Judge Gordon Sullivan is planning to visit Seattle. He's already packed his mace.
Our reviews of The Killing: The Complete First Season (published March 26th, 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?
When it began a couple of decades ago, American Movie Classics was a cineaste's cable channel. Offering classic (American) films without interruption, the channel had some success. However, the formula grew tired as more and more consumers found uncut, restored DVDs to be their venue of choice for classic cinema. Rather than packing it in, the channel rebranded as AMC and started to focus on original programming in the early twenty-first century. The ploy wasn't particularly successful until 2007, when the channel aired Mad Men. Since then, they've had a hit show per year (with the exception of 2009's slight misstep The Prisoner miniseries) and its roster includes Breaking Bad (2008) and The Walking Dead (2010) in addition to the folks at Sterling Cooper. In 2011, the channel debuted a new series, The Killing, based on a Danish series, and it's worth picking up for fans of the channel's other dramas, mystery series, or quality American television.
Facts of the Case
The series opens on the last day on the job for Seattle detective Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos, Big Love), who plans to move down to California with her son and husband-to-be. However, this day is different, as a bloody girl's sweater is discovered in a field, and the search is on for a missing girl, Rosie Larsen (Katie Findlay). Since the show's tagline is "Who Killed Rosie Larsen?," we don't have to spend much time worrying if the girl is simply missing or dead, but Detective Linden gets sucked into the investigation, where the suspects include everyone from Rosie's rich-kid ex-boyfriend to a city councilman running for mayor.
It takes major chutzpah to make a show about a murdered young girl in the Northwest, and almost pathological arrogance to make your tagline "Who Killed Rosie Larsen?" I say this because even today, over twenty years later, Twin Peaks is a watershed in American television, and its basic elements are so similar to The Killing that I'm afraid many fans will give this show a wide berth because of a "been there, done that" feeling engendered by the similarity between the shows.
That, however, would be a mistake. Though there are some serious surface similarities, The Killing does very little to evoke Twin Peaks on a deeper level. Rather, it takes most of its cues from the kind of detective fiction coming out of Scandinavia. Lynch gave American audiences a taste of his surreal brand of imagery, and viewers could count on just about every episode offering at least one head-scratching image to mull over. In contrast, The Killing is almost too deliberately real for its own good. Awash in the dark grays of Seattle's famously rainy skies, the series takes a slow, deliberate approach to the murder investigation, letting the horror of Rosie's death and its effects on her family and the wider community build and build. In some ways, I can't imagine having to wait between episodes, as each ending shot made me crave the next episode in the best possible way.
HBO built its brand on shows that couldn't be aired on regular broadcast television. For the most part, that meant being frank about sex (Sex and the City) and violence (The Sopranos). AMC is taking a different route. Though its shows are similarly filled with stuff that regular TV can't match, AMC seems to be the channel that's all about quality acting. I'm not trying to denigrate the acting of HBO's shows, but instead trying to distinguish what makes AMC different. We all could have guessed that a role like Tony Soprano would offer any actor the chance to strut his stuff, so it's no surprise that James Gandolfini was acclaimed in the role. In contrast, there's nothing in the initial description of Don Draper that makes him standout (though that would obviously change as the series went on). Yet despite the subtle nature of his character, Jon Hamm played him like the role was Hamlet. That kind of commitment to roles and actors that aren't obvious awards-bait sets AMC apart, and nothing shows that quite like The Killing. All the characters are really regular people, with no chance for speeches or grand gestures. I didn't expect the role of a middle-aged female detective to be anything special, but Mireille Enos blows me away every single episode. She's merely the center that ties together a totally remarkable cast. They're exactly the kind of subtle, human performances that get ignored during awards season but they all help to create a world for the show that makes viewers want to inhabit.
I really wish I could say that The Killing got a first-rate Blu-ray release, but that's not quite the case. It's not a total failure by any stretch, but it is a bit of a letdown given the quality of the show. The 1.78:1/1080p AVC-encoded high definition transfers on these three discs are just a little too "blah." The show is shot on 35mm, and in some cases that leads to a pleasing layer of grain over the picture. At other times, it just means that fine detail is lost in a haze. However, the bigger problem is that in many shots the grain is poorly rendered, showing compression noise instead of natural detail. I know the show is supposed to be a bit dingy and gray based on the Seattle atmosphere. Black levels also suffer a bit. It's not a horrible set of transfers by any means, but I was occasionally taken out of the story due to the noise in the image. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix is a little better, with well-mixed dialogue and decent atmospherics. The surrounds could have been utilized more, but overall, this is a very listenable track.
Extras start with commentaries on the first and last episodes of the season. There's a solid mix of technical material, actorly insight, and discussion of the translation from Denmark to Seattle here. There's also a 16-minute making-of featurette and 14 minutes of deleted scenes, along with a gag reel.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Those looking for another Twin Peaks will be disappointed by this show. It moves at a slow pace, and isn't always interested in keeping Rosie Larsen's murder front-and-center. It might also be frustrating to some that the series ends on a cliffhanger. Although the show is good and I enjoyed it, this is no Mad Men or Breaking Bad.
The Killing is a solid way to spend thirteen hours with a mystery. The setup is a little tired, but the acting and atmosphere keep it from being a Lynchian retread. Though I wish I could say more positive things about this Blu-ray release, it does an okay job presenting the show. Those interested in mysteries, good acting, or AMC's other offerings should at least give this one a rental.
Though someone killed Rosie Larsen, this set is not guilty.
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