April 8, 2011


How AMC's Intriguing 'The Killing' Is Turning Creepy Alienation On Its Head (Mark Blankenship, 4/08/11, NPR)

After watching the first two episode's of AMC's new crime drama The Killing, which aired last Sunday night (and will repeat this Sunday before the new episode), I felt like I'd gotten back from a great first date. There was so much promise! So much mystery! So many signs that I'm headed for a long and satisfying commitment!

(There's some discussion of a few parts of last week's kick-off episodes in what follows, so use your judgment if you haven't seen them yet and don't want to know anything.)

I'm tingling because so far, the storytelling is remarkably layered. Almost every scene forwards the plot — about a Seattle homicide detective named Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) and her attempt to solve the murder of a local teenage girl — but it also tells us something about the psychological state of the characters or the creepiness of their city.

In the pilot, for instance, we see Linden driving with Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman), the new detective who's supposed to replace her after she leaves to marry her boyfriend in California. (She's supposed to leave that very night, in fact.) As they drive, they discuss some expositional business, and then, for no apparent reason, Holder gives the double bird to a woman on the street. She flips him off, too, and Linden either doesn't notice or doesn't care.

Yet that moment doesn't play as comedy. It's kind of creepy, actually, because no one's face belies much emotion and because director Patty Jenkins keeps her camera moving slowly and steadily around the scene, observing the mundane conversation and the sudden obscenity with equal languor. You can imagine why Holden might hate this woman — he used to work in narcotics, so maybe she's a junkie — but you don't know for sure. The moment just hangs there, complicating the atmosphere.

To that end, I'm most interested by how the first two episodes treat Sarah. Despite being a seasoned detective and the obvious protagonist of the series, we're deluged with clues that she's alienated and sometimes even helpless in her environment.

I haven't watched the AMC episodes yet, but just finished the Danish original. Lund (there) is indeed alienated from everyone. Ultimately, the only relationship that matters in her life is to the solving of the case. She barely exists, being just a cipher used to advance the plot via her investigations. In the final scene she's outside the massive stone police department and pretty much disappears into insignificance beside it. Fittingly, since with the case concluded there is no point to her existence.

The interesting (in and of themselves) characters are the three men involved in the case: her loutish partner who matures over the course of it and actually maintains a family to return to; the candidate for mayor, whose politics suppose that we need not be alienated from each other; and the victim's father, formerly a thug, now a family man and a successful small business owner, who believes in the police and their ability to solve the case.

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Posted by at April 8, 2011 3:58 PM

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