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Here at Trunkworthy we’re fighting hard to suppress the bare-knuckle instincts of our inner hardboiled detective who wants to grab by the lapels anyone who missed Season One of AMC’s The Killing and fix them with a Bogart stare until they see the error of their ways. Not only did the series represent a huge step in the ongoing evolution of noir TV, but it also remolded the source material with great imagination, leaving us with one of most addictive crime dramas this side of Copenhagen. Believe us, the opening season of The Killing is pure Pacific Coast dynamite.
The map of European crime drama was forever redrawn in 2007 when Danish TV’s Forbrydelsen (literally The Crime, better known as The Killing) first aired in Denmark. Catching on in other countries—especially the U.K.—the show added momentum to an influential new wave of Nordic noir (Wallander, Borgen, The Bridge). It even triggered a surge in demand for Faroe Islands knitwear, like that worn by lead character Detective Chief Inspector Sarah Lund (Sofie Grabol).
Season One of the U.S. remake for AMC didn’t have quite the same sartorial impact as its Danish precursor, but it confidently delivered one of the darkest, most accomplished small-screen mysteries in decades. Relocated to Seattle, the story picked up the pace, added fresh twists, and confirmed a couple of standout acting talents—Mireille Enos as homicide detective Sarah Linden and Joel Kinnaman as her partner Stephen Holder—who immerse themselves so deep in character that they risk a case of the bends.
Enos has a compelling, fragile intensity—she embodies a hard determination that outweighs her slight physical build and bleeds into the obsessive self-destruction required of her character. She’s a single mom with the sins of the world on her shoulders, raw and vulnerable, committed to solving the mystery regardless of cost to self and family.
Sidekick Holder is a forerunner of Matthew McConaughey’s Rust Cohle in True Detective, only more endearing. A premature burnout from his days in street vice, he occupies a sketchy self-help mindset patched together from nature documentaries, vanilla hip-hop patois, mashed-up spiritualism, and half-assed vegetarianism.
There’s way more to Holder, though, than light relief and rough-edged empathy. Kinnaman gives his dark side a hint of deviance—early on, he elicits information from a couple of schoolgirls by offering them weed and the suggestion of a three-way “party.” The gutter is his home turf, the hoodie his uniform. When he tries to scrub up by donning a cheap suit and tie, he’s a colossal failure, told by a superior: “You look like you donate plasma for a living.” The black rings never leave his eyes: Holder is part cop, part trash-diving raccoon, and alone merits a full commitment to Season One.
The overall excellence of The Killing lies in its perfect balance of mystery and character—it offers the pleasure of a sidewinding whodunnit, setting up a series of red herrings and suspects while taking us on a deep dive into motivation, backstory, and emotional carnage, especially within the dead girl’s family. An interconnected subplot following the dirty political tricks and dealings of a mayoral campaign adds extra substance to the show’s multilayered structure.
Shot in sodden Vancouver (doubling for Seattle), The Killing generates its signature visual claustrophobia from rain-lashed windscreens and pitch-darkness, drawing on an excellent pool of directors including Ed Bianchi (Boardwalk Empire, Deadwood) and Agnieszka Holland (The Wire, Europa Europa) to steer a ship that never loses impetus. More than just an outstanding American spin on Nordic noir, the first season takes on a life and look of its own.
It’s worth mentioning that Season One delivers no conclusion, no revelation of the killer—two full seasons are required to follow the Larsen case to its end, which annoyed some viewers, but that reaction is neither here nor there. The opening season of The Killing is not only a Trunkworthy reboot of the Danish original, it’s also a great, defining, stand-alone example of Northwest noir.