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‘The Killing’ leaves fans wondering what comes next

April 13, 2012

Last year’s finale of the new AMC series “The Killing” caused an Internet firestorm over a last-minute revelation that basically made the entire season seem like a waste of time. That’s right, the whole first season was a red herring.

With season two having premiered this month— on April Fool’s Day, no less—AMC and the series’ showrunners now face the daunting task of winning back all those perturbed fans; but, if the first three episodes are any indication of what to expect this season, I’d say they’re up to the challenge.

Like a lot of things on television nowadays, “The Killing” is an American adaptation of a European show. The award-winning original series began airing in Denmark in 2007, and is now scheduled to enter its third season later this year. The story was reworked for American audiences in late 2010 by writer and executive producer Veena Sud, who worked previously on the drama “Cold Case.”

“The Killing” is part murder mystery, part police procedural. But unlike similar shows out there, it focuses on a single investigation with strong continuity between episodes. Imagine taking a case on “Law and Order” and expanding it to fill several hours of programming.

The mystery surrounds the murder of teenager Rosie Larsen, who was found dead in the trunk of a car belonging to a Seattle politician. It would seem initially like simple case to solve, but after the first 48 hours of the investigation, it becomes clear that it won’t be so easy.

To borrow a line from the comedy “Wrongfully Accused,” this show “has more twists and turns than Chubby Checker in a blender.”

The format of “The Killing” is set up so that each episode covers approximately one day. As we enter into season two, this means the investigation has moved into its third week.

Like similar time-themed shows, “24” for instance, the pacing is exhaustive. So much has happened in the first season that it’s hard to believe only a few days have passed for the characters.

One would think such a plot-intensive and methodical mystery show would be difficult to pick up midseason, but the infamous season one finale that turned off so many fans is actually a blessing in disguise for series newcomers. The only thing viewers need to know to jump into season two is that Rosie is dead and the politician didn’t do it.

Of course long-time fans will have a greater appreciation for minor details and references in season two; but, when compared to other AMC series like “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad,” “The Killing” has not yet reached a level of impenetrability for late adopters.

Ultimately what makes “The Killing” so entertaining has less to do with the mystery, and more to do with the characters. The drive to solve the murder is what propels the show, but with closure nowhere in sight, it’s the interaction between the story’s key players that keeps me coming back each week.

The most interesting characters are Detectives Linden and Holder, played by Mireille Enos and Joel Kinnaman, respectively. Linden is a single mother balancing her duty to catch Rosie’s killer with her responsibility to her own son. While Holder is a recovering drug addict with a sketchy past and no respect for police dress code.

Linden and Holder are so complex and flawed that, should they manage to solve Rosie’s murder next week (unlikely as that would be), the show could easily keep going for another two seasons by focusing on resolving their personal issues.

One of the benefits that “The Killing” has over other crime dramas is that it has the time to really explore how a murder affects the victim’s family.

Rosie’s mother, played brilliantly by Michelle Forbes, is an absolute wreck. She swings between fits of rage and soul-crushing depression, and often makes destructive choices as a result. As a viewer you can’t help but feel for her loss, but some of her actions make you question the point where grief can no longer be used as an excuse to avoid responsibility.

“The Killing” is among the top weekly dramas airing this spring. If you gave it up following last year’s infamous final twist, it’s time to come back and rediscover why it captured audiences in the first place. If you’re new to the show, now is as good of a time as any to join the mystery.

“The Killing” airs 8 p.m. Sundays on AMC.

Michael Brun is an alumnus of UW-River Falls.