If you never watched AMC’s crime drama “The Killing” last year, but heard a lot of the buzz and noise, let’s help you out. The narrative went like this: The pilot episode of the show -- an eerie mix of David Fincher “Seven” rain/gloom aesthetics and the “Twin Peaks”-like ominousness found in the Pacific Northwest -- received near universal acclaim from critics.
And with good reason, it kicked off an intriguing, slow-burn jigsaw puzzle story about the murder of a high school girl in Seattle with three main, soon-to-be intersecting, storylines: the police investigation into the murder, the devastation that rocks the surviving family members and their attempts to deal with their grief and the and the fluctuating electoral fortunes of a political campaign that becomes embroiled in the case. And dare we say the holistic manner in which the show initially weaved the murder's impact on the micro (the local community, the family) and the macro (the city of Seattle and the political fallout it had), was reminiscent of the way "The Wire" approached story.
Based on the Danish television series with the same English title, the first three episodes of the TV show were rather engrossing and addictive, and as a result, while the show began to flounder (more on that in a sec), things began to take off for its principal members.
That impressive pilot episode that everyone loved? It was directed by “Monster” filmmaker Patty Jenkins, and it got noticed. She had almost not been heard of since that acclaimed 2003 film that earned Charlize Theron a Best Actress Oscar (she directed some “Entourage” episodes in the interim), but that’s all it took. She didn’t even direct another episode, and soon she almost got the gig to direct “Thor 2” (ultimately she bailed because of “creative differences” or was fired, which likely means Marvel lowballing or too-tight constraints on the creative). She ultimately went on to win a DGA Best Dramatic Series Director award for that pilot and while there’s no immediate gig in her future, assume that’s going to change asap.
Your new “RoboCop”? Swedish actor Joel Kinnaman is one of the two leads in “The Killing.” Yes, he was noticed by Hollywood thanks to the Swedish drug-world crime thriller “Snabba Cash” (“Easy Money”), which will land in U.S. theaters this summer (two years after the fact, thank the slow-ass Weinstein Company). That visceral and absorbing film led filmmaker Daniel Espinosa to land the job to direct “Safe House” (one of the commercially successful films of the year so far) and got Kinnaman the job on the AMC show. And while Tinseltown noticed, “The Killing” turned even more heads with Kinnaman’s vastly-different turn as the cocky and insouciant (but deeply charming) undercover narcotics officer graduated to detective who holds a dark secret: while on the job he got in so deep he eventually got addicted to methamphetamine. Up for the lead in “Thor” at one point and even considered for parts in “Mad Max 4,” Kinnaman is definitely on the casting radar. He landed one of the co-lead roles in WB’s Camelot project, “Arthur & Lancelot,” before they decided to deep-six it and then retool it, but his buy-that-for-a-dollar fortunes are looking up. He’s been cast as the new RoboCop by MGM and by next fall 2013, you’ll likely know his name if you don’t already.
As the icy, obsessive and near-hostile Sarah Linden, actress Mireille Enos also impressed as a Seattle detective so consumed by this murder she can’t put her fiancé and son first. Post “The Killing” and its first few eps, she landed the coveted co-starring female role alongside Brad Pitt in “World War Z,” and she also nabbed a role in the upcoming period drama “The Gangster Squad” starring Sean Penn, Ryan Gosling and Josh Brolin.
Suffice to say while further episodes of “The Killing” suffered from myriad issues, the main actors were one of the few (and only reasons) to keep watching.
So what happened and why didn’t “The Killing” fulfill its promise? Well, as the murder investigation went on the story was driven by and relied on increasingly frustrating and implausible red herrings. So predictable and agonizing would some of these narrative detours be, an entire episode would be devoted into a new, intentionally misleading clue that would naturally land in a dead end. Important character details were also withheld and then conveniently revealed at the last minute, frustrating viewers and also making it difficult to empathize with the characters whose sympathies the show was almost entirely built around.
In short, “The Killing” squandered the initial love it generated, and of the thirteen episodes of the first season, ten felt like the murder investigation -- and the social parts that satellite-ed that main story -- were hopelessly going around in circles. Obviously, in drama it’s often the journey, not the destination that matters, but the writers of this AMC show never quite understood that from a plot perspective. Where the show did shine (and survive for those that kept watching) were its characters and character development, nicely leveraged by the two aforementioned leading stars. And to insult the already-injured (mild spoiler alert for those that didn’t watch season 1), the main murder of the show was never solved in the final episode of the season, which enraged already perturbed fans of the show. The fact that the show was even green lit for a second season was a surprise in some corners of the media.
So what’s next and can the show overcome those mistakes? Well, the two-hour season premiere of “The Killing” airs tonight on AMC at 8pm EST. AMC has also ordered a full thirteen episodes and we assume they’re going to fulfill that quota critics and angry audiences bedamned. And note, while the Danish version of “The Killing” did go on for three seasons, the murder was solved in the first one, but that season one also had 20 episodes to work with (subsequent seasons caught up with the police officers two years later). Will “The Killing” take slow-burn procedural and turn it into another stretched-out narrative full of cul de sacs and dead ends? Will there be some sort of relief for audiences who feel that they’ve been given Agatha Christie blue balls already? Again, there’s good character writing on the show, but it remains to be seen if series creator Veena Sud and her staff can lift themselves out of the quagmire from last season. Here’s to hoping because this critic, for one, doesn’t know how much more abuse he can take.