A stolen credit card. A sweater. Signs of a struggle. These are the puzzle pieces in the death of 17-year-old Rosie Larsen, presented to detective Sarah Linden (Mirelle Enos) just hours before she leaves Seattle, for Sonoma, California, where her fiancee and a new life await. Sarah wants desperately to hand the reins to Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman), the former narcotics detective who is meant to be her replacement, but in meeting the Larsen family -- Mitch (Michelle Forbes), Stan (Brent Sexton), and their two boys Tom (Evan Bird) and Denny (Seth Isaac Johnson), Linden quickly finds herself emotionally involved and determined to solve the case.
Right from the start, "The Killing" feels like a mixed bag. Some aspects, like the mismatched partnership of Linden and Holder and the cold, damp atmosphere of the show are probably taken from "Forbrydelsen," the Danish phenomenon on which "The Killing" is based. When we're first introduced to Sarah Linden, she's seen jogging through the woods with a calm determination, which has both direct and thematic echoes of Jodie Foster in Silence of the Lambs. Most obvious, perhaps, is the seeming influence of "Twin Peaks," from the "Who Killed Rosie Larsen?" tagline to the strong ties to the Pacific Northwest (although "Peaks" was shot here, not set here, and "The Killing" predictably uses the Vancouver version of Seattle). At one point, there's even a thread involving a potentially seedy casino on the other side of a river where jurisdiction becomes an issue -- perhaps an intentional reference to "Peaks" comparisons.
Tonally, however, is where the comparisons end. Where "Peaks" was surprisingly funny, "The Killing" is a dark show, with the sorrow of the grieving family and Sarah's increasingly strained relationship with her son Jack (Liam James) and her would-be husband Rick (Callum Keith Rennie) compounding with the dreary atmosphere to create a strained sense of loss. Although there is the occasional bit of humor (how occasional depends on how funny the viewer finds Holder), this is a mood piece that wants to spotlight the grieving of the victims, and explore Sarah's need to see the case through.
At the same time, "The Killing" calls out for focus. For Season One, the hook is basically the case, but the case can't last forever, and although the writers can point the viewer's attention toward Sarah and the Larsens, both threads lack a well-defined dramatic goal. The primary conflict for Sarah is the fact that she's letting her responsibilities as half of a relationship and the parent of a child slide, but then, would solving the case be a good or bad thing? If she solves the case and makes it to Sonoma, has she let go, lost that need to care for strangers more than she cares for herself? Meanwhile, Holder is potentially even less-defined, operating almost solely as a foil to Linden. The rare times we see Holder on his own, he's almost always doing something mysterious that the show wants to build up, leaving the viewer at arm's length. Similarly, in 13 episodes, we learn almost nothing about Rosie. Admittedly, this may be a challenge, but the living characters should help paint a clearer picture of such a crucial character.
As with many new television shows, there are speed bumps, mainly in the form of disappearing characters. Rosie's best friend Sterling (Kacey Rohl), Rosie's ex-boyfriend Jasper (Richard Harmon), and a fellow student, Kris (Gharrett Patrick Paon) are introduced but seemingly forgotten in the later episodes. There are a few cheap twists, too: the tender resolution of Stan and Mitch's thread in "Vengeance" is one of the series' best moments, only to be undercut a few episodes later. One of the show's major threads involves Councilman Darren Richmond (Billy Campbell), on the campaign trail for Seattle mayor. In one episode, Richmond decides to go against his upstanding ways with a smear ad against his slimy opponent; when it backfires, this feels less like karma and more like TV writers trying to manipulate the audience.
Taken as a whole in this "Season One" release, "The Killing" is a reasonably satisfying experience. Although it doesn't have a truly cohesive "hook," the show's strong elements are juggled well enough to keep the action engaging. It's unclear whether showrunner Veena Sud's hope to do a different kind of crime show will pay off in the long run, but this is a start, effectively evoking the turmoil of a killing and the tremendous aftershocks that follow.
The episodes in this set break down as follows:
Disc 1: "The Killing (Pilot)," "The Cage," "El Diablo," "A Soundless Echo"
Disc 2: "Super 8," "What You Have Left," "Vengeance," "Stonewalled"
Disc 3: "Undertow," "I'll Let You Know When I Get There," "Missing," "Beau Soleil"
Disc 4: "Orpheus Falling"
"The Killing": Season One arrives in a heavy-duty standard-width case with the four discs on flap trays (the kind most TV shows are appearing in these days). Personally, having now seen the show, I don't think the image of Rosie and the derivative tagline are a great hook. A picture of Linden and Holder might have ended up looking more generic, but as much as Rosie Larsen is the mystery, and the element that drives the plot forward, she's not a real presence in the episodes and the cover ends up looking boring. The plastic is transparent, and on the inside there's am image of Linden, back to the camera, looking out over the shore, that the show uses at the end of the opening as a title card, with a list of episodes and extras on the left side. There is also a small card advertising "Mad Men" and "The Killing" Season Two inside the case.
The Video and Audio
Presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, "The Killing" is like a checklist of visual styles that don't lend themselves to the limitations of standard-definition DVD: it's a grainy, dark, soft-focus, murky-looking show. The transfer's attempts to resolve the grain often look more like noise, especially in dark scnees. A significant amount of black crush consumes on the characters' dark jackets when they rest in the shadows. Fine detail is strong in close-ups, but underwhelming in wide shots -- hair and fields of grass turn into poorly-defined blobs. A hint of posterization and aliasing might've also caught my eye. Undiscerning viewers with small sets and standard-def cable might find the DVD looks about as good as the show looked on television, but pickier viewers will be underwhelmed.
Dolby Digital 5.1 is decent, although there's not much surround use other than some generic Pacific Northwest ambience (distant foghorns, seagulls, etc). No issues with the clarity or crispness of the dialogue, and the mix is decent, falling somewhere between the dynamics of a major motion picture and a direct-to-video feature. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing and French and Spanish subtitles are also provided.
Two audio commentaries are included: one with showrunner/executive producer/creator Veena Sud on "The Killing (Pilot)," and one with actor Mireille Enos and co-executive producer/writer Nicole Yorkin on "Orpheus Descending." Like the show she created, Sud's comments are kind of unfocused; something or someone will appear on the screen, and she'll talk about her general ideas related to it for a few minutes. I would've liked to hear more about her overall goals for the series and what she was aiming for when she worked on the pilot. Enos and Yorkin's commentary is better, with the participants touching on the process of writing the first season's final episode, working with the cast and crew on a show like "The Killing," and what it's like for Enos and Yorkin to live on opposite sides of a veil of secrecy.
"An Autopsy For 'The Killing'" (16:53) probably sounds like a cute name, but it almost makes sense: this is a featurette for people who have finished watching the first season, and as such, is more satisfying than the usual EPK because it actually covers topics fans are almost certainly going to want to hear about. It also functions as a brief but strong overview of the show's genesis.
The main reason to check out the gag reel (4:48) is not actually an outtake at all, but video of Kinnaman and Enos messing around near their trailers, where Kinnaman outlines his ideas for a second season episode he plans to direct (and produce, and write). Finally, "Deleted Scenes" (12:55) are practically false advertising -- this short reel is more like deleted moments. The first one? Coverage of Richmond's office during a busy moment. Enthralling.
Promos for AMC, "The Walking Dead: Season Two," and "Mad Men: Season Five" play before the main menu on Disc 1. Promos for "Burn Notice: Season 5" "White Collar: The Complete Third Season," and "The Glades: Season One" play before the main menu on Disc 2. A promo for "American Horror Story: Season One" plays before the menu on Disc 3. No promos for "The Killing" are included.
The dreary atmosphere and slow-boil pacing might turn off viewers, and the show ought to make its goals with the characters a bit more clear in order to give those who are still on board something firmer to grasp onto dramatically. Still, I enjoyed the 13 episodes of "The Killing," and I'll be interested in seeing how things play out in Season 2. Recommended.
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