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'The Killing' Premiere Review: Pilot/The Cage

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Apr 04, 2011 | 8:05am EDT

The KillingS1E1-2: AMC's latest drama The Killing premiered last night and some will say it looks familiar. That's not too surprising, especially considering the show itself is a remake of the popular Danish series Forbrydelsen. But even more than that, The Killing tells a story that's been told before. Set in drizzly Seattle, it follows Sarah Linden (Mireille Eros), a homicide detective who lives up to all the stereotypes (tomboyish, single mother, tough, and really damn good at her job), as she tries to figure out whodunit. The mystery? A young girl is missing, and well, since the show's title is The Killing and the tag is "Who killed Rosie Larson?" I think it is safe to say, without spoiling anything, the young girl has been murdered.

Even though the show hits all the marks that, on the surface, would make it a cliche, run-of-the-mill crime drama called something like Law and Order: Seattle Style, it doesn't feel that way. Perhaps that's because AMC, whose motto is "story matters here," isn't afraid of letting things develop slowly (sometimes excruciatingly slowly) over the course of an episode. In fact, each episode is presented in "real-time," meaning that they each represent a single day in the investigation. That may seem a little strange at the onset, but after two hours of drama it doesn't. Unlike the other crime dramas out there, we're actually given an opportunity to think along with the police. We don't know what happened, what's happening, or even what will happen, but we're trying to figure it out. All we have to work with is the moment presented in front of us, whether it's a new clue in the mystery or an interview with a potential subject; and because the show isn't afraid to just let us sit there and breathe for a second, we are actually able to, as an audience, comprehend what's happening and have our own thoughts on the situation. I don't want to call The Killing's premiere flawless, but it was some pretty damn good television.

"Do you know any tweakers who get their sweaters dry-cleaned?" -Linden

The entire first hour of the show is dedicated to finding Rachel Larson's body. The Killing handled this pursuit gracefully. Everybody and everything was a mystery: her parents, her friends, her teachers, and more. There was a state of uneasiness with each person and even though I knew I was watching a murder-mystery show, I still felt a little uneasy about each new introduction. Slowly, as each character developed further and I got to know the show's universe more, that uneasiness morphed into curiosity. From a storytelling perspective, this was very effective because we experienced it in the same way that Linden did. We weren't sure what was happening, but we pursued it anyway, and each fake-out reveal of Larsen was all the more infuriating. Then finally, once we do find the body, we're ecstatic. Obviously, not because the girl was dead, but because our instincts -- and Linden's -- were right.

Eros gives a strong performance in a role that other actresses might not play with such subtly. At the beginning of the episode, we're introduced to her current life: she's a single mother, but she's engaged. She plans to move to San Diego with her son Jack and her fiance, but the Larsen case comes up on the day that she is scheduled to leave. She becomes so engrossed that by the end of the episode, it's clear that something about Larsen grabbed her on a more personal level and it looks pretty doubtful that she'll move to San Diego. Her successor, Stephen Holder, is another potential cliche DIY type cop willing to break any rules and Joel Kinnaman plays him the same way: quiet and reserved. But The Killing presents this guy as a twist on the stereotype. Holder is pretty damn creepy. He borders the line of good cop and potential child molester, and even though those are polar opposite traits, it somehow seems to work. Weirdly enough, it's enjoyable.

"Will you find who did this?" -Stan Larsen

"Yeah." -Holder

Meanwhile, from Rachel's best friend Sterling, the cops find their initial murder suspect -- which unsurprisingly, fizzles out. He's an old boyfriend of Rachel's named Jasper and a teenage rich kid who likes to take ecstasy, go to dive bars and pick up older, lonely single women. Oh, and he also plays a lot of video games. After we meet him, it becomes pretty obvious that he's so much of a cliche villain that there's no possible way that he could be the actual murderer.

"Ripped off her own fingernails to get out." -Captain

After Jasper's ruled out, Larsen's body is finally discovered in the trunk of a car in a lake. Then, the final side of characters is introduced. Seattle city councilman Darren Richmond (Billy Campbell) is a man running for mayor against incumbent Lesley Adams. The cops discover Larsen's body in the trunk of a car registered to Richmond's campaign, but he doesn't know anything about it. He seems like an honest guy who genuinely cares about the public, but there is something more to his situation. Apparently, a tragedy happened in Richmond's life that involved his former wife. When we first meet the councilman, he's paying his respects at a burial site for what we assume is his wife's. His connection to the murder seems purely coincidental and then it's confirmed: it is coincidental. The car was reportedly stolen before the incident happened. At the same time, I'm having difficulty believing that Richmond, or someone inside of Richmond's camp, is not connected to this murder in any form. I doubt that he is the murderer -- especially because if the case is that we have a murdering politician, I will revoke everything I've said about The Killing avoiding cliches -- but there's something more there. Plus, Campbell plays Richmond in a really interesting way. What he wants seems very earnest and he seems like a good man, but there's just something about him that feels a little strange.

Because last night's two-hour premiere was a pilot, it had some of the typical pilot problems -- mainly, one-dimensional characters and a few cliches -- but all pilots have these types of problems. After all, the medium of television -- and specifically, the serialized drama genre -- allows for plenty of time to flesh out characters and fix mistakes. Just look at any successful series pilot in comparison to the rest of the show, you will notice quite a difference. So, this early on, it's pretty difficult to tell whether or not The Killing will live up to the expectations of AMC's other tremendous shows (Mad Men, Breaking Bad), but right now, who cares? "Pilot/The Cage" was a very, very strong start. And aside from perhaps a little too much Seattle rain, the episode had everything I want in a crime drama: mystery, suspense, non-corny humor, and interesting and believable characters. On top fall that, who's not glad to just have some good Sunday night television again?

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