The Killing Episode 1 & 2: Pilot

Posted on April 05, 2011

We’re always casting about, looking for the next show to blog about and generally coming up empty. We think it’s safe to say after almost 5 years of blogging, that we’ve established our tastes are somewhat eclectic. Not that we’re above trashy TV; just that we need some undefinable combination of factors to click into place for us to want to write about it. From Project Runway to Lost, Shear Genius to Mad MPinen, RuPaul’s Drag Race to Walking Dead, you can’t really pin our TV blogging down to any one genre, unless you want to create a new one and call it “style nerds.”

We’d been hearing, like anyone else with cable TV, about AMC’s new series, The Killing, for a while. Based on a Danish series with a similar premise, it promises to tell the story of one murder investigation, from beginning to end, on a day-per-episode basis. Now, these elements aren’t unheard of, nor is the show revolutionary in any way. In fact, it owes quite a bit to similar serial dramas that paved the way for it, not least of them is Twin Peaks, from which the show heavily borrows the basic “dead teenage girl in a moody northwestern environ” setup.

We’re not going to overpraise this show, even if we can’t find any reason to criticize it. It’s a serial crime procedural. A typical “dead girl is part of a much larger story” tale. It’s not as revolutionary as Twin Peaks or as stylish as Mad Men, but it does slowly and quietly grab hold of you until you are completely and utterly immersed in the story. You can attribute that to the highly moody and evocative direction and cinematography, but a huge part of why this show is better than the average CSI or L&O is the first rate acting on display.
Mireille Enos plays Detective Sarah Linden with a quiet intensity that keeps your eyes on her in every scene. It’s not always an easy thing for an actor to portray stillness, but she does so, over and over again, and every time, we are sucked in and wondering what she’s thinking. There’s a bit of the super-intuitive detective about her, which is admittedly quite a cliche, but her gender gives it a twist and her performance of quiet competence with occasional bursts of warmth make her the perfect anchor for the story. Michelle Forbes and Brent Sexton are pitch-perfect as the parents of the dead girl, Mitch and Stan Larsen. The working class family with heart is another cliche, especially in murder mysteries, but once again, the spare direction, casually realistic dialogue and beautiful performances sell these characters as if they were bold new character types. The scene where Rosie’s body is found is particularly devastating, especially the faces of her two young brothers as their mother crumbles to the floor.

Which brings us to the next point: there’s not a lot upbeat about this show. We can’t really say it’s depressing, but there’s a LOT of sorrow on display. Granted, we’re on Day Two of the investigation at this point, so it won’t be all scenes of emotional devastation all the time, going forward. Besides, there’s a lot to keep the story moving. At this point, it’s nothing but questions. What’s the connection to (very well preserved) Billy Campbell’s mayoral campaign? What happened in the basement of the school and how is the school not aware of what goes on down there? What does the ULTRA-douchey ex-boyfriend know? What does the timid best friend know? What’s the deal with the Larsens anyway (because there’s definitely something under the Pinsurface there)? Does the mayoral candidate’s dead wife have something to do with this? Who knows? But we’re in the mood for a good 3-month long game of Clue right now.

If it was just a juicy pot-boiler about local politics and hidden desires we’d call it a good, trashy pleasure, but because everything about this show screams “quality” and because we can’t get the premiere episodes out of our mind, we feel pretty safe in recommending it as more than that. You can catch the first two episodes On Demand and then after that, we’ll be picking up weekly blogging. So let’s hear it, those of you who watched. Do you have any theories yet? Are we crazy for thinking those Larsen parents have something they’re not talking about? Is the mayoral campaign connection a big red herring?

[Picture credit: AMC TV]

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