"If you really want to make a difference, you have to hold on to your power."
Really, AMC? That's your plan for maintaining the momentum of a hot new series? Leaving viewers annoyed and angered after a season-long mystery was left completely unsolved by the end of its 13-episode run on June 19? So now, viewers--at least those who return--will have to wait perhaps close to a year before the mystery of who killed Rosie Larsen continues. Will they remember all the clues and characters? Will they even care? It's a dangerous game AMC is playing, and could ultimately result in lower ratings. The backlash began just seconds after cliffhanger "Orpheus Descending" aired--an entry I can only describe as unsatisfying. My buzz? Mellowed. My excitement? Subdued. My gushing to friends to watch the show? Turned to rancor.
At least Twin Peaks fans only had to wait four months for the mystery to continue, a far-more forgivable offense considering the series was a late-season replacement that only aired eight episodes in its initial campaign (and David Lynch had filed a quick resolution for the European TV markets, something he had in his back pocket in case the show was quickly cancelled). And at least Damages--a show whose copious misdirection, plot twists and red herrings make The Killing look like Nancy Drew--knows how to construct satisfying season enders that answer a lot while still maintaining enough questions and intrigue for the following season.
But no, instead of taking a cue from a show like Murder One--which presented one case in its entirety in the first season and introduced a new one in the season that followed (you know, cause that makes sense)--AMC is testing the patience of its loyal viewers. It's also inviting more criticism about the show's weaknesses, which are magnified and perhaps less forgivable under the glare. Consider this: I have a chronic DVD-buying sickness, purchasing everything under the sun (I will die buried under a mound of movies in my rented apartment). But not even I will consider adding The Killing: Season 1 to my collection until the sophomore season is released to provide a (hopefully) more complete package.
Sour grapes on my part? Perhaps. But thankfully, I had an ace up my sleeve. Determined to stick it to AMC, less than 30 minutes after the season ender aired I had hopped online to Amazon.UK and ordered (with my middle finger, mind you) the entire 20-episode run of Forbrydelsen, the Danish series upon which The Killing is based (it replayed on the BBC early this year, hence this release from U.K.-based Arrow Video). For fans with DVD players that can play or convert PAL to NTSC (or who don't mind watching shows on their computer screen)--and who don't mind shelling out perhaps $60-plus--this five-disc, Region 0 set chronicling the 20-day investigation may be the answer (each episode runs about 55 minutes). A far-more compelling and complete package, it proved to be the perfect antidote to my anger. (In full disclosure, it's important to note: The first half of Forbrydelsen's first season aired the first three months of 2007 on Danish television, with the final half arriving in the Fall of that year--four months before originally intended due to extreme popularity...a fact that doesn't exonerate AMC.)
It's autumn in Copenhagen, where a tightly contested mayoral election is heating up. Young up-and-comer Troels Hartmann (Lars Mikkelsen), the current mayor of education, is out to unseat old-establishment incumbent Poul Bremer (Bent Mejding)--who's looking to secure his fourth term in office. The son of an ultimately unsuccessful father politician ("He was more...how shall I put it?" poses Bremer. "Fragile."), Hartmann is a passionate and charismatic man. His platform hinges on his new Education Act, guaranteed childcare and the refurbishing of the city sports facilities--an effort that goes hand in hand with his "role model" program, designed to better the lives of immigrants and those less fortunate. There's no love lost between the two candidates, but Hartmann's popularity is rising in the polls. Things are looking good, but there's a problem Hartmann will soon have to contend with after a discovery on Monday: The body of a dead 19-year-old girl in the trunk of a submerged campaign car traced to his office.
Her name was Nanna Birk Larsen (Julie R. Ølgaard), last seen at a high school Halloween party Friday night. The news comes as a shock to her family, who was away for the weekend: mom Pernille (Ann Eleonora Jørgensen) and dad Theis (Bjarne Henriksen), who run a moving company in their office/flat while also raising their young sons Anton (Kasper Leth Hansen) and Emil (Jonas Leth Hansen). Nanna's death also hits close to home for Pernille's sister Charlotte (Laura Drasbæk), who works at a hot local nightclub; and honorary family member Vagn Skaerbaek (Nicolaj Kopernikus), Theis' long-time friend and right-hand man in the moving business.
Nanna's life is quickly under the microscope, and a handful of friends and teachers may know more than they initially let on: best friend Lisa (Laura Christensen) was with her that fateful night, as were ex-boyfriend Oliver (Cyron Bjørn Melville) and student council president Jeppe (Casper Steffensen). Meanwhile, teachers Rahman "Rama" Al Kemal (Farshad Kholghi)--one of Hartmann's role models, he's also awaiting a child with his pregnant wife and fellow teacher Sille (Mette K. Madsen)--and Henning Kofoed (Mogens Rex) both had access to a telling paper of Nanna's that may provide some clues.
All are of interest to the detectives assigned to the case, including show centerpiece Sarah Lund (Sofie Gråbøl). Anxious to start her new life in Sweden with son Mark (Eske Forsting Hansen) and fiancé Bengt Rosling (Johan Gry)--who--as it turns out--has a knack for profiling criminals--she is soon unable to pull herself away from the case. She son postpones her new life, thus distancing herself from her loved ones, including frustrated mother Vibeke (Anne Marie Helger). Lund is joined by the detective Jan Meyer (Søren Malling), a husband and father of three who desperately wants to hold down a job for more than three weeks. The two hard-nosed detectives don't mesh very well, neither endearing themselves to each other.
But both know that secrets are waiting to be uncovered in City Hall, which opens up a whole new world of suspects. By Hartmann's side are his two confidants: campaign manager Morten Weber (Michael Moritzen), a quiet yet loyal man who has been by the candidate's side for years; and advisor/press secretary/secret (at least to the public) lover Rie Skovgaard (Marie Askehave), a determined, fiery beauty and daughter of Ebbe (Kjeld Nørgaard), an influential politician with a stake in Hartmann's success. Civil servant Olav Christensen (Kristian Ibler) also finds himself in the hot seat as the case heats up. And what the heck does criminal John Lynge (Benjamin Boe Rasmussen) have to do with the campaign and the car? Things aren't looking so good for the Hartmann camp, and the reminder of his wife's recent death to cancer isn't doing much good for his mental state.
Also key to the upstart's career are his political peers, with some alliances crucial to garnering more votes. Centre Party representative Kirsten Eller (Tina Gylling Mortensen) is the first of the campaign's hurdles, while Moderate Party leader Jens Holck (Jesper Lohmann) is another obstacle that threatens to support Bremer--whose camp is also a hotbed of suspicious behavior, including the candidate himself and his press advisor Phillip Dessau (Jakob Cedergren). Hartmann also has to look out for a potential takeover bid from his own party, with Henrik Bigum (Henrik Prip) leading the way.
Those political ramifications have created more tension back at the precinct, where detectives Lund and Meyer face constant opposition from their superiors: veteran Chief Bucjhard (Troels II Munk), stone-faced Chief Deputy Lennart Brix (Morten Suurballe) and big boss Bülow (Kim Bodnia), who makes Brix look like a puppy dog. Are they intentionally hindering the investigation? It's a headache the detectives hadn't counted on, with the stress of keeping the political camps quiet and the press at bay taking all of their time.
As you can probably guess, hidden agendas and secrets pasts come from every character--and I haven't even mentioned all of them, a few late arrivals adding more pieces to the puzzle. Leaks, traitors, unsavory pasts, red herrings, and plenty of misdirection and redirection all abound. Thankfully, the show juggles its large cast and copious twists at a perfect pace, unveiling things with a keen sense of timing and construction. While the twists and turns are ample, the confusion is usually minimal enough to prevent frustration. The show also wisely gives us a few arcs that run alongside the mystery, adding some powerful family dynamics to the mix: The Larsen family tries to find a way to cope with loss, but dives deeper into a dangerous depression; while Det. Lund becomes so obsessed with the case, she further distances herself from those who need her. This is a sad, somber show that nonetheless makes you care about these emotionally charged characters; we're invested, and that's primarily due to the overall excellence of the cast.
And that invites the obvious (and perhaps unfair) comparisons to its American counterpart, which most readers are probably more familiar with. While the general structure is the same, there are a wealth of differences in both plot and characters--most of who are taken into completely different directions (and some unique to each version). As a whole, I quickly felt that the characters in the Danish version were more "likable" in the sense that fewer of them irritated me. The perfect example? Most of the kids in the series (the two young Larsen sons, Sarah's son, some of the victim's classmates) aren't complete assholes, a highly unnecessary attribute that the American version takes a little too far.
Det. Lund is far more forgivable here, her less-than-admirable traits a little less grating and obvious. Her treatment toward her fiancé is played a little more believably; the entire subplot of her intent to leave town--and the case--is played far better (the AMC version fumbling it terribly, one of my least favorite aspects of the U.S. version). She's also much less of a dick to her partner, a trait that threatens the likability factor of her American doppelganger. But some might see Gråbøl's performance as less passionate and deep than Mireille Enos, whose polarizing detective incites more emotion (both positive and negative). For me, the fantastic Joel Kinnaman (as Det. Holder) is the best thing the U.S. version has going for it, adding equal doses of intrigue and humor to the show. His Danish version is completely different: Malling's Jan Meyer is a stoic, stone-faced, by-the-book family man. The two are almost impossible to compare, and both are fantastic, essential ingredients. Kinnaman (a Swede!) certainly has the flashier role, and gets more chances to strut his stuff; I wish we got more alone time with Meyer.
The victim's fathers are fairly equal, while the actresses who play the mothers take slightly different approaches to their grief (Michelle Forbes is a little more gut-wrenching to watch, channeling her inner Grace Zabriskie; while Jørgensen is a bit more emotionally complex). I'm a little more fond of a few supporting players in the American version: Brendan Sexton III makes a memorable impression as the "adopted" Larsen family member/employee, another character that is written differently (Sexton straddles that menacing/emotionally fragile line so beautifully); while Jamie Anne Allman is fantastic as Mitch Larsen's sister Terry (given far more screen time in the first half of the series than her Danish counterpart).
But two actors blow their American counterparts out of the water, which I realize isn't a fair statement given the different approaches for their characters. Mikkelsen is the life force of the show, his ambitious politician bursting with passion. He's charming, fiery, driven and complex--and accomplishes the remarkable feat of making you cheer for him in one episode while wishing for his downfall in another. He perfectly encapsulates everything we love and loathe about politicians, casting a spell over us. Right alongside him is the equally seductive Askehave, whose Rie is a true femme fatale--a dangerous beauty you don't want to cross. Just look at her gaze while being interrogated by Meyer in one episode (Kristin Lehman can't begin to compete here). The series is most enjoyable when these actors are on screen, and that's saying a lot given that I love Billy Campbell (whose Darren Richmond is a far nicer, gentler option...at least on the surface).
Visually, the shows offer equally bleak landscapes and construct memorable shots both menacing and majestic. Musically, the American version wisely keeps the main themes from Frans Bak's masterful score--the reveals at the end of each episode wouldn't have the same perfect poetic effect without his subtle chords that expertly mount the tension (the only misfire here is the use of some out-of-place chase music in three very brief sequences). The AMC version forces more comparisons to Twin Peaks (without the weird), with the Seattle setting, woods imagery and a certain late development a little more meaty.
As for the stories? Many things are intact in both versions, while some twists or clues arrive at different times or are unique (one crucial piece of crime scene evidence is dropped in the U.S. version, while Det. Lund faces an added threat at home in Copenhagen). Both versions have their good and bad moments, and both play some plot points and characters better than the other. I'm sad to report that the cops can be just as crappy in the Danish version, with some "Why are they going off on their own in a clearly dangerous situation and not immediately calling for backup?!" moments. I sometimes questioned why the writers made Sarah Lund so damn stupid at times; any cop who doesn't have their cell phone and their gun permanently attached to their hips should be shot with said gun (one crucial scene in the early part of the season is particularly ridiculous--played far better in the American version--while a crucial late-season sequence will have you yelling at her). Frustrating? Yes. Forgivable? Absolutely. (And for fans of the U.S. version, remember that late-season episode that took a break from the case to give us some alone time with the two lead detectives, the one some people hated but I actually liked? No such episode exists here.)
It's clear the American version seems to be going in a different direction, and I would be stunned if they didn't offer us a different killer (that would certainly be the smart thing to do). I know who I suspect, and I'm sticking to it. But who cares when you have this amazing original version to enjoy? For those who have watched AMC's version, the Danish work really kicks into high gear in its second half, where most of the familiar twists have already been dealt with. There's so much going on here--and things move so swiftly--that you don't have too much time to question any potential plot holes or get annoyed with the red herrings (what would a mystery be without those, anyway?). This is compulsively watchable storytelling that allows you to savor every suspicious second; I finished this series in a week, with a few nights approaching 4 a.m. (the last time I stayed up that late was in college).
And boy, those last three episodes in particular are aggressively addictive (including one sequence that had me gasping). The key to a successful mystery is to keep you distracted and guessing as long as possible, and Forbrydelsen passes that test with the flying red and white colors of Denmark's flag. Suspicion falls far and wide, and ultimately there's more than one mystery to solve. While I wouldn't call the resolution anything genius or revelatory, it is extremely satisfying--which is far more than I can say for the annoying experience AMC has put us through so far. Whatever happens on Season 2 of the U.S. series, it will now (for me, at least) be judged against the incredible original--something it will be hard-pressed to surpass.
The Region 0 PAL set (meaning you need a computer, or a DVD player than can play or convert PAL to NTSC) arrives with an anamorphic 1.77:1 transfer that is very impressive--lots of sharpness and detail here, with little touches like the texture of water on a dark street or raincoat, the clarity of a Coke bottle or a Batman backpack all impressing. Skin tones are solid, with clothing (like Det. Lund's sweater) and hair textures also excellent. This is overall a dark series, making its bursts of color all the more noticeable. Note: a few of the darker, grainer scenes occasionally have a very feint pattern on them--almost like a "vertical blind" pattern with very thin lines across the image. These are very fleeting and very faint, and didn't bother me. I only noticed them in some spots on the first three discs of the five-disc set, and they don't alter my hearty enthusiasm for the transfer. (Also note: I am certainly no expert in what to look for in PAL "conversions", but this looked solid to me.)
We just get a 2.0 track in the original Danish with forced English subtitles. But it's a very impressive, robust 2.0 track with excellent clarity and strength. Note: the subtitles on the last two discs of the five disc set are slightly less "polished" than the ones on the first three, but no less readable.
No extras are included on this set.
Are you happy, AMC? If your goal with the annoying season ender to The Killing was to alienate some fans and get them running to the superior Danish original for closure, congratulations...mission accomplished. A far more satisfying and engrossing viewing experience, this 20-episode set (which will only play on computers or DVD players that can convert PAL to NTSC) had my heart pounding through its entire run--capped off by a second half (and an especially explosive final three episodes) that left me breathless. Both versions of the show have their strengths and weaknesses, but AMC (even if it gives us a different killer) will have a hard time surpassing this superlative, suspenseful series. Highly Recommended. (Hey Arrow, how about Season 2 now? Please?!)