Forbrydelsen (The Killing): Season 1

I’m a very late convert to this. I somehow completely missed all the hype when it first aired, and only when BBC Four repeated it in advance of the second season was I finally persuaded to watch it. I generally prefer to either be smug about something because I’ve picked it up before the rest of you mere mortals, or to be smug about the fact that I can explain to everyone why they’re wrong about something they think is great. Unfortunately for my smugness, I’m just plain late to a really great party.

I find subtitles a slog – I’m not great at focussing on one thing and tend to watch television assisted by a laptop, phone or sodoku, but when trapped unable to look away from the screen because of the subtitles I’m more likely to succumb to boredom and give up. The highest praise that I can give to The Killing is that it was sufficiently gripping that I would cheerfully close the laptop and sit engrossed for several episodes at a time. Each episode was well paced so that you felt like you progressed and ended on enough of a cliffhanger to want to watch the next episode, but not such a dramatic one as to feel contrived.

Looking back on the season as a whole, it’s obvious that there were a lot of red herrings, there’s not really any other way to sustain a murder mystery over 20 hours. But the switches back and forth were generally pretty smooth, I never really felt as if I’d been manipulated and that the writers were laughing at me for being taken in. The characters are smart, so the plot has to be smart otherwise it wouldn’t make sense for them to be going in the wrong direction.

As it accelerates towards the conclusion I think it did get a little sloppier. Twists and turns are faster and a bit more jarring. There’s some questionable policing which becomes increasingly apparent. While the key detectives seem to be keen to follow procedure and make sure all the loose ends are tied up, unfortunately it seems their superiors are far less thorough. Maybe things are different in Denmark, but I thought to charge someone with a crime you needed to come up with more than just a story that indicates it was possible that they did it, you know, like maybe some actual evidence or something. When Lund’s superiors were mucking about near the beginning it just formed an interesting challenge for our heroine, but towards the end I was beginning to get frustrated with it.

In the same way that I’m always impressed when a British show brings American levels to its production qualities, I was equally impressed with how beautifully shot The Killing was. Copenhagen isn’t (based on this) one of the prettiest cities, the whole series is very grey and dowdy. It would have been nice if there’d been the occasional bit of sun for variety, and switching a light on inside wouldn’t kill the environment, but it was certainly interesting to look at. The direction was also very well done. Even when not glued to the screen desperately reading subtitles, I didn’t want to look away because there were so many little moments that so beautifully expressed things without relying on 20 pages of subtitles – the casual sharing of a cigarette between antagonists, an eye roll behind someone’s back… The character’s are extremely subtle, starting off very flat and restrained, but gradually I found myself really connecting with each of them, really wanting it to all work out for each of them – even the ones presented as bad guys.

I’m not going to talk about how the series ends as I really wouldn’t dream of spoiling it. It’s one of those rare shows that the world’s media seems to have embraced whole heartedly and everyone’s avoiding spoilers. I will say I wasn’t 100% convinced, but only in a way that made me want to go back and watch the whole thing all over again to see what I’d missed. I could have just skipped the whole review really and just said that – I’m willing to watch 20 hours of grey, subtitled, Danish television all over again. It’s that good.

Season 2 starts sometime soon on BBC 4 and season 1 is available on dvd.

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