The Killing is a good show. It’s not stellar, brilliant, gripping, or groundbreaking. It’s just a good show. I’m not saying this to provide a counterpoint to the near-universal critical acclaim that this show has received. The Killing has the potential to be great, but it also has the potential to spiral into mediocrity, and Sunday’s premiere left me feeling unsure about the direction in which the series was heading, although I’m tilting towards the former.

The Killing is an American remake of the Danish series Forbrydelsen. Set in Seattle, it centres around the investigation into the death of a teenage girl, Rosie, weaving it with the story of a campaign for an upcoming mayoral election. Rather than in a traditional procedural, where the cases are wrapped up and completed within an hour, the central mystery of this show is supposed to span the entire 13-episode season. This approach has both benefits and drawbacks. On the plus side, we get to see not only the investigation, but also the fallout of the victim’s death. Michelle Forbes and Brent Sexton gave absolutely riveting performances as Rosie’s parents, lending the show a more personal feel than a standard, cookie-cutter procedural. The format also gives the writers the opportunity to craft a compelling, twisty case with a lot of surprises.

But on the minus side, if at any point the case stops being interesting or making sense, then the show is doomed. After a while, viewers might get frustrated with all the silly red herrings. The pilot had at least three irritating red herrings: Linden discovering a pig’s corpse on the beach, Linden’s party, and Mitch calling her husband to have him fix the sink. Moreover, there might be a tendency slow the plot down in order to stretch it out over 13 episodes. That phenomenon was on display in the pilot episode, which was paced as slowly as molasses. The entire hour could have been condensed into 20 minutes, half an hour at most. By contrast, the pace picked up in “The Cage,” which propelled the story forward in an interesting way. I’m glad that AMC chose to air the first two episodes back to back, because if they hadn’t, I might have given up after the first hour. The pilot represented everything that is wrong about The Killing, but “The Cage” showed why this series has the potential for greatness.

I’ve already mentioned the pilot’s glacial pace, and I think it’s a product of the episode trying too hard. It put so much effort into establishing the characters, their interpersonal relationships, the setting, the mood, and the peripheral subplots that it failed to pay enough attention to the actual investigation. Rosie’s corpse wasn’t even discovered until the final few minutes of the episode. The pilot also tried way too hard to establish the show’s dreary vibe. The score was appropriately atmospheric, but at times, it became intrusive, and it was even used to accentuate the drama of a few scenes in a distracting manner. Almost the entire pilot was set in cloudy weather, which seemed largely unnecessary. The rest of the show should be able to generate the vibe for itself without relying on the weather to help it along. Furthermore, the constant rain was distracting. Unfortunately, Hollywood (or in this case, “Vancouver-wood”) hasn’t yet figured out that there’s a continuum between the absence of rain and a downpour. At times, the sound of the rain was so loud and the audio was so badly mixed that the rain and music drowned out the dialogue. It got so irritating that I almost abandoned the episode. The final aspect in which the pilot tried way too hard was in crafting its lead character, Sarah Linden (played by Mireille Enos). I understand that the writers want her to come across as serious and reserved, but they put so few words in her mouth that she almost came across as lacking a personality. (It didn’t help that Mireille Enos spoke a lot of her lines as if she were reading them.) The costume choices (baggy windbreakers and loose pants) were also a little odd, but I’ll let them slide due to Enos’ pregnancy. The writers are trying to portray the world of homicide investigations as devoid of glamour, but in doing so, they seem determined to make Linden the anti-Kate-Beckett, the anti-Temperance-Brennan, or the anti-Megan-Hunt, and this forced contrast feels deliberate. Overall, the pilot wasn’t a strong hour of television, and in isolation, it wouldn’t have convinced me to watch the rest of the series.

However, the second episode had me hooked. With all the pieces in place, the pace picked up, and the show began to delve into the meat of the investigation. Solving a murder is much more interesting than searching for a body, and with a case to investigate, Linden, and her partner, Holder, were given a real purpose on the show. “The Cage” featured less rain, the music was toned down, and Enos loosened up a bit. The result was a thoroughly entertaining hour of television, and now I feel invested enough in the show to care who the perpetrator of the crime may be.

If The Killing sticks to the same principles that guided its second episode – keep the plot moving and keep it interesting – then it has the potential to be a good or even great show. Like I said, I’m glad AMC aired these two episodes back to back. In fact, I like to think of them as one big episode as opposed to two separate ones. “The Cage” made me appreciate some of the things the pilot did. I appreciated that the pilot had taken the time to set up the characters and vibe so that “The Cage” was freer to focus on the investigation. On the whole, I think that The Killing is a good show that may be teetering on the brink of excellence. But a push in the wrong direction or continuing the pilot episode’s problems could push this show the other way, towards mediocrity. Whatever the case, I think I’m in for the long haul, if only to find out who the killer is. Let’s hope we have an interesting ride along the way.

 

And that’s probably my last entry before the next couple of weeks. This blog is going on hiatus for a while. When it returns, I may do write-ups for the episodes I’ve missed or I may not. I haven’t yet decided. See you two weeks from now!

Advertisements