It would be easy to assume that the success of the Danish television series The Killing (Forbrydelsen, or “The Crime” in the original language) is due to the recent surge in popularity of Scandenavian crime literature spurred on by the popularity of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy. Whilst the success of that series no doubt influenced the BBC’s decision to broadcast the show, it’s hard to imagine that the show would not have become a success regardless, since it perfectly balances a moody tone, almost unbearable suspense and a relentless pacing in a way that few shows can.
As in the case of the first series, the second follows the investigation of a single crime over the course of the series, slowly spiralling out encompass and broader crime and to comment on some aspect of Danish society. Following the murder of a lawyer which is initially blamed on Islamic extremists, Sarah Lund (Sofie Gråbøl) is brought in from enforced exile to investigate, in the process unveiling a deeper mystery that involves the Danish army. At the same time, the newly appointed Minister of Justice (Nicolas Bro) becomes aware of potential war crimes committed by soldiers in Afghanistan and he struggles to navigate the political water without losing his integrity or his position in government. As the show develops, the two stories become entwined, creating a mystery that stretches from the streets of Copenhagen to the mountains of Helmand province.
What’s wonderful about The Killing is that it manages to offer both compelling long-form storytelling whilst creating individual episodes that are packed with intrigue, subterfuge and shocking revelations. The initially limited focus of the series expands gradually over the ten episodes, eventually becoming so labyrinthine that the “Previously on” segments at the start of each episode begin to feel longer than the episodes themselves. Yet the show never becomes so convoluted that it is impossible to follow (although those unfamiliar with Danish politics might need to do a little bit of research to figure out the ins and outs of the backstabbing going on in the corridors of power). It is paced like a great crime novel, slowly working in new details, characters and plot developments to expertly ratchet up the tension every episode, only to leave you on another twist or shock, gasping for just one more fix.
As well as the plot, the series also boasts one of the most compelling central characters in modern genre television in Sarah Lund. A fierce and obsessive detective very much in the mold of Helen Mirren’s Jane Tennison, Lund is a dedicated and tenacious detective who pursues her cases to the bitter end, even if destroys her personal life in the process. More than that, The Killing is a show just as interested in showing Lund’s mistakes as her astounding deductive leaps, and one of the key components of the show’s unbearable tension is the sense that any clue could just as easily lead nowhere as break the case wide open. Gråbøl invests Lund with a ferocious sense of belief that makes the moments when she is completely and utterly wrong devastating in a way that they would not be if the performance was one iota less believable.
The only major fault with The Killing is that, by its very nature, it isn’t the sort of show that you can just watch one episode of at a time. The show is so propulsive and involving that as soon as the end of episode montage and accompanying music kicks in, you’ll find yourself thinking, “Just one more.” Maybe not a problem initially, but once it gets to three in the morning you’ll be cursing Soren Sveistrup and his excellent television series.
Extras: The series comes with only a brief but interesting Making Of which offers plenty of little insights into how the show was conceived and made, particularly the fact that the cast never know who the killer is until the very end of production. It only consists of interviews with Gråbøl and one of the producers, so anyone hoping for input from Sveistrup and his writers will be disappointed.