After the pretty dismal second season, series creator Soren Sveistrup went back to the core elements of the first and crafted a new mystery that’s lean, taut, and free from the more preposterous contrivances and character blunders which made Season 2 [M] a virtual dud. In fact, one only needs to know two pieces of information established in the prior season: Det. Sarah Lund has chosen to remain with the department, and she’s very much estranged from her son Mark.
That’s it – which is pretty remarkable, given the entire series is about character nuances, backstories, and the collision of several narratives as the plotting swerves through a detective story (in this case, the kidnapping of an industrialist’s daughter), potential disaster for a leading political figure (as an election date looms, emerging facts from the case threaten the Danish Prime Minister’s efforts to win a second term), and a whodunnit (a 2 year old cold case that must be solved to rescue the kidnapped girl).
None of the stories have the potential to affect international governments or ongoing wars on terror, and like Season 1, keeping the dramas local to Denmark ensures the characters aren’t dragged to a neighbouring country for what’s essentially a cheat or filler episode. Sveistrup’s basically trimmed down the scope and episode count from Season 1 [M], offering just enough backstory material so there’s no clutter or flagrant illogic.
Lund’s also a more interesting character in her third round: wanting to end her time with the department in an office job, her lackadaisical behaviour almost ruins the opening investigation of a dead sailor, and her already limited comfort zone is further stressed when Mathias Borch (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), an old flame from college days, is sent by the secret service to assist in the case when details might upset the Prime Minister’s job, if not his party’s lead in the polls.
The kidnapping of little Emilie and the quest to find her captor is what brings seemingly disparate characters together, and Borch’s past history with Lund makes for an interesting character arc that’s nowhere as pretentious as the love interest in Season 2: here the actors manage to convey their discomfort and longings mostly by physical behaviour and lack of dialogue, and the payoff is the finale which is both ballsy, shocking, infuriating, and affecting for viewers hooked on Lund; they may not like the way the season closes, but she has one powerful scene that’s especially gut-wrenching.
Sveistrup also brings in new characters with a deft slight of hand, with only a few suffering from a lack of screen time – namely Borch’s wife, who’s needle-dropped into a pair of episodes before she disappears from the narrative.
The film’s villains are typically grey: the kidnapper / killer has a potent reason for knocking off people; the political figures are corrupt because the system allows for selfish maneuvering; and industrialist Robert Zeuthen (Anders W. Gabrielsson) is a cold, bullheaded man whose passion for making money is partly responsible for enabling the kidnapper to entice Emilie before snatching her from the family’s verdant estate.
Like the prior seasons, the finale is comprised of dreadful tragedies, and once again Denmark’s political establishment is characterized as an amoral body where only the good-hearted are tossed aside; every surviving character has new scars, and there’s little to cheer when the end credits finally kick in.
The fact misery is allowed to triumph at the end makes each of Sveistrup’s seasons unique by North American standards, and that unrelenting grimness is certainly one reason the series has endured for three seasons. Fans might want a fourth season, but both Sveistrup and Grabol have stated they’re done with the character; perhaps both feel they’ve taken Det. Sarah Lund as far as possible, and any further adventures would be more contrived that Season 2. It’s not impossible for the character to re-emerge, but there’s no way Sveistrup can structure a new season using the same dramatic tools.
The third (and likely final) year boasts strong performances from all the actors, and the production values are top-notch, especially the vivid cinematography and tight editing. Frans Bak’s score is largely made up of new material, and each time one hears the opening bass line of the show’s main theme, one knows the closing montage will tease viewers with new and lingering unresolved plot hooks.
The Killing is one of the best examples of how to use misdirection to keep storylines fresh, and ensure viewers are left hungry for more, and Sveistrup arguably did the impossible this time round: he brought new life into the series after a dismal season, and made sure the characters went out with a big bang.
As with prior seasons, the original Danish productions of The Killing have yet to materialize in North America, although they are available in pricey British releases on DVD and Blu-ray. The delay in bringing the series here may be a combination of high licensing fees (the U.K. releases remain unusually expensive) and U.S. broadcast AMC, who want to keep the original far away until they’ve produced their own run of their English remake. Given the cable network’s renewed the show for a third season, it may be a while longer before the Danish series reaches these shores.
© 2013 Mark R. Hasan