In his literary theory essay The Philosophy of Composition, Edgar Allan Poe stated that the death of a beautiful woman is unquestionably the most poetical topic in the world, quoting his well-known poem The Raven as the most blatant example. The makers of Twin Peaks were undoubtedly aware of it, and so was Søren Sveistrup, writer of Danish surprise hit TV series Forbrydelsen (The Crime), who took up on Poe’s suggestion and used it as the main plot device of the series, ingeniously surrounding it with mysteries and intrigues in the solving of the brutal murder of teenage Nanna Birk Larsen.
Proverbially reactive, the television executives across the pond didn’t waste any time to produce a remake, courtesy of the up and coming cable channel AMC, known for its critically acclaimed TV series Mad Men and Breaking Bad. Moved from ascetic Scandinavian landscape to a morose and unsettling Seattle, the American version, bearing the equally stripped-down title – The Killing, preserves the spirit of the original by keeping the Danish surname of the victim, Rosie Larsen, whose body is discovered in the trunk of a submerged vehicle connected to politician Darren Richmond, a seemingly immaculate candidate running for mayor of Emerald City.
Both versions offer a fresh look at the police investigation, with The Killing closely following the intelligent route of its predecessor, as the realistic, slow-paced inquiry runs in total contrast with the hi-tech and in-your-face fiction of CSI and other crime-busting shows. Pinned against a murky backdrop of constant Seattle rain and low air pressure, the show serves as an atmospheric introspection into the roots of the crime and the twisted changes in the people that are affected by it. Complemented with the sub-plot of a grieving family slowly crumbling apart, besmudged with guilt and unresolved past, the police investigation is centered around homicide detective Sarah Linden and her rugged new partner Stephen Holder, an obdurate cop who lost his bookmark to the by-the-book approach somewhere down the line of his previous undercover work. Their different personalities often prove to be essential for the show’s charisma, an approach reminiscent of X-Files’ Mulder and Scully without the paranormal overtones.
With the rules of strict realism established early on, I found it quite unnerving that the syntax of the series changed in pace and the writing started to rely on the viewer’s suspension of disbelief, especially in the closing episodes of the first season. Initially on the same level of cluelessness as the investigators of this murder mystery, we were suddenly bombarded with weak suspects and new evidence that bordered on miraculous, and it seemed as if the writers of the show unveiled and dismantled one red herring after another in close succession. My sentiment all but changed when the season ended on a Dallas-esque cliffhanger, savagely criticized by virtually everyone with an internet connection. Besides the believability of the season’s last scenes, the biggest complaint was the writers’ decision that the tagline ‘Who killed Rosie Larsen?’ remained unanswered and that the solving of the crime will be dragged on to Season 2. The Killing’s initial magnetism waned within a couple of episodes, as did my excitement about the show.
So what more can the writers offer now and how can they redeem themselves? The Killing Season 2 should focus on resolving the original case in its early episodes and kickstart a new crime that would be intricate enough to provide an organic follow-up to the murder of Rosie Larsen. Anything else would be a needless and very much tedious prolongation that would kill it for good. Sure, they could throw in a few more misleading innuendos and carry on for a whole season before wrapping it up in the finale, but the red herring tour de force in Season 1 already pushed that envelope to the extreme.
Introducing new characters is always tricky and their purpose must be more than just keeping it fresh, especially since The Killing’s problem isn’t the characters or the actors who portray them (on the contrary, the acting is superb). From what I’ve heard, we can expect another detective, a fatherly figure well versed in the cesspool art of local politics, as well as further development of Stephen Holder’s double cross, indicated in the last minutes of Season 1, by the addition of Holder’s sister. Since the expanded Larsen family already took pretty much all the blows it could take, I have a hunch that The Killing Season 2 will concentrate more on the Richmond campaign, clarifying Rosie Larsen’s role in the power struggle for City Hall and finally establishing a solid motive for her murder.
Dealing with undeniable quality and potential gone sour, it is hard to predict how the show will fare in its second outing. The only thing I’m sure of is that it would take a lot of good writing to set this train wreck waiting to happen back on the rails of engaging television that we initially saw in The Killing. Season 2 starts on April 1st. Redemption awaits!