THE KILLING 1.01 & 1.02 ‘Pilot’ & ‘The Cage’

The opening chapters in this chillingly dark thriller prove "The Killing" is much more than your average "whodunit?"

Hilary Rothingby Hilary Rothing

Episode Title: "Pilot/The Cage"

Writer Veena Sud
 
Directors: Patty Jenkins/Ed Bianchi
 
Story:
 
Homicide detective Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) prepares to leave her Seattle precinct and move to the Sonoma Valley with her fiance and teenage son, when a case comes across her desk on her last day.  Linden and her replacement, former narcotics detective, Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman) investigate a potential crime scene in a wooded area, where they find the ATM card of Stanley Larsen, a repair whose daughter hasn't been heard from in several days.
 
Linden and Holder question Larsen's wife, Mitch (Michelle Forbes) about her husband's whereabouts over the weekend and then thinks to ask if she's heard from her daughter.  It soon becomes clear that the Larsen's teenage daughter, Rosie (Katie Findlay), is missing.  Mitch says that Rosie was at a school Halloween party on Friday and then spent the weekend with her friend, Sterling.  But after questioning Sterling (Kacey Rohl), she finally admits to Stan (Brent Sexton) that Rosie was with the school's resident bad boy, Jasper Ames (Richard Harmon), over the weekend.  However, when Stan stops by Jasper's house to pick up Rosie, Jasper says he wasn't with her.
 
Meanwhile, city councilman, Darren Richmond (Billy Campbell), prepares to debate his incumbent opponent at Sterling and Rosie's high school, when Linden and Holder ask to postpone the debate while they continue their investigation.  Richmond's adviser and lover, Gwen (Kristin Lehman), encourages him to speak up on the case and relate it to the loss of his wife, but he refuses.  As news of a pending endorsement from a fellow councilwoman is leaked to his opponent, Richmond begins to question the loyalty of his staff.
 
Back at the woods, Linden brushes off her fiance on the phone and sends a team to search a nearby lake when she spots a group with fishing rods on a trail.  There, investigators find one of Richmond's campaign vehicles with Rosie Larsen's dead body tied up in the trunk.  The car was reported stolen by a member of Richmond's team days earlier. While on the phone with his wife, a hysterical Stan Larsen arrives on the scene just as Rosie's body is discovered.
 
Richmond prepares to send out a press release but Linden warns him to hold off.  In the meantime, the councilman hires a private detective to investigate his staffers.
 
After cops find Rosie's Halloween wig in a dumpster, Holder hangs out at the high school where he gets a tip about a hangout known as "the Cage" from a couple of girls from the soccer team, after sharing a joint with them.  There he and Linden, who still hasn't left to join her fiance in California, find what appears to be a blood-stained crime scene.
 
At the second hour closes, Richmond tasks the private investigator with looking to his advisers email accounts.  Back at the Larsen home, Stan finds Mitch curdled up on Rosie's bed.
 
Breakdown:
 
A slowly churning, dark mystery with a hint of "Twin Peaks" and even Hitchcock, "The Killing" gets right what so many "whodunits?" as of late have ignored: character. 
 
The two-hour premiere laid solid ground on which to build the season long mystery of who murdered young high school girl, Rosie Larsen.  The show features a terrific ensemble cast, featuring "True Blood" and "Battlestar Galactica" star, Michelle Forbes, "The Rocketeer" Billy Campbell and "Big Love's" Mireille Enos, as well as several unknowns who'll surely make a name for themselves if "The Killing's" ratings are as strong as its direction, writing and acting.
 
While on the surface, "The Killing" is a murder mystery, its roots run much deeper.  As the quiet, contemplative Seattle homicide detective and single mom, Sarah Linden, Mireille Enos proves that this AMC adaptation of the original Danish drama is as much a character study as it is a noir thriller.  And Swedish newcomer, Joel Kinnaman as former drug detective, Stephen Holder, is dynamic and highly watchable, as his character learns to use the tricks of his old trade in a much darker world.
 
But perhaps the character I'm most intrigued by is Michelle Forbes' Mitch Larsen.  As the grieving mother with some serious holes in her parenting skills, Larsen is an enigma.  She's hiding something for sure, but what, from whom and why is a mystery unto itself. 
 
Billy Campbell's politically ambitious councilman, Darren Richmond is equally compelling.  A likable, seemingly good-hearted man surrounded and supported by an ethically ambiguous pair of campaign managers (one of whom he's sleeping with), Richmond is caught in the crosshairs of what could be a career-ending murder scandal.
That coupled with the tragic loss of his wife, now coming to the forefront in light of the Larsen murder, adds some interesting layers to the character, right out of the gate.
 
Aside from the terrific acting and direction, "The Killing's" first two-hours features some hauntingly beautiful cinematography, shot in Vancouver, Canada (In fact, I'm almost certain Jasper's waterfront home is the same set used for the Graystonse' home in Syfy's "Caprica").  And "The Killing's" score compliments the show's dark, dreary feel without dipping into the kind silly, musical cliches the suspense genre is known for.
 
Once concern I do have about this terrific start for AMC's new critical darling is ratings.  Early numbers marked the premiere as the second highest rated debut for an AMC original, next to "The Walking Dead," but "The Killing" didn't pull anywhere close to "Dead's" numbers (2.7 million viewers for the first run versus "The Walking Dead's" 5.3).
 
In terms of the look and tone of the show, "The Killing" feels more like the acclaimed but cancelled "Rubicon" than "The Walking Dead" or "Breaking Bad." It's a slow burn with a heavy, at times oppressive feel.  I can only hope AMC's latest original masterpiece can maintain the ratings and buzz to build some serious momentum.  Especially on a network that's making a habit of putting a year plus between seasons of its fantastic original series.
 
Crave Online Rating: 9 out of 10.