The Killing (Forbrydelsen) is an innovative thriller; 20 episodes over the course of 20 gripping days. It follows leads and observes the consequences of a heinous crime; the murder of a young woman and as the investigation unfolds, Copenhagen opens up like a Chinese box, full of secrets and power struggles, particularly during a mayoral re-election.
The Killing is a Danish radio drama, following the success of Swedish production Wallander, it is the first in the genre that has broken international ground and garnered critical acclaim and it is understandable why. The mystery of who killed Nanna Birk Larsen plays like a buttoned down Twin Peaks, focusing on the intricacies of the Danish political system, the victim's family coping and the complex partner dynamic of detective Sarah Lund (Sofie Gråbøl) and Jan Meyer (Søren Malling) her replacement. Sarah is in the process of moving with her partner and son to Sweden and intuition and gut-feel leads the majority of the investigation as the suspects vary and swing from one extreme to the other.
Regardless of the criminally unfashionable jumpers she wears, Sarah's character is a complex and organic one. She obsessively pursues the case at the risk of her own professional, social and personal life, and her determination and desperation permeates on screen. She is in constant conflict with all around her, including her partner Jan, although on occasion her theories are logical enough for them to share the same wave length. Regardless, their relationship remains tangled and independent with neither of them sharing many similarities.
Nanna's parents Theis (Bjarne Henriksen) and Pernille (Ann Eleonora Jørgensen) are another major focus, who both cope and try to overcome their individual depression as their relationship gradually falls apart and they continue to keep their family business functioning. These scenes, while important, for the most part dragged on and let down the integral portions of some episodes.
What did not let down the episode structure however was the cut throat, compelling and intriguing mayoral election and one of the candidates Troels Hartmann (Lars Mikkelsen) who becomes embroiled in the murder. Lars plays Troels perfectly, giving off the impression of gentleman, confident politician, damaged individual and potential murderer as the series progresses.
These are the protagonists of The Killing, and the show follows them equally in each episode which are day-by-day but gradually so. The day turns to night and although it is not precise the 20 days pass over the 20 episode arch. It is chronological with no flashbacks or devices. 20 episodes is a lot to work through however, and for what is essentially one cover up, 20 episodes begins to grind. It is a very slow burn series that has peaks and troughs; patience is required as some episodes setup a big reveal or exciting scene in the next.
Some episodes however were yawn inducing, while others demand total attention. The midway point of the series leaves the viewer in a strange place, it attempts some twists that no other crime procedural has, but The Killing is primarily about the characters that inhabit it and not the processes, grit, realism or underlying plot.
The mood certainly helps drive the characters and the tone of the entire hopelessness of the seemingly never-ending and exhaustive murder case and the city of Copenhagen and its dark and grimy locations. The city itself is almost a character as it is thoroughly explored with a variety of impressive set pieces that add to the mystery of Nanna's murder.
Character is integral in The Killing, so each characters flaw is highlighted. Sarah is in the throes of leaving, has problems with her son and her Swedish partner and as the case becomes more and more vague she begins to lose touch of reality, "you only care about dead people" her son snaps at her, but even he is wrong, as Sarah's reason for finding the killer overshadows any care she has for Nanna or her family; she is an ice queen obsessed with only one thing, the truth.
The Killing, although boring in parts, is ultimately worth the watch. It is heavy on politics and moral and ethical dilemmas, but its focus on character rather than action or results makes The Killing more like 24 on Prozac.
The Killing was recently remade as an American drama. It is practically the same, with the episode structure itself not even changing and is essentially a complete waste of time, with overdone caricatures, unrealistic responses and bad casting choices. See the original.