Recurring Cast: Sofie Grabol, Soren Malling, Lars Mikkelsen, Bjarne Henriksen, Ann Eleonora Jorgensen, Marie Askehave, Michael Moritzen
The Killing, known as Forbrydelsen in its native Danish tongue, is a tough pill to swallow, hence why more people are more familiar with the U.S remake, starring Mireille Enos and Joel Kinnaman. Simply put, it is a little difficult to convince anyone who doesn’t speak Danish to sit through a twenty episode murder mystery in a foreign language. However, those people are missing out on a very gripping thriller that intrigues until the very end.
The two detectives at the head of this dark Nordic-Noir are Sofie Grabol’s stoic yet determined Sarah Lund and Soren Malling’s pragmatic Jan Meyer. Grabol is in the middle of a move to Sweden with her boyfriend and son, on her last day in Copenhagen’s homicide department. Just as her replacement, Jan Meyer, awkwardly bumps into her in the office as she is packing her things, a new case falls on their desk. Lund is eager to slip away unnoticed, but her Chief Inspector decides that Lund and Meyer should handle the vase together, in a bid to get it solved as quickly as possible. However, the case turns out to be so horrific, a 19 year old girl, Nanna Birk Larsen, brutally raped and murdered, her mutilated body found in a political party campaign car, that Lund feels emotionally obligated to solve the murder. Meyer, frustrated that his promotion isn’t so much as a sudden rise to power as a prolonger stint as Lund’s lapdog, is hardly a functioning partner, often second-guessing Lund’s every move, going over her head to the Chief Inspector as the case gets tricky. The season also brings in several sub-plots, complicating the case at hand. The parents of Nanna Birk Larsen are always close to the show’s main plot, depicting their grief, anger and depression. As the parents go through all ranges of emotions over the horrific death of their daughter, you feel for them. At first, they are eager to solve the case, their anger getting in the way of the police’s work or perhaps forcing Lund to come up with answers quicker than is actually feasible. Their distress is an interesting thing to watch blossom over the show. Perhaps more interesting however is the sub-plot featuring Lars Mikkelsen’s Troels Hartmann, a politician taking on the mayor of Copenhagen. Much like Fox’s 24, Hartmann’s political battles share the screen-time with the murder mystery, the writers focusing just as much at the treacherous back-stabbing in the race to the mayor’s seat as the murky case Lund and Meyer tackle. It is a credit to both the writers and the actors that Hartmann’s journey through the series is just as intriguing as the case. Lars Mikkelsen delivers a show-stopping performance, as he wants what is best for his city, but as the case drags him deeper and deeper into suspicion, to the point where the audience are unsure if he is the killer or not. Hartmann fuels a lot of the show’s power, as his political poker face makes him a prime candidate for the main suspect, but at the same time, there is just enough space for us to believe he is innocent.
The murder plotting is written amazingly well too. What struck me so much with The Killing’s approach to the murder mystery at hand is that it approaches its suspects in a different light. In the more common murder mysteries, there is a dead body and the detectives go through all of the people who want that person dead. We are given a rogue gallery of suspicious figures, ranging from the bitter work colleague to the absent spouse. The fun is in deciding which of the nasty characters actually committed the crime. However, with the Killing, there isn’t really too many horrible characters. In fact, very early on in the season, everyone is perfectly pleasant. As the spotlight turns on each potential suspect, there is always this sinking feeling that the nice Muslim schoolteacher, for instance, could be the bad guy. Hartmann is so kind-hearted, we don’t actually want him to be ousted as the killer, but as the series gets closer and closer to its reveal, it looks painfully likely. The Killing’s mystery is decently unguessable, so even when we hit Episode 19 of 20, you are unlikely to have a solid guess at who the murderer actually is. This fuels a lot of the series and keeps it enthralling throughout. And the best thing about this statement is that it is still so captivating, despite being a foreign language series. As you are in the thick of the mystery, you aren’t so much bothered by the fact you are forced to keep up with subtitles, as much as you completely forget you are watching something in another language. What matters is the central story, the buzzing soundtrack, the solid performances… every angle of the Killing is so well-crafted that the language really doesn’t matter. Perhaps 20 episodes is a little excessive, the final stretch feeling a little too desperate to keep the ball rolling that little while longer, but, on the whole, The Killing’s first season was far better than I anticipated it being.
Final Verdict: Proof that sometimes it is worth venturing outside of the English language for some solid entertainment.