Ten reasons why The Killing is the best thing on TV right now
The slow-burning Danish crime series has been steadily gaining viewers since it appeared on Saturday evenings on BBC4. But what is it that makes it so compelling?
1. It’s better than Wallander
We’re used now to Scandinavia being the source of all things grim and criminal, so the arrival of a new Danish detective thriller might be expected to elicit no more than a so-what shrug.
But good through the trio of televised Wallanders were (in ascending order, and all on BBC4, bless them: the Branagh, laughably pompous; the long-running Krister Henriksson, enjoyably soapy; and the original and better Rolf Lassgård, authentically unglamorous) this is something else, successfully avoiding, for much of its run, many of the most egregious cop show clichés.
2. It’s so slow
First of all, take its sluggish plotting. Spreading a single case – the kidnapping, rape and murder of a 19-year-old girl – over 20 hour-long episodes makes for an intense viewing experience. It gives time to dissect and savour every red herring, and fully explore every dead end. It also explains why the show has only gradually wormed its way into viewers’ hearts – it’s so un-gung ho, you might not notice you’re hooked until a couple of episodes in.
3. There’s only one murder in it (so far)
The gradual unfolding of the investigation allows the programme makers to settle themselves almost luxuriantly into the workaday procedural element of the police officer’s lot. That they do so without ratcheting up the tension with subsequent murders is admirable. The moment in a recent episode when Lund’s criminal psychologist boyfriend suggested the team comb through other similar disappearances was brilliant for the way it teased us with the thought that – ooh, it was a serial killer! – only to almost immediately dash it. They did look into it, and there were no other similar disappearances.
But then, the flat at the end of Episode 10? Maybe I’ll have to eat my words…
4. It treats the victim’s family with respect
No matter than one of them is clearly a wrong’un, the amount of time spent showing the effect of the girl’s murder on her parents is admirable. The funeral – not just there so the detective can sadly stand at the edge of the cemetery, looking moody. (Kenneth Branagh, back of the class.) The arguments between the bereaved mother and father. The silence. The way the mother (the absolutely excellent Ann Eleonora Jørgense) took back the boys’ rubber duck from the duplicitous babysitter when she realised she’d been less than honest and open…
5. There is absolutely no sexual chemistry between the leads
Everybody loves Sarah Lund – for her jumper, her prepossession, and her doggedness in the face of institutional sexism - but her police partner Jan Meyer is a brilliantly imagined foil. Like every sidekick he’s annoyed by his second billing (he was supposed to be taking over the case when Lund emigrated to Sweden, only to have her stick around), but unlike every male-female cop partnership in television history (and most male-male/female-female ones) they hold not a shred of repressed attraction for each other. Particularly pleasing when you think how otherwise great shows like Silent Witness seem intent on turning into Willis/Shepherd-era Moonlighting, chock full of ‘will they/won’t they’ coyness. Lund and Meyer… won’t.
6. You can buy Lund’s pullover online
Much of the in-show Twitter-chat (and I assume we are all now aware of the irony that Twitter is in the process of saving television from box set/hard drive-driven irrelevance?) has been about Sarah Lund’s loverly sweater, white with a black snowflake design. Will she ever change it? Ooh, she’s changed it ! Then someone tweeted the website of the Faroese (they’re from the Faroe Islands) knitwear house who produced it (Gudrun and Gudrun), and everyone immediately checked if they had €280 spare, and if it could be delivered in time to wear while the show’s still running.
7. There are no last minute, end of episode dashes to rescue the innocent
Well, okay, just the one.
8. Nobody goes maverick
Okay, everybody’s allowed to go maverick just once in a cop show. It’s in the rules. So Lund goes rogue, just once. We all forgive her, don’t we? At least the killer’s not going to turn out to be the smooth, smiling politician. (Is he?)
9. The music
It’s the cool, slowly encroaching, gently electronic backing music that makes me think – The Killing is gradually turning into that other greatest of slowly-unfolding murder-based television series, Twin Peaks. Without the eye-gargling loopiness, obviously. But think: cool music; pretty, wholesome girl victim who, it emerges, had a darker side; scary dad. No log lady yet, but it’s only a matter of time.
10. You can watch it all on iPlayer
The BBC is, good for them, keeping it all on the iPlayer for a whole month, so there’s no excuse not to go right back to the beginning if you’re not already a fan, and join the multitudes. And with ten more episodes to go (two a week, every Saturday night, starting at 9pm), you’ve got plenty of time to catch up.
The further good news is that a second series has already been aired in Denmark, with a third currently in production. The bad? It’s been remade in the US.
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