It’s six years old. For youngsters that would likely make it ‘one of those old shows’. You can tell by the quality on screen – maybe it’s not HD ready; so you can’t see every hair on the cheek of the side character’s dog – or perhaps it dates itself contextually in the way that 90 shows were full of trench coats…
Yet The Killing manages to feel contemporary, even in 2017. It’s disinterest in politics and focus on pure detective work isolates it in a timeless bubble that only the crime genre seems capable of producing. Here are two partners, detectives, thrown together into investigating a missing teenage girl by the name of Rosie Larsen.
Typically, they’re united by their efforts but not by approach. Sarah Linden (played by Mireille Enos) is methodical and reserved, whilst her sidekick Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman) – a recent transfer from narcotics, is spontaneous, aggressive, but also playful.
“I MEAN, LIKE, WISDOM´S ALL AROUND, LINDEN. IT´S LIKE AIR. YOU JUST GOTTA BREATHE IT.” – STEPHEN HOLDER.
The plot unfolds like any other crime drama. Evidence is accumulated, incriminating different and multiple side characters in turn. We wander through rural waste-scapes, sprawling suburbs, characters are interviewed, journeys are traced, stories are confirmed or declared falsified. To reveal any of the plot would spoil the journey, but the tone is edging towards Se7en.
The landscape we see is feral, wild, uneven and untamed, cut with the carcasses of rusting steel barrels and deserted barns. The weather is dull, often cloudy and grey. At least it’s not always raining in The Killing – its atmosphere isn’t as oppressive as sitting through two hours of Pitt and Freeman. Detective Holder alone makes sure of that.
Herein lies the source of its contemporary feel; it’s intense focus on characterisation and humanisation. Both Linden and Holder feel real, as real as any man or woman on the street. They have their vices, their inconsistencies, their dreams and motives, and it’s all delivered by the actors in such a fine and delicate manner. The development of these characters is gloriously subtle, and I welcomed this realism. No interaction between the main characters in this show felt forced, and this further eased any exposition taking place within these conversations.
In truth, I was surprised to see such subtlety from a US show. When I later learnt that The Killin was (partly) based on the Danish show of the same name, I thought this subtlety may have carried over from the original. Characters in US shows tend to be far more direct, they hang up without saying goodbye, they declared their emotions in a way that doesn’t quite sit right for me as a viewer – and I’d be interested to see if this discomfort extends beyond my own personal experience. In season two the emphasis on characterisation spreads even further to that of the Larsen family. We ride the dramatic consequences of the loss of their daughter with them. At points I found myself wondering whether I was watching a crime drama or a mature soap, such was the screen time given the everyday interactions between side characters.
The strength of seasons one and two dip in the third, then flatten out near altogether in the fourth, but the characters are as wonderful as they were in the beginning. At the close of the final series, despite hating the plot, I wanted more – more of Holder buying burger-less burgers at fast food joints, more of Linden’s wide eyed stares and goofy smile.
So go and watch it. Tear through four seasons in a weekend, if you can. It’s all up there, on Netflix.