Even though I don't love all of the original series currently running on AMC, I'm a huge fan of what the network has been up to. They've broken the mold of original programming by thinking outside the box. The concepts of their shows aren't practical, and I truly believe that this is the exact reason why the network is doing so well. One could easily make the comparison of AMC and other networks reflecting the world of independent filmmaking versus the Hollywood system. Most television networks only go for the proven thing. AMC, however, continues to pursue unique and impractical content (which non-premium network in their right mind would dare to create a series about a high school chemistry teacher that makes the career change to cooking meth?) - and I love it. Although I don't believe that 'The Killing' is executed in a manner that complements the idea, it's still refreshingly different from every other cop drama out there.
For starters, instead of following the serialized method of television murder investigations, all 13 episodes of the first season of 'The Killing' are dedicated to solving one solitary murder mystery. That decision alone takes some serious network balls. To make your audience go through 13 episodes without learning the identity of the one bad guy in the whole series is unheard of. The formatting of the series is also quite unique. Instead of following a few cops in this manhunt, we are given two other major storylines to follow that interweave with the investigation. Despite being an ensemble, 'The Killing' features one solid central character, Detective Sarah Linden. The introduction to this Plain Jane is exactly like that of Jodie Foster's Agent Clarise Starling in 'Silence of the Lambs' - we see a make-up-less law enforcement figure running alone through the woods.
Linden is about to leave the Seattle P.D. behind for a new life with her son and fiancee in Sonoma, California. Since she is known to obsess over her cases, this drastic change is definitely for the good, but she gets caught up with one more murder investigation one the eve of her big move. 17-year-old Rosie Larsen has been missing for a few days and, by the title of the series, we know that she's been killed. Don't let this spoiler bother you, because her body is found in the pilot episode. Rosie's death has a major impact in three ways, each of which concurrently unfolds throughout this timeline.
First, there's the story of Linden. With the murder taking place one day before she's set to resign, her replacement shows up and is assigned to follow her around. The relationship that initially ensues carries a similar feel to that of Agents Mulder and Scully from 'The X Files.' After noting this resemblance, it only made me laugh harder when I learned that the new detective's name was Steven Holder – the last name rhyming with Mulder. Previously assigned to the narcotics unit, Detective Holder is rough around the edges, creating an oil-water mixture with Linden's personality.
The second story follows the family of Rosie Larsen, depicting the often difficult to watch reaction of a family that has lost a child. The first time that we meet the parents, we see them blissfully happy and in love, but once they learn about their daughter's demise, they are torn apart. This storyline is emotionally charged. If you're a parent, this aspect of 'The Killing' might dive into a dark area that's hard to watch. As the investigation drags on, we see their anger-fueled reactions that end up clashing with the police work.
The final major storyline that we follow is that of a Seattle city councilman who's campaigning for mayor. When his character is first introduced, it's unclear why we're meeting him, but by the end of the pilot it is revealed – Rosie's death is somehow connected to someone within the campaign.
In essence, 'The Killing' is showing us that murder is hardly the tension-creating catalyst for entertaining cop dramas out there. Murder is a tragic and negative influence that hurts a lot of people. In this case, Rosie's murder gets in the way of an agent's fresh start in a life. It rips a strong family to pieces. And it hurts an honest and good man's attempt at becoming a positive and selfless leader of a hurting city.
While I describe 'The Killing' in such a way that makes it sound enticing and refreshing, remember that I said the execution isn't as strong as the idea behind it. The investigation is the driving force of the series, but it's diluted by more running around than anything. Each episode is dedicated to Linden and Holder finding a new suspect, someone they're certain, absolutely certain is guilty of the murder, only to have them later proven innocent, often in the first few moments of the next episode. It's also convenient to the story that not a single character that's interviewed about Rosie gives an honest response. Absolutely everyone has something major to hide – even if those huge secrets could potentially solve the case and bring the murderer to justice without damaging that person individually. 'The Killing' is chock full of filler. What we have here is a standard six or seven episode pilot season (like those of AMC's 'Breaking Bad' and 'The Walking Dead') that has been stretched out to a long 13 episodes. The content is stretched so thin that by mid-way through the season, you're mentally checking out at times because it's too contrived to accept. But that's not even my biggest complaint of the series...
Warning: Do not read this paragraph if you have not seen the series. MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD. What bugs me the most is the finale. The entire series is leading up to this one moment. When the killer's identity is revealed and sufficient evidence is found to arrest and prosecute him, it's excited and satisfying. The one thing that this season has been leading up to is finally here – but then... it all changes in the last minute. We learn that Holder has falsified evidence and that the killer may not really be the killer. What bugs me the most about this is the way that the Holder character has been written. We literally know more about every single other character in the series than him. His past is shrouded. About halfway through the season, we're given a quick glimpse into his past, but it's a fleeting speck of a moment. While you'll like his character after that small revelation, he's completely bastardized and broken down during the last 30 seconds of the cliffhanger finale. Why? Just to give the series a twist and a second season. That's right, this investigation isn't over... (Read the Special Features section to learn what to expect from Season Two.)
While I was and am a die-hard fan of 'Lost,' the filler episodes spread throughout the first three seasons were awful. Each season contained a handful of them and it drove me bonkers as I watched the series air week to week. Imagine watching a series where 50 percent of the content is time-killing filler. That's what 'The Killing' pulls off. The high filler content actually removes arcs from episodes and causes the series to feel like one big plateau. Had I watched 'The Killing' as it aired, I definitely would have given up after four or five episodes. Watching it all at once on Blu-ray is the way to go if you're going to see it. As much as I want/need to know what happens in season two, there's no way that I'll be counted amongst the week to week viewership. If you're at all interested in diving into 'The Killing,' I suggest you watch it on Blu-ray, do not spend week after week after week getting jerked around between commercial interruptions.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
20th Century Fox has given 'The Killing' the three-disc Region A BD-50 treatment. All discs are housed in the standard size three-disc blue keepcase with a hinging arm that holds the first two, disc three being located on the back panel. Each disc starts with previews for other AMC shows and there's an odd version of "Season Play" available to use. The season mode works just fine if you're watching all ten hours back to back, but if you're stopping and starting, on the main menu, be sure to select the episode that you left off with before engaging "Season Mode." If not, it will automatically start you at the beginning of the disc again. And be warned that your packaging may very well be slightly damaged by the needless cardboard cover glued to the outside of the sealed plastic packaging. The glue used on my copy melted through the packaging and melted the outside of the keepcase. See the scanned photo below to see what I mean. The left image is the unnecessary and useless cardboard cover (more filler?!) that's glued to the packaging, the image on the right is a scan of my damaged case. Note the melted plastic vertical dotted lines one both sides of of the cover.
'The Killing' arrives on Blu-ray with a sub-par and highly distracting 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode. What's the number one killer in the video? Noise. Lots and lots of noise. Set in Seattle (Editor's note - Really shot in Vancouver), more than half of the scenes take place in the rain (Editor's note - It's really not this rainy in Seattle EVER) – but there are even more noisy shots than there are rainy ones.
Digital noise runs rampant throughout this series. There's no clear rhyme or reason for its appearance. Daytime or nighttime – it keeps coming around. An odd aspect of it is the fact that it will appear in certain areas of the screen during some shots, but not others exactly like it. The only setting where it is always visible is in the gray and gloomy clouded Seattle sky. Any daytime shot containing clouds also contain noise. I estimate that at least five percent of the entire series contains digital noise, which doesn't seem too bad until you take into consideration that would make for at least 30 whole minutes of noisy shots throughout the 13 episode season.
When digital noise isn't chewing it away, details are highly visible. The sharpness of the original video isn't an issue. Watch the series' mesmerizing opening credits sequence and you'll see what I mean. Had the actual episodes carried the same sharpness, level of detail, clarity, contrast, black levels and colorization as the opening credits, this Blu-ray set would be five-star and demo worthy – but the noise and aliasing that's always present during the series is distractingly annoying.
Compression artifacts and bands aren't issues. Edge enhancement and DNR aren't applied. But the noise problem nearly drives the video quality of 'The Killing' into the ground.
Only one audio option is available of 'The Killing,' a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track. And it's not too shabby.
Going back to the fact that it's always raining in 'The Killing's version of Seattle, the surround and rear channels are frequently lit up with the drip-dropping of drizzling or the heavy splashing of downpours. But this isn't the only instance that warrants surround sounds. Other examples include the buzzing of flying insects in the soggy outdoors and imaging effects of passing vehicles.
Bass is strong and alive in music, effects and vocals. The strong rhythmic and intense scoring frequently employs deep ominous sounds, effects occasionally use LFE and voices resonate with natural bass.
The only flaws that lie within the mix are long strings of scenes lacking in environmental effects and one scene in episode eight were the vocals carry a slightly blown-out and distorted buzz, as if the boom mic was a hair too far away from the actors and the volume has been cranked up to compensate. Aside from those two things, the audio is fairly strong.
Found on Disc 1:
Found on Disc 3:
'The Killing' is far from being my favorite AMC series, but it is still founded on an idea and produced in such a manner that makes it far better than standard network series - despite featuring plenty of flaws. With less than intense individual episode arcs, the only way to watch this series and feel satisfied is by watching it continuously on Netflix or Blu-ray. Week to week isn't an option. The finale isn't very impressive, but the premise is so good that it's (hopefully) worth seeing it through to its second season. Check back next year to see if it was actually worth it. The video quality would be fantastic had it not been riddled with distracting and often times screen-filling digital noise. It's brutal. The audio quality, however, is well mixed and strong. The special features are good, but could have been better. I, for one, would have liked a feature dedicated entirely to explaining the original Danish series and the differences between it and the Americanized version. 'The Killing' isn't the best serious out there, but it's definitely better than many network series. If there's ever a lull between series that you follow, 'The Killing' might be worth considering if you can knock it all out at once.