“The Killing,” AMC’s brilliant and stylish whodunnit, wraps up its second season on Sunday with an answer to the question that has animated the most absorbing plot line on TV for two years: Who killed Rosie Larsen?
Inspired by a popular Danish series, “The Killing” is set in Seattle and is actually less a conventional police procedural than it is a group psychological study played out in a gray-on-gray world in which the main character…and it’s not even close…is the rain that falls ceaselessly, leaving the urban landscape streaked and glistening, and everyone it looking cold and slightly smeared. If this sounds like a visual dead zone, it isn’t. “The Killing” might be the handsomest television show ever, from the stunning aerial tracking shots that make Seattle achingly beautiful to the quiet closeups that linger on the faces of a sensational cast.
As with David Lynch’s seminal “Twin Peaks,” to which “The Killing” has been compared, the story opens with the gruesome discovery of a dead teenager. And just as it was with Laura Palmer in “Twin Peaks,” no corpse ever looked deader than Rosie Larsen’s when she was found lying on her side in a fetal position under a foot of water in the trunk of a car recovered from the bottom of a lake
That scene…it was at night and it was raining…signaled that “The Killing” was going to be special, and apart from the vague and perplexing cliffhanger ending that concluded Season One, it has been every step of the way. Unlike the disturbing “Twin Peaks,” which veered between unsettling and wacky, “The Killing” has hit its mark week in and week out, pulling you deeper inside as the complexities of the story multiply.
At the center of the case is an unlikely crime-fighting duo, two damaged Seattle police detectives who, combined, form a single functioning person. Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) is the lead investigator. Perpetually bundled in a huge sweater and carrying a gun that looks about five times too big for her hand, Linden looks bruised and blue, a post-hypothermic case with an attitude who never smiles and never takes shit from anybody. Her partner, meanwhile, is the best thing about the show…and maybe the most intriguing character ever created for television. Detective Steven Holder (Joel Kinnaman), a sketchy, streetwise former narc and recovering addict, entered the story as a problem child and quickly became its moral center. For Holder, the case is everything…and the rules of proper investigation are, at best, mere suggestions.
Holder and Linden are good together because they have to be…everyone either hates them or is out to destroy their careers while steering the investigation off course. The hardest friction to bear is the one between the detectives and Rosie’s grieving parents, Mitch and Stan Larsen. Mitch (Michelle Forbes), at first paralyzed by her daughter’s murder and then unhinged by it, wants answers from the police. Stan (the terrific Brent Sexton), is a masssive and intimidating former enforcer for the mob who just wants the police out of his ruined life. Somehow, the Larsens and the detectives have to deal with one another: They’re just about the only people in this large ensemble who aren’t potential suspects.
The story behind the investigation…which unfolds over the course of only a few weeks…is a Seattle mayoral election in which routine political intrigues deepen when one of the candidates is implicated in Rosie’s murder. This corner of “The Killing” could easily fall into a conventional quicksand of dirty tricks and alliances for hire, but the heated election is repeatedly carved up in a way that keeps you happily off-balance.
Like everybody, I’ve enjoyed the beautiful people and the mansions and manicured lawns of “Downton Abbey,” and the sleek, alcohol-infused environs of midtown Manhattan on the fading “Mad Men.” But “The Killing” has been my main destination on Sunday television from its first chilly, sodden moments. Much as I look forward to finally learning who killed Rosie Larsen this weekend, this is one case I wish never had to be closed.