Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Killing: A recap of AMC's newest show

“This is a terrible show to watch.”

- My wife, 45 minutes into The Killing

And I can’t say I blame her for her reaction. Each of us brings our own unique experiences to the shows we watch, and for our own opinions based on that. And her experience, as a mother with two daughters, watching grieving parents identify their dead daughter in a morgue is not her idea of “Sunday night fun time television viewing.”

Now, to be fair, The Killing is not supposed to be Sunday night fun time television viewing.” I guess it can be considered “Sunday night serious time television viewing,” because AMC obviously wants us all to watch the show, but aside from one or two scenes, this is not a show you’re going to sit back and relax with.

The Killing is based on a Danish show, possibly of the same name, most likely in Danish, however. I don’t want to investigate too much, because I don’t want to inadvertently stumble upon a spoiler. Feel free to wiki it yourself should you get the incredible urge.

As you may or may not know I have had an inconsistent history with AMC shows. I don’t watch Breaking Bad; I saw the first season of Mad Men and liked it but didn’t love it; The Walking Dead hit the ground running, stumbled on the gravel of the mid season took forever to dust itself off and kinda jog-limped to the end; and Rubicon, the best of the bunch got cancelled because AMC is dumb.

But regardless of my feelings about any/all of those shows, I appreciate the risks AMC is currently taking with their shows, and the quality that is ultimately being produced. Therefore, it was an easy decision to at least give The Killing a shot. And so I decided (hastily of course, nothing on this blog is done with any kind of plan or thoughtfulness) that I would recap the show as it unraveled. I warn you that the following gets heavy into spoilers (for the current episode) and if you haven’t watched it and plan to, you should stop reading here…

We start out following a woman jogging through a blue tinted forest, who kinda/sorta looks like my wife, if my wife had grown up in Scandinavia. The grey-blue, dull metal at first invokes a dreamlike state, but then we remember it’s set in Seattle, and everything is thusly explained. Jogging woman finds an animal carcass; possibly a dog, or a pig? Maybe a chupacabra? Let me set the record straight early – my powers of observation are easily affected by an incredibly short attention span. Anyway, it didn’t seem to have to do with anything else in the show, which probably means it’s extremely important. A Sherlock Holmes, I shall never be.

Anyway, after staring at this carcass and then out into the distance like she was in a Sigur Ros video, she gets a call and is asked to report somewhere. And if the previews haven’t already clued everyone in (I think a great sociological experiment/college thesis would be to see whether there’s anyone who has ever decided to watch a television show completely devoid of any prior knowledge of it in this information age) she is a detective, in Seattle. So, cutting her lovely, dreary animal-corpse run short, she is off to the docks and what appears to be a crime scene. Except – FOOLED! it’s a going away celebration, as our female detective is moving away. But wait – how can the lead detective of a brand new show leave in the first episode?

(This is one of my minor gripes with the show – and I’m hoping one that will be addressed in later episodes, but the whole, “I’m leaving – this is my last day, no I’m not taking this case,” subplot felt out of place. The many times delayed her leaving behind didn’t entirely work, and this was just in the first two episodes. Again, maybe it pays off later, but right now, I wish she was just an experienced cop who was trying to solve a murder.)

So now we’re treated to some familial backstory for the detective, who now has a name: Sarah Linden. Because The Killing has some direct and indirect Twin Peaks vibes, I have to assume everything is a clue, so I checked the anagrams for “Sarah Linden:”

Anal Hinders

Handles Rain

Handles Iran

Though I guess it’s possible the show is an allegory for the strife in the middle east, I’m not sure what any of this means.

Sarah’s family life seems pretty ordinary in these oh so liberal-baby-hating times: biological father is out of the picture (probably the killer); boyfriend/fiancé is getting her to move (probably the killer); teenaged son hates her (and who is probably the killer).

Sarah’s work life seems to be a yang to her familial yin; a boss who likes her and obviously doesn’t want her to leave. Packing up her office she bumps into her replacement, who is packing in. Joel Kinnaman, we learn is transferring from vice, lethargic in body language and most likely a heroin addict. After all, this is Seattle, and if there’s one thing I know about Seattle, it’s that everyone who isn’t already a heroin addict, will soon be one. I assume it’s just growing on heroin trees out there. He has a cool tattoo, a cooler boom box for his office (obviously it’s his vintage homage to the 80s) and the coolest of quiet, sullen attitudes.

The awkwardness of their meeting is interrupted by a call: Something weird has been found in the marshes. Or bogs. Does the Pacific Northwest have bogs?

Police have uncovered a bloody sweater and a credit card. Why isn’t this some tweaker’s blood-stained sweater Joel theorizes? Because Sarah knows better, and it was dry cleaned What drug addict dry cleans their sweaters? She’s good, everyone! Probably why her boss continues to shuffle her retirement papers around his desk instead of sending them in so she could actually leave!

The credit card leads the detectives to the Larsen family, and while no body has been found yet, c’mon – they seem to be eking it out a little bit. I mean, it’s in the title right there, right? If they wanted to develop a little suspense, they would have called it The Missing. Not to mention the stylized flashbacks to a young girl being chased by a flashlight beam through the woods that I’ve conveniently forgotten about until now.

We’re introduced to Stanley Larsen walking through a Moslem owned…mini mart? Drug store? Seriously I have no idea. He’s there to pick up pig carcasses, and I have no clue what this scene is about unless it’s cementing my middle east war allegory theory, in which case I totally called it!

Stanley heads home to fix a dishwaher, or sink. It doesn’t matter because eventually he maw’s his wife’s rack. Of course, she’s played by Michelle Forbes, one of my personal favorites from Homicide and Kalifornia, so the only disappointments I have with the suggested sex scene between the two here is that it’s 1.) only suggested, and 2.) she wears those stupid long sweaters that every woman seems to have. Seriously women, what do oversized sweaters provide other than frumpability and extra fabric to wipe away errant pizza mishaps?

Abrupt new character alert! Billy Campbell is introduced as a congressman running for mayor, replete with the “sleeping with his campaign manager cliché AND having another campaign manager who is a total smarmy dick, making Will Patton from No Way Out look like a…well ok, he doesn’t outsmarm Will Patton, but who could? cliché.

The detectives show up at the Larsen household presumably seconds after Stanley leaves (and in a weird aside – were his co-workers just hanging outside in the truck while he was getting his Gabriel Byrne’s leg* cleaned off?) to start asking a couple questions…general questions about stuff…nothing specific, until Sarah sees the pink bike in the garage and assumes the worst.

Still in the missing person stage of the case, we head to high school, and immediately start establishing the stereotypes: the tough, gruff principal, the all-knowing teacher who cares (a little too much?), and best friend who knows something but won’t tell the big bad adults what’s really going on.

Back at the Larsen household, the questions get a little more pointed, and Joel is quickly endearing himself to me, mostly because for a cop, he isn’t acting like a cop. He’s acting like a guy playing at being a cop. And that’s a compliment, in case you misconstrued it.

A scheduled political shindig at the school, (I’m really not sure, maybe some sort of assembly) ties the congressman storyline directly into the missing person story, which is good, since now we can at least be focused on one thing.

(So far, the councilman/political plot feels a little heavy-handed. A politician wrapped up in a murder investigation almost always has terrible implications for the politician. I don’t see this being any different.)

Larsen and Joel head to the school, where they question Rosie’s teacher. Joel, feeling out the teacher (or is he?) starts talking about how hot high school girls are. If this show gives us nothing else, the not-so-great-with-people-and-mildly/possibly-pedophilic-druggie detective character is a pretty good consolation prize.

But we have one more stereotype to fill before the break, and that’s the rich, “poor man’s” Robert Pattison boyfriend character, and the tease that Rosie might be in his bed. Again, something (the title of the series, the fact that this is the first episode and if it were her there would be no more episodes) tells me it’s not her. But we still don’t get to see her face, so maybe…?

More detective backstory! My wife’s Norwegian doppleganger interacts with her moody, brooding son. Boring. Sometimes, I wish they would simply put a title card up that said, “Mother/son relationship is complicated.” At least then they would have saved money on not having this marina set shot setup.

Back at the Larsen household, we meet Rosie’s 2 younger brothers, and another woman who might be a sister of one of the Larsen parents. Or Stanley is living the dream in an open relationship!

More fretting about Rosie, more searching the Seattle highlands for a body…Joel and Sarah go back and forth on the fruitlessness of the search when something may or may not be found. Alas, it’s just a creepy looking doll. I think if you look on its back it says “foreshadowing.”

Heading over to the councilman’s office, Will Patton Wannabe wants to turn the potential missing girl tragedy into a push for the mayorship. But Golden Boy Billy Campbell will not be persuaded. His heart is pure. For this episode, at least.

Stanley does some sleuthing of his own and deduces Rosie is probably at rich man, poor man’s Pattison’s pad (You’re welcome). His “discovery” of this finds it’s way back to the police department and the call of the search, while Stanley (hmmm…maybe not the greatest course of action) heads over to beat up on rich kids who hate shirts.

Gets there, gets all gruff, rich kid gets off put, and we finally get to see the brunette in the bed is not Rosie.


Back to the marshes! No body…no body…no body…and then Sarah figures it out, much to Joel’s chagrin. Boy, if it really were my wife, I’d never hear the end of this one…

A lake is dredged and a car is found. Wait, a car? The chase flashbacks showed no sign of a car…just a demonic flashlight. In a coincidence(?), Stanley shows up at exactly the same time the trunk of the car is opened to reveal the body. I know I didn’t give this section a lot of time, but it’s nicely done, if a little too perfect. The guy playing Stanley (Brent Sexton) does a great job conveying the rage/grief the scene demands. In fact, everyone in the scene plays it well, which is why my wife (the real one) will never watch another second of the show. Apparently a family falling apart due to losing a child isn’t as entertaining as House Hunters International.

In a weird, or dare I say, convenient, twist, the car that the body was found in was one of the cars from the councilman’s campaign. Not being into politics, I wouldn’t know this, but do politicians running for mayor of a city have a fleet of cars at their disposal?

And then we get to the morgue scene, which is the one that officially shut my wife down and out from the show, and I for one can’t blame her. It’s raw, brutal, and real, and something you never would wish anyone to have to witness.

Armed with the information that it was a councilman’s campaign car, the detectives head over to chat with him. While Sarah attempts a subtle question asking strategy, Joel, takes the “you’re already guilty in my eyes, asshole” approach. That’s pretty much the only information we get out of this scene; everything else is shallow water type stuff. Unless we need more proof that the councilman feels bad and wants to do the right thing. Oh, ad maybe that there’s something in the councilman’s past regarding his family. But I have to assume everyone involved in this will “have a past.” Oh ok, we get one more thing – it seems the councilman might have some suspicions that someone in his campaign could have had something to do with all this.

Then we get more Joel and Sarah bickering about how the case should be handled. Oh and Sarah, for whatever reason, is still in Seattle and not in San Francisco, where she was moving to…

Day 2

The Rock and Vin Diesel fucking start fucking stuff up on the roads – and…sorry that was a Fast/Furious commercial.

The detectives show up at the school to talk to Rosie’s friend and rich man/poor man’s Richard Pattison. Joel talks to the friend (Sterling) and tries to establish the timeline of Rosie’s last appearance at the high school dance.

Sarah interviews RMPMRP and gets the usual, standoffish, snide attitude you can imagine before his dad struts in and starts hemming and hawing about shit before going off on his son. So that’s how it is in their family!

Back at the precinct, Sarah goes over the case while Joel tries to pick up her son, who happens to be in her office. You think I’m joking until you start thinking about the subtext of the algebra monologue, and then you start feeling a little creeped out. Joel’s paradoxical attitude is just what this show needs to keep it from veering into boring, Law and Order territory. Of course, he hasn’t had his Death of a Salesman moment, but we’re getting there…

Damage control for the campaign…I’m brushing over a lot of the inner workings of how the campaign and how the police need to keep everything quiet and the campaign doesn’t want to and blah blah blah if you’re not watching and didn’t see it already, you really shouldn’t be reading this. If we take stuff away it’s the councilman is playing a dangerous game with information, and my Norwegian wife is sneaky smart/knows her way around a murder investigation. Perhaps she had a high profile murder case before?

More family grieving, which I’m also glossing over, not because it isn’t important or well acted, (in fact it’s incredibly poignant and well acted) but because it’s my least favorite scenes to deal with.

We come back from break to walk a local neighborhood with the councilman and Mr. Smarmy, which…yeah I have no idea what the purpose of this scene is. Will Patton Wannabe doesn’t need any other Will Patton Wannabe moments to sell us.

More grieving…

And then we get the scene of the councilman looking to get more information about his staff, including his two campaign managers, which only make us wonder what he thinks happened, and what he knows that could cast doubt on them…

Now comes the creepiest (which is saying a lot for a show about a murder investigation) scene to date, and it of course involves Joel. Sarah and Joel, at the high school still trying to collect information get ready to part ways; Sarah off to California, Joel to take the case over fully. We eventually find him…casually watching girl’s soccer team practice at the high school catching the eyes of two of what I can only hope is two of the team’s skankier players. They wander over, fake getting high off of HIS marijuana joint and dance around a possibility of the best/worst threesome in the history of network television. He ultimately turns down the idea after one of the girls suggests a place they could go and not be seen called The Cage.

So it was all a ploy (maybe) to find out where the high school kids go that the adults don’t know about. And that’s where we find the crime scene.

And wouldn’t you know it – Sarah decides to stay on just a little longer and see where the case leads…

Initial thoughts…

There is a lot of dedicated to recognizing and showing the family lives of the principal characters. I can only imagine this will continue to be explored and figure heavily into the outcome of the investigation.

The acting is splendid. It’s probably what carries it past a standard police procedural. I liked these first two episodes, but I wonder how long they can sustain this quality. Twin Peaks had a great initial run before running out of steam (and ideas), so did Murder One (a criminally underappreciated show that was about 10 years ahead of its time). These shows often keep introducing stranger and wackier characters/subplots/whatever to keep the momentum going, to the detriment of the central, main plot. We’ll see how The Killing handles this.

Let’s look at the list of potential main suspects from the first 2 episodes …

Stanley Larsen (dad)

Mitch Larsen (mom)

Darren Richmond (councilman running for mayor)

Gwen Eaton (campaign advisor)

Eric Ladin (campaign manager)

Belko Royce (Stanley’s moving co worker)

Terry Marek (Mitch’s sister – I guess Stanley doesn’t have an open relationship then)

Bennet Ahmed (teacher)

Jasper Ames (rich boyfriend who hates shirts)

Right now? I’m going to go with the teacher. 3 reasons.

  1. He was quick to catch Sterling in her lie. I understand that a teacher might have that intuition, but still if he were involved, he definitely would know she was lying.
  2. He is quick to offer the video showing Rosie at the dance; again possibly to ease the line of questioning the detective is using with Sterling, but again, it may help his alibi too.
  3. If the crime scene is in the school, he would definitely know about it

When he's completely exonerated you can get in my face. But until then, I'm standing by my stupid theory.

So, I’m definitely intrigued by the show and will continue to watch. It started off with raw emotion and hopefully it can carry it throughout the run of the series. Hopefully Sarah’s leaving is handled deftly, and hopefully the show doesn’t turn into a weekly introduction of more and more characters.

Your thoughts? Please leave a comment. But also please try to keep spoilers out of there. As I said, this show is based on a Danish show and while there will be differences, I'd rather not turn this into a comparison about the two shows. I'm sure there are plenty of other places on the web to do that.

* You will have to download the latest version of the Popcorn Trick podcast to get the reference. Look at me, I'm cross promoting!


gdr said...

Great call on the teacher, I can't argue with any of your reasons. I'm going with Rosie's dad. For a guy in the Moving & Storage business, why is he lugging around huge meat carcasses? A meat carcass that washes up at the lake where Sarah is running at the beginning?

Anonymous said...

apparently the first few episodes of the Am. version are very similiar to the Danish version. Interestingly, the conclusion of the Am. version is not the same as the Danish version. No spoiler alert dangers - unless the teacher is the killer in the Danish. Then, of course, we know it's not him with the AMC version. Personally, I see why the teacher fits the bill, but I think it'd be too easy.