3 June 2013

TV Review: The Killing – ‘The Jungle’ and ‘That You Fear the Most’

For no readily apparent reason, I have decided to start watching The Killing as it begins its third season. I’ve never watched the show before, and I haven’t seen any of the Danish series that it is based on, Forbrydelsen. However, after poor critical reception for the first two seasons, I saw some advance reviews that labelled the Season 3 premiere “riveting” and have opted to give the crime-focused drama a shot in the hopes that it might be able to hook me with a murder investigation told within twelve episodes.

So, to me at least, this two-parter functions as my first experience of the show and needs to act as something of a pilot. It’s surprisingly successful at this and it doesn’t take long for a new viewer to work out how characters relate to each other and what roles they play in the story. It’s obvious that Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) and Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman) must have worked very closely together in the previous two seasons and that she became too emotionally invested in a case and either had to leave the police or was fired. Holder is looking to really advance within the force, but is finding that his ambition clashes with his desire to solve the latest murder. Linden has moved on to a new job, but is inevitably drawn back in when a brutal beheading echoes a previous killing that she had believed to be solved.

The thing that strikes me most about The Killing is just how overwhelmingly gloomy the whole show is. The colours are all washed out, mostly dull blues and greys, and there are numerous scenes that may as well be pitch black because they’re so dark that they force you to squint to work out what’s going on. All of this contributes to its overall atmosphere, but I think it may be taken too far as it turns this from a show that features miserable characters to simply being a show that makes you feel miserable.

As far as the plotting goes, this double episode follows fairly familiar beats for anybody who watches crime drama. I think they land perhaps a little more successfully than in a regular procedural, though, because the longer running time gives the show a chance to build to each big moment. That also means that it’s slow going at times, but the final third brings story threads together, speeds up the pace ever so slightly and unveils a conclusion that is interesting enough to make me want to watch another episode. The murders themselves are really rather gruesome, and the show deals with a great deal of violence against women in a way that is rather noticeable.

Both lead actors are strong performers, with a clear grasp of their characters that I’m able to spot even as they deliver the most dull and predictable dialogue imaginable. They have a great dynamic and while they don’t share that many scenes in this episode, I expect the series will pull them back together soon and that should be compelling to watch. The presence of Peter Sarsgaard as a killer that Linden put on death row makes for something engaging, especially as he’s definitely connected in some way to the more recent murder.

On some level, The Killing feels like a show that’s designed to make me uncomfortable and upset. Sometimes it’s tough to watch because it really is a bleak piece of television that doesn’t always feel like it has much purpose. For a premiere that needs to get through a lot of exposition, though, this is relatively decent. It introduces plots and characters effectively enough to grab a new viewer like myself, and there are intriguing threads to be explored as it moves forward. It’s interesting to see how this is being distributed to the UK, with episodes arriving on Netflix the day after they air in the US, something that is a little unusual considering how the streaming service likes to provide episodes as a season-long batch. I hope that this might be the approach used for another more popular show from AMC, Breaking Bad, which already arrives on Netflix ahead of its DVD releases here.

It’s perhaps better to come to a show that is clearly rebooting itself without any preconceptions. There are things worthy of praise within The Killing because it could potentially be about to deliver a gripping mystery for the season. I don’t know if I’d go as far as calling it “riveting” because it’s all a bit more dreary than I’d expected but the cast is very good and the storytelling is straightforward. The ingredients are all there and I’ll keep watching to see if this can work towards becoming something really involving.