn characters move to the front.
Despite the marketing push to tie it to Twin Peaks—as evidenced by the "Who Killed Rosie Larsen?" tagline scrawled across the cover art in red letters—The Killing has nothing to do with the David Lynch series. There are no quirky characters here. No humor. Just a dark exploration of grief as relentless as the Seattle rain. Still, that tone sets it apart from other shows, and even at its messiest, The Killing is compelling TV.
Still narrowing down suspects, but for now it appears to be not guilty.
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