Killing: Season One, The (US - BD RA)
Gabe checks out AMC's controversial remake of a Danish television series...
Respected detective Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) is wrapping up her time on the Seattle police force in preparation for an early retirement. Her plan is to marry her fiancé Rick Felder (Callum Keith Rennie), and move herself and her only son Jack (Liam James) out to Sonoma, California. On her final day Sarah is partnered with a rookie homicide detective Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman), a transfer from an undercover assignment in vice and narcotics. Sarah’s plans are dashed when she and Stephen are called to a crime scene that leads them to the body of Rosie Larsen (Katie Findlay). The body is discovered drowned in the trunk of a car belonging to the mayoral campaign of city councilman Darren Richmond (Billy Campbell). Sarah decides to stay on the case for just a few days more as the case begins to unravel.
AMC’s equally celebrated and despised series The Killing opens with a semi-vague homage to Silence of the Lambs. We’re introduced to lead protagonist Detective Sarah Linden as she takes a run through a forest. Outside of the intercutting with footage of the murder in question, this more or less the same way audiences were introduced to Clarice Starling in Jonathan Demme’s film adaptation of Thomas Harris’ novel. Perhaps it’s just my penchant for noticing Silence of the Lambs in everything cop related (I’m an occasionally slavish fan), but show runner Veena Sud admits that Sarah was at least somewhat inspired by Starling, and it’s easy enough to pretend Sarah could represent something Clarice would’ve become following the events of Hannibal (the film, not the book). Assuming she became a cop and moved to Seattle. Mireille Enos plays Sarah very low-key for most of the series, but doesn’t underplay important moments, and her cool headed choices help earn her occasional bouts with explosive volume levels – all things I could easily say about Jodi Foster in Lambs.
The Killing owes a lot to previous and popular murder mysteries and cop thrillers, not just Silence of the Lambs. This defining trait is both a hindrance and an advantage. When the writers are inverting the tropes it is an advantage, but all too often they’re depending on the tropes. The problem begins with the characters and relationships, which are a bit more usual than I’d prefer. Based on the obvious base comparisons I kept waiting for the series to Twin Peaks-out, but David Lynchian degrees of weirdness never appear. The Killing’s real value, or lack thereof, depending on the viewer, is in its slow burn approach, and general lack of action. The show also distinguishes itself from the crowded cop drama market is its interest in the victim over the killer. The Giallo, slasher and serial killer genres have set a lot of emphasis on murderous villains and anti-heroes, while the vast majority of TV shows are concerned with the detectives, lawyers, and/or the moral/political implications of the crime. This occasionally The Killing focuses on the cops too, but distinguishes itself by giving the Larsen family about a third of the plot. The family’s mourning occasionally turns mawkish, and eats up a lot of screen time, but rarely feels disengenuine(disingenuous). The validity of eye-for-an-eye vengeance is uniquely studied in a manner usually reserved for stoic, violent and depressing South Korean films. The most tragic side effect of this plot is Michelle Forbes, who does her best with the thankless role as Rosie’s perpetually mourning mother. Her counterpart, Brent Sexton, gets a more interesting back-story, and has a more dynamic character arch, but Forbes languishes in swollen-eyed sadness, bad choices, and repetitive accusatory sequences.
The one relationship I found it impossible to care about was Sarah and her soon to be second husband’s. There’s no real dramatic tension here because we all know Sarah won’t be quitting the case before it’s done, rendering the impending nuptials moot. Besides, her already overly clichéd relationship with her son more than covers the fact that she needs to leave town, and puts a countdown on the situation. Her son Jack isn’t much more satisfying, and brings the story to an utter standstill just as the climax begins to finally rear its head (though I have to admit the resulting episode is one of the best of the season from a standalone perspective). Sarah’s relationship with her relatively untested partner (another overused cop story cliché) is much more engaging, thanks in large part to Joel Kinnaman’s unique and realistic performance. Sarah and Stephen’s interactions are among the warmest in the series, and their relationship is an entertaining, sometimes even touching mix of master and apprentice and sibling-like interaction. The lack of sexual tension is especially refreshing.
The political side of The Killing is also hit and miss, but generally speaking one of the better and more striking story aspects. The writers ask some hard and unpopular questions about stuff like the burden of proof. Some viewers will likely see a moral agenda being pushed through the idealistic Darren Richmond, while others will see his constantly painful plight as a defeatist’s cynical view. I’m not seeing quite that degree of complexity in the character or his morals, but do think the writers are approaching such things with more elaborate thought than the usual Law and Order episode. Outside of the over-dependence on cop show clichés, the shows major problem is that it’s often irregularly drawn-out. The writers earn the TV series runtime (as opposed to a single film runtime) by building up their characters and exploring the murder’s effect on the greater community, but the basic whodunit narrative is awkwardly dependent on red herrings masquerading as real characters. Red herrings are traditionally an important part of murder mysteries, but in a serialized, 13-episode format the bait and switch pattern is tiring. As soon as a character is dropped as a suspect they also drop out of the narrative altogether, which feels, for lack of a better word, like an insult, and as the pattern begins to emerge it’s all to easy to ignore further suspects until we get to the 11th or 12th episode, when the ‘real’ suspect will be revealed. There’s a good mystery here, it just repeatedly stalls out. Oh, and then there’s the matter of the final episode which (spoiler, I guess) doesn’t reveal the killer, leaving the series open to another season, and burning viewers so badly many have vowed in anger to not bother to watch another 13 episodes next season. Based on reactions I read around the time the finale originally aired I was prepped for the lack of closure, but understand the fury.
The Killing embraces the Seattle stereotypes, and revels in dismal and desaturated images, as if it’s constantly grey and rainy. Because it is constantly grey and rainy. I’m not sure if I can stress enough how desaturated and grainy this transfer is, and I do suspect some viewers will be nominally disappointed with the overall look given the vibrant colours and general cleanliness of most modern television. That said the show was shot on 35mm, which means the 1080p image quality is more than welcome. Detail levels change depending on lighting, and the largely natural lighting makes for some difficult to discern darkness on occasion, but overall there’s plenty of close up textures and sharp edges. The only problem here is that the high contrast levels leave some relatively thick, hard to miss haloes along the blackest edges. The beauty shots of Seattle are gorgeous in their grey and grainy way, and reveal heavy levels of deep-set details. These mostly do not feature the same degree of edge enhancement, and stand out because the bulk of the series is shot using relatively shallow focus, leading to defocused backgrounds with fuzzy, grain-enhanced edges. There are some nice, pure colours throughout the series too, despite the dark and rain-soaked look and its greenish tinting. These hues are limited, likely through a digital grading process, and include a really consistent vegetation green, a soft, light blue (usually found in clothing), rich burgundy reds, and a few purple and yellow highlights. The black flecks of grain do affect the hue purities a bit, but there aren’t any major signs of compression noise or bleeding.
The Killing is not a particularly aurally intensive series – in fact, it thrives on eerie silence – but this DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack gets basic credit for its natural and clear sound. Most sequences are dialogue heavy, and even outdoor discussions are soft in terms of background ambience. Reasonably long sequences take place on boats in busy harbors, and the bulk of the background noise is practically sucked out of the scene. What we’re usually left with is a whisper of ambience sitting quietly in the center channel. There are, of course, exceptions. For instance, a sequence early in the 11th episode features Sarah wandering through a casino, and the buzz and clang of gambling machines leaks through the stereo and surround speakers with relatively believable directional motion. The omni-present rainstorms also give the LFE and surrounds a bit more to do. Frans Bak’s music, on the other hand, gets plenty of multi-channel support and LFE thanks to a lot of throbbing percussion, though it’s far from wall to wall – there’s still a lot of silence. The score is usually pretty abstract, building dread beneath some of the more upsetting events, but there are also some definitive and powerful themes, specifically the mournful music that plays in the first episode when Rosie Larsen’s body is discovered.
The extras begin on disc one, with a commentary track on the pilot episode (which was directed by Monster director Patty Jenkins) featuring executive producer/show-runner Veena Sud. Sud starts the commentary discussing the sequence of Sarah running, and disappointingly never connects the image to Silence of the Lambs (even though she connects later images to Demme’s film). From here she starts on a slightly stale and conceited discussion, waxing pseudo-philosophically on the ‘ethos’ (her favourite word) of the story. She’s good at giving credit to her crew, and the track is very good when Sud is discussing the production process and behind the scenes anecdotes (this is a very full track, with little blank space), but the pervasive tone is wearying. She’s also laying groundwork to defend the final episode. The second commentary appears on the season finale, Orpheus Descending (directed by Session 9 and Machinist director Brad Anderson) on disc three, and features lead actress Mireille Enos and executive producer/writer Nicole Yorkin. These folks are also generally pretty stale and low-key, and spend too much time discussing the on screen action and obvious character traits, but also have a bit of fun speaking together. These two run out of steam a bit faster than Sud, and start to leave blank space as the episode ticks on. There is discussion of the negative audience reaction, for which they seem genuinely surprised.
Disc three also features An Autopsy of The Killing (16:50, HD), a behind the scenes documentary featuring interviews with executive producers Veena Sud, Kristen Campo, Nicole Yorkin, Mikkel Bondesen and Dawn Prestwich, actors Katie Findlay, Mireille Enos, Joel Kinnaman, Billy Campbell, Eric Ladin and Brent Sexton. This covers Sud’s original short story and the original Danish series, both of which inspired the series, the differences between the series (without spoilers), the writing process, character amalgamation, casting, dividing the narrative, research, and the lack of climax. The disc ends with a reel of 23 deleted scenes, spanning the entire season (13:20, HD), and a blooper reel (4:50, HD).
For every great performance and heartfelt character interaction The Killing features an equally frustrating narrative dead end. Those of us experiencing the series for the first time with the knowledge of a lack of closure intact won’t be as furious with the series’ writers for not answering the overlying question, but there’s still no excuse for a bait and switch this blatant. The Blu-ray release looks pretty good, despite some edge haloes, and is true to the series’ gritty and grainy style. The low-key soundtrack also meets expectations, and the extras, though pretty brief compared to what I’m used to these days from television set collections, are pretty entertaining.
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 13th March 2012
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Extras: Creator and Actor Commentaries, An Autopsy of The Killing, Deleted Scenes, Blooper Reel
Easter Egg: No
Cast: Mireille Enos, Billy Campbell, Joel Kinnaman, Michelle Forbes, Brent Sexton, Kristin Lehman, Eric Ladin, Brendan Sexton III
Length: 587 minutes
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