AMC’s “The Killing,” which debuted last night with a back-to-back episodes, is an unusual, thinking-man’s procedural, taking one murder investigation and expanding it into an entire season. Like “The Wire,” it has the feel of a full-length novel, a murder-mystery being translated into 13 episodes, and like “Twin Peaks,” it focuses on the death of one girl, Rose Larson, a 17-year-old high-school student who is mysteriously found in the trunk of a car at the bottom of a lake, beaten, bruised and murdered.
As novels-turned-series tend to be, it’s a slow burn, and AMC was wise to air the first two episodes on the first night because it’s not until the end of the first, when the body is discovered, that “The Killing” pulls you in. The second episode goes deeper into the murder investigation, and plays it up against the political campaign of Richmond (Bill Campbell). The body was found in the trunk of one of his campaign’s rental cars, and Richmond is trying to avoid political disaster by being associated with the family tragedy, while his campaign is trying to exploit it for political gain. Richmond himself also has some past secrets.
Based closely on a Danish series, “The Killing” is focused around the lead investigator Sarah Linden, played deftly by the relatively unknown Mireille Enos (“Big Love”). Linden is on her last day of the job — set to move with her teenage son from Washington to California to be with her fiancé — when the murder investigation begins, an investigation that pushes back her departure date. She’s teamed up with Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman), who is new on the homicide beat. His tactics are unusual and creepy, the kind of cop that lives in the thin blue line. He plays well against Linden, who is more meditative and melancholy, a somber protective mother and a doggedly meticulous police officer.
In addition to the murder investigation and the political storyline, the show also focuses on the family of the victim, and here is where the show pounds all those anguish buttons for parents, as we watch the victim’s mother and father go from worrying to frantic to catatonic messes after the body is found, only to have to pull themselves together and act brave for their other two younger children.
So far, the blending of the three story lines has been handled remarkably well, and the focus on the murderer has already shifted a few times. Based on the advertising, the writers are already laying down a series of clues that allow we the viewers to take a crack at the whodunit. It’s a quiet, eerie show, slowly engrossing, but never boring. It takes excellent advantage of its Washington setting — it’s all rain and gray blah, which excellently suits Mireille Enos’ air of sad cynicism and and Joel Kinnaman’s laid-back creepiness.
The series itself is in keeping with AMC’s tradition of glacially-paced but instantly absorbing grey-tinted and well-acted series, like “Mad Men,” “Breaking Bad,” and “The Walking Dead.” The show’s mood and atmosphere will climb up inside you and hang around a while, and it already has me trying to piece together a 100-piece puzzle with only four puzzle pieces to work with. I’m hooked, and I’m hooked hard. It’s a welcome feeling to get involved in a murder mystery that you know won’t be solved with a wisecrack and an unexpected 11th hour piece of evidence — this is an investigation that will be pieced together slowly, meticulously and sometimes frustratingly against the backdrop of a political campaign and grieving parents. My only frustration is having to wait a week to watch the next chapter.
(The author would like to apologize for the lame headline. He couldn’t resist.)