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"
The Video and Audio
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.
"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.