OK, I’m willing to call it – it’s not as good as season 1… but it’s still probably the best thing on TV. Spoilers (and some tough love) below the fold
[All spoilers have been put below the fold]
The Killing (Forbrydelsen in the original Danish), my favourite current show on television, returned to the BBC for a second season of intrigue, complexity and the realistic pacing of criminal investigation that led it to be included as part of an entertainment movement of dubious acclaim – ‘The New Boring‘. Naturally, I completely disagree that The Killing is boring at all. On the contrary, it has a sweeping Dickensian quality to it that has quite rightly been compared to HBO’s The Wire (my favourite show ever) in terms of the rich depiction of its characters and the institutions in which they live and work. Of course, with a novel you can always turn to the next page, whereas with The Killing I have to wait a week for my next fix. I’m not sure how well I’m going to cope with this, as I got into Season 1 about three quarters of the way in to its broadcast on BBC4 and could therefore watch large numbers of episodes back-to-back on iPlayer…
Anyway, before I get into the spoilers and my thoughts on the beginnings of what I saw unfold, I want to talk a little bit about some aspects of the first season that made it stand out in its depiction of particular issues that are not often done nearly as well. For example, I am a huge Law & Order fan and especially of Special Victims Unit, which features an NYPD department tasked with solving and preventing crimes of a sexual nature. The show explores a number of themes on sexual violence, and I would say on this front it has been a net force for good in raising awareness of the issue. But it is constrained by its one-crime-per-episode format that doesn’t allow for much exploration of the victim’s background and relationships, as well as the effects of such crimes on them (if they survive) and their families and friends. The horror is often restricted to descriptions of the crime, which can limit the total impact of the violence by focusing our attention on just the act itself rather than what it may represent, or how its effects ripple through all those affected by it. Indeed, there is always the very real danger that you end up failing to straddle the fine line between the horrifying and the titillating; where the draw of the show becomes the very graphic depictions of the violence it seeks to condemn*.
The crime in season I of The Killing had a significant sexual element to it, and it was made all the more horrendous – and all the more real - by paying close attention to the anguish and turmoil it unleashed on the lives of those who knew and loved Nanna Birk Larsen. This is especially true given the lamentable real-life fact that the perpetrator of a crime like this is often a relative or friend, which ends up placing the grief-stricken under suspicion of the very monstrosity which has brought down their world. The Killing also filled out in detail the relationships and aspirations of Nanna, which takes her from being (for want of a much better term) an otherwise ‘generic’ young woman to a complete and compelling depiction of a person whose life project, in all its glorious complexity, was brutally and unforgivably interrupted.
Of course, I would be in serious remiss if I didn’t comment on the show’s centre of gravity: Detective Sarah Lund (played by the utterly mesmerizing Sofie Gråbøl). It says something of the sophistication of the show that while Lund is in many ways a ‘typical’ detective – devoted to the job, more competent than her peers and superiors, possessing an uncanny knack for detail, totally indifferent to how her line of inquiry may inconvenience those in authority, and someone who has difficulties balancing all the destructive elements of her personality which make her good at her job with her family and other commitments – the fact that she is a woman is simultaneously remarkable and unremarkable. Lund is remarkable for being in the mould of what is a much more traditionally ‘male’ character type, but the way the show is done makes her hypothetical existence totally unremarkable at the same time. It would have been all too easy for Lund to have come across as contrived (which SVU arguably stepped on the wrong side of by making Mariska Hargitay’s character a child from her mother’s rape). But luckily for us, what we instead have been offered is a realistic and powerful portrait by an exceptionally talented actress of a workaholic detective who just so happens to be a woman. I want to live in a world where Sarah Lund is remarkable for the right reasons, and I think The Killing is a positive depiction of a world where that is the case.
Now, this is the part where you go and watch season I if you haven’t seen it, watch season II episodes 1&2 on iPlayer if you have seen season I, and if you have done both those things – read on.
*I think this is a serious issue in Stieg Larsson’s ‘Millenium Trilogy’, but that’s a topic for a whole other discussion
[SERIOUS SPOILERS FOR EPISODES 1 & 2 BELOW]