By Marty Mulrooney
The Killing (Danish title Forbrydelsen) is a BAFTA award-winning and Emmy-nominated Danish television series written by Søren Sveistrup and produced by Danmarks Radio (the Danish Broadcasting Corporation). Each series follows Detective Inspector Sarah Lund (Sofie Gråbøl) as she investigates a specific case; the first series deals with the brutal rape and murder of a 19-year-old woman named Nanna Birk Larsen, whilst the second series deals with numerous killings that somehow involve the Danish military. Both series were shown on BBC Four in 2011 to high viewer figures and overwhelming critical acclaim.
The Killing (originally shown on Danish television as Forbrydelsen in 2007) follows a police investigation into the death of a young woman named Nanna Birk Larsen, who is found brutally raped and murdered in a remote woodland area. Detective Inspector Sarah Lund (Sofie Gråbøl) is shortly due to leave Copenhagen to live in Sweden with her boyfriend Bengt and young son Mark. However, the case quickly draws her in, forcing Sarah to postpone her plans. She ends up working alongside her intended replacement, Detective Inspector Jan Meyer (Søren Malling), much to his initial chagrin.
The Killing may not sound particularly different from any other crime or police drama. What truly sets it apart is the scope of its plot, the powerful acting and the intricately woven, nuanced scripts. Nanna Birk Larsen may die during the opening scenes of The Killing – albeit off camera – but she continues to live on throughout all 20 episodes, with each episode covering 24 hours of the police investigation. Her character isn’t merely a catalyst for the story. She had hopes, dreams, desires… and secrets.
The impact of her death is gut-wrenching and painful to watch – her father, Theis Birk Larsen (Bjarne Henriksen), and mother, Pernille Birk Larsen (Ann Eleonora Jørgensen), are understandably devastated, their lives cruelly torn apart. The Birk Larsens don’t feel like characters being acted – these are good people, almost too real for comfort, forced into an impossible, hopeless situation. The viewer wants to know the truth just as much as they do. Sarah Lund wants to know even more.
Thrown concurrently into the mix is the world of politics, with local elections gearing up to decide the next Mayor of Copenhagen. Troels Hartmann (Lars Mikkelsen) is a real contender, passionate and ready for change. Yet he has several skeletons in his closet – is he really a better candidate than the current Mayor, Poul Bremer (Bent Mejding)? When a television show can successfully make foreign politics gripping alongside the action and drama, you know it’s doing something right.
The Killing is a classic “’whodunit’ that thankfully avoids using too many red herrings. The accomplished cast convey a fascinating, eclectic group of people with shrouded pasts, each a potential suspect in their own way. Cutting through all of the high drama, numerous motives and unexpected plot twists is Sarah Lund, the disarming, woollen jumper-wearing detective who sacrifices having a life of her own to become an investigative wrecking-ball that will never stop until a case is solved.
Sarah isn’t a woman in a man’s world. She sidesteps convention to become so much more – she’s sexy despite not trying, confident despite her brazen social awkwardness. She’s a flawed character who is nonetheless one of the most forward-thinking, brilliant minds in her field. If you want dependence outside of the job, forget it. But if you’re trying to crack a case that everyone else seems to want buried or wrapped up as quickly as possible, Sarah Lund is your best bet.
The Killing grips like a vice from episode one, with each subsequent episode only further tightening the screw. It’s all too easy to throw superlatives at this show – it really is one of the greatest crime dramas ever made. This is a show that rewards intelligence, plunges to the darkest depths of human emotion and punches to the very core of what makes great television in the first place. Avoid the US remake, embrace the subtitles and watch a masterpiece safe in the knowledge that it doesn’t get much better than this.
10 OUT OF 10
The Killing II
The Killing II (originally shown on Danish television as Forbrydelsen II in 2009) takes place two years after the events of the first series. Sarah Lund is now a passport controller in Gedser in southern Denmark, willingly demoted after the closing of the Nanna Birk Larsen case. Lennart Brix (once again played by the wonderfully deadpan Morten Suurballe), Chief Homicide Inspector of the Homicide Department at Copenhagen Police Headquarters, needs Lund’s insight into the murder of a female lawyer named Anne Dragsholm. He sends Chief Inspector Ulrik Strange (Mikael Birkkjær) to bring her back to Copenhagen. Although she initially resists getting involved, she seemingly can’t help herself – once she gets a taste for the case, she’s hooked. Despite reservations from his superiors, Brix temporarily reinstates Lund and partners her with Strange.
The murder of Anne Dragsholm proves to only be the tip of the iceberg. Several members of a disbanded Danish Armed Forces unit are murdered shortly thereafter and it soon becomes readily apparent that whoever is behind the killings intends to wipe out the entire team. Jens Peter Raben (Ken Vedsegaard), the leader of the team, has been held in a psychiatric detention centre for the past two years after breaking down upon his return from Afghanistan – he insists that an officer named “Perk” executed a civilian family despite evidence to the contrary. Anne Dragsholm was representing the team and claimed to have found the mysterious officer – was she killed for getting too close to the truth?
Politics play an important role in The Killing II, just as they did in the first series – if not more so. The charismatic Troels Hartmann is surely missed (Lund and Brix are the only returning characters from The Killing) yet the newly-appointed Minister of Justice Thomas Buch (Nicolas Bro) is an equally fascinating character that can more than hold his own. Overweight, mild-mannered and seemingly harmless as a result, he has obviously been appointed in his new role by the Prime Minister to effectively serve as a doormat, ready to be walked over. Yet Buch surprises both his peers and the viewer by quickly becoming a force to be reckoned with, unwavering in his determination to investigate the military killings and unwilling to compromise on anti-terrorist legislation that he strongly opposes.
Buch cuts a striking figure, his soft image at odds with his sharp political prowess. His investigations run parallel to Lund’s, with the two often converging – the plot is full of twists and turns, but never feels too outlandish. Admittedly, the storyline itself is slightly less impactful than that of the first series, perhaps because there is less emotion on display – there is no equivalent of the grieving Brik Larsens here, although the theme tune still manages to evoke tingles every time it plays. The decision to halve the length of the series to a trim 10 episodes ensures that the story unfolds at a breakneck pace, and the quality remains high throughout despite some occasional budgetary issues – conveying an authentic military barracks is obviously slightly more tricky than showing a police station or a political office.
The Killing II isn’t quite as powerful as The Killing was before it, but that isn’t to say it is significantly inferior. It’s merely different, wisely choosing to take a fresh path and tackle an entirely new subject matter, rather than simply repeating the same old storyline ad nauseum. It’s a slow burner in may ways despite its fast-paced nature, but the final episodes pay off in abundance – if you haven’t yet watched this show, I truly envy you. The Killing II is second only to its predecessor – and second place isn’t bad at all when you’re holding your head this high above the competition. If the yet to be released third and final series can maintain this jaw-dropping level of quality, I think we can safely assume that The Killing will be remembered as the greatest crime drama of all time.
9 OUT OF 10
The Killing: The Complete Seasons One and Two is available now on DVD. (RRP: £69.99)
Extras include a masterclass from Sofie Gråbøl and producer Piv Bernth.