“The Killing” is not an easy show to watch. It’s unpleasant, uncomfortable and downright painful — but it is undeniably riveting. AMC’s newest drama explores the mysterious circumstances surrounding the murder of 17-year-old Rosie Larsen and does so with the narrative expertise that now characterizes this network.
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The show unfolds in three distinct but inextricably linked plotlines: first, the police investigation by Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos, “Big Love”) and Stephen Holder (Swedish newcomer Joel Kinnaman). Linden is perpetually vexed and doesn’t show much emotion, even for her fiancée and son. It’s hard not to be reminded of Anna Torv on “Fringe,” if only to immediately realize that Torv commands a presence and Enos does not. Add in Holder, a former undercover from County whose voice is so deep that it strains the human ear, and we have a classically unconventional crime-fighting duo. They hardly have the chemistry of Bones and Booth — in fact, they have no chemistry at all.
Larsen’s body is found in a car belonging to the campaign of morally gray city mayoral candidate Darren Richmond, played to appropriate ambiguity by Bill Campbell (“The 4400”). When he acts suspiciously, it fuels the murder mystery, but when he acts ethically, viewers suspect ulterior motives.
It’s no surprise that the homicide investigation is the most compelling part of the first two episodes, so it’s hard to care about the characters’ baggage. Still, it works well in small doses, which is exactly how it’s delivered. Just when there’s too much political blah-blah, we’re back with Linden and Holder finding a bloodstained wig in a dumpster. Similarly, when those two get annoying, Richmond returns with more corrupt secrets to fan the flames of disbelief.
The third storyline is that of Rosie Larsen’s parents, Mitch (Michelle Forbes, “True Blood”) and Stanley Larsen (Brent Sexton, “Flightplan”), and to be honest, the pilot belongs to them. Nothing is so harrowing in the first hour as Stan Larsen’s anguished cries when he realizes his daughter has been killed.
If it weren’t for the telltale title, it would be easy to forget during the pilot that Rosie Larsen will inevitably be found dead. The police inquiry is so gripping that viewers wonder if she’ll turn up or remain missing, adding to the clandestine nature of the show.
And though it is in the nature of crime dramas to overrepresent violent crime in society, “The Killing” brings a new level of realism to the characters caught up in Rosie’s death. Linden approaches it methodically, managing to remain cold and distant even when the girl’s father shows up at the site of the recovery. The parents don’t get too worried too soon, but first fixate on punishing an unruly teenager who ran amok on one weekend without her parents. They feel betrayed by her absence because, “It’s not like we left some little kid behind.” As the police examine Rosie’s hidden life, they find all evidence to the contrary of the “little kid” image.
Even the Richmond campaign’s professional distance from the horrific events transpiring in Seattle shows that politicians often put their ambitions first, no matter what the cost. “It’s not up to you,” his advisor says to the police when discussing a potential press release of the murder. “We’re in the middle of a campaign here.” All due respect, miss, but they’re in the middle of a murder investigation.
On a network with no shortage of good drama, “The Killing” manages to hold its own and promises a chilling summer season.