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Butterfly Effect: The Series Premiere of The Killing

In my review of AMC's addictive new mystery drama The Killing, I compared the new series, which premiered last night with a two-hour episode, both to Twin Peaks in some of its underpinnings (save the presence of the supernatural) and to the work of mystery novelist Ruth Rendell.

The comparison to Rendell--whose family, like Forbrydelsen, the series on which The Killing is based, hails from Denmark--is quite apt in certain respects. While some of Rendell's novels--particularly her Inspector Wexford installments--deal with crime investigation, the majority of them either delve into the pathology of the killer, exploring just what makes a person kill, or the way in which crime, particularly murder, affects everyone both before and after the perpetration of the crime. Of all crimes, murder is the one with the largest emotional fallout: not just to the victims but everyone the victim leaves behind; their secrets and those of the dead are forcibly brought out into the light. There is no such thing as privacy in a murder investigation, no secret unearthed, no feeling unrecorded.

In The Killing's first two episodes ("Pilot" and "The Cage"), written by Veena Sud (the first was directed by Patty Jenkins, the second by Ed Bianchi), we see the detritus left behind by the disappearance--make that death--of teenager Rosie Larsen: a butterfly collage on the wall, a pink sweater in a desolate field, a blood-stained wig in a dumpster, a name scratched into a high school bathroom mirror. These are the pieces that we leave behind, flotsam and jetsam clues for someone to piece together. But Rosie's family has their own emblems to hold onto, sources of guilt or horror: the ripped fingernails of the victim, a missed chance to say goodbye, the puddle made by her dripping hair, the way a broken vase can set off a indicting conversation about blame.

The discovery of Rosie's body, found in the trunk of a car belonging to the Richmond campaign, a car that was sunk at the bottom of a lake, has its own butterfly effect: the injustice of such a crime has ripples that affect everyone even tangentially influenced by Rosie Larsen: the girl's family, grieving for their slain daughter, her teenage friends, the police detective trapped in Seattle by the case, and a political campaign seemingly shocked that they've become entangled in a murder investigation.

That paper mosaic butterfly in Rosie's room, its double echoing, painfully, on the dead girl's neck, says so much about Rosie's life, her dreams, her loves, her optimism and buoyant spirit. But Rosie Larsen is dead. She will never again play with her little brothers, never kiss her father good-bye, never attend another dance. Her passing is keenly felt by everyone, their reactions raging from numbness to rage, from palpable loss to the desire to make sense of it somehow. (Even if that means, in the case of Terry, to blame the girl's mother for not calling her daughter all weekend.)

For Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos), there's an inherent sadness in seeing that paper butterfly on Rosie's wall, even as the siren song of personal happiness beckons to her in Sonoma. The dreary, rain-slicked streets and fields of Seattle seem miles away from a wedding and a future in Sonoma. Juggling her engagement to Rick (Callum Keith Rennie), her sullen teenage son Jack, and her desire to move on from this cold city, Linden is instantly connected with the teenage girl. While every fiber of her being is telling her to leave, to get on that flight, the universe is conspiring to keep her in Seattle.

(Enos' physical slightness here serves her character well. There's an aura of bruised vulnerability surrounding her, even as she stares upwards at the faces of men far taller than her. She's tiny but a giant in her own right and Enos plays her, her ponytail swinging as she walks, as a woman in a man's world who is still very much a woman, even one who "shops at Ross.")

It's Linden's intuition that leads her to discover Rosie's body in the trunk of the car, a gruesome and heartbreaking reveal made all the more disturbing when the audience learns that Rosie ripped off her own fingernails attempting to free herself as the trunk filled up with water. Linden's insight, her quiet nature, make her perfectly suited for this investigation, even as she's saddled with a new partner in unorthodox ex-narcotics squad member Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman), a shifty copper who has more in common with Linden's young son than he does with her. (Witness the vending machine food conversation, a favorite from the first two episodes.)

But Holder's instincts are just as solid as Linden's, even if they require some, uh, distinct methodologies. He tempts two teenage girls with pot and an invitation to party, only to turn around and use the information they provide him with a the first real clue they receive since the discovery of Rosie's corpse, locating "The Cage" in the high school's basement, a sordid and squalid hideaway with a bed on the floor and blood on the walls.

Was Rosie held here after the dance? Just what happened here and whose blood is that on the walls, a grisly handprint in crimson? And if something did befall Rosie here, how did she get from the school to the lake, where she met her fate?

Questions abound here and that's only natural in a murder investigation. The connection between Councilman Darren Richmond (Billy Campbell) and Rosie remains tantalizingly unclear. Why was she found in one of the campaign's cars? Did the killer mean for Rosie to never be found... or did they want the body found in order to cast suspicion on Richmond himself? Curious, that. Meanwhile, the good councilman has a leak within his office and all signs point to one of his deputies: ambitious Jamie (Eric Ladin) and smooth-as-silk Gwen (Kristin Lehman). Did one of them leak the Yitanes endorsement? Who tipped the press off about the connection to the vehicle? And just what did happen to Darren's dead wife Lily? And what "trips" has he been taking? Why is Gwen so willing to out herself as Darren's lover and provide him with an alibi?

Even as the investigation circles the political world, The Killing charts several other spheres, delving into the domestic front as Rosie's grief-striven mother Mitch (Michelle Forbes) and father Stanley (Brent Sexton) have to tell her brothers about their sister's death. In my advance review, I praised Forbes' searing performance, which reminded me of Grace Zabriskie's in Twin Peaks. Watching the first episode for what must be the fifth or sixth time, it doesn't lose any of its emotional impact. Raw and filled with unimaginable loss, it's a staggering performance that gives me chills each and every time I see it. Sexton's quivering lip and stammer as he tells his son that they're going to be okay is so overflowing with loss and love that it's impossible not to see the breaking heart inside his barrel chest.

And then there's the scholastic world that Rosie inhabited. Just what is Rosie's friend Sterling (Kacey Rohl) so terrified of? Her nose bleeds when she's questioned by her teacher about Rosie's whereabouts and she jumps inside her skin when she's confronted by Stanley. Why is she so ill at ease and scared all of the time? What's the connection between Rosie and bad boy Jasper (Richard Harmon) and druggie burnout Kris (Gharrett Paon)? Just what bad things has Jasper done in the past? And what is Jasper's wealthy father Michael Ames (Barclay Hope) concealing from the police about his errant son? Harmon's Jasper seems to be the prime suspect here: a brooding, spoilt rich kid who seems to only care about servicing his desires and wreaking havoc in his wake.

These two episodes provide a strong foundation for the future episodes to come, establishing the world and the various players in this investigation, showing us the personal cost to everyone and the quest for justice that lies ahead for our intrepid detectives. Holder makes a terrible error when he tells Rosie's parents that they will catch whoever did this to Rosie. Linden knows from personal experience that you can't make promises you can't keep. But Holder's effort to offer Mitch and Stanley a champion for Rosie might just make them villains if they can't deliver their daughter's killer. Even as Linden puts everything on the line--her role as fiancee, as mother--for this case, there's the feeling that unmasking this killer may prove far more difficult and deadly than Holder realizes.

All in all, there's a strong undercurrent here of dread and loss, one that doesn't let go from the opening moments (including that haunting credit sequence) to the very end of the second episode, when Linden surveys the gruesome scene inside the cage. There's something very wrong about those bloodstains on the wall and the juxtaposition of the witch's hat that Rosie wore at the dance, a sign of the horrors to come. A sign that very bad things are on the horizon...

What did you think of The Killing? Are you caught up in the investigation and the mystery surrounding Rosie's death? And, most importantly, will you watch again next week? Head to the comments section to discuss.

Next week on The Killing ("El Diablo"), Councilman Richmond suspects a leak within his team; Sarah tracks down a witness and is led to a suspect.


Pam M. said…
I thought it was beautifully done. I will definitely watch the rest of the series. Great story, great acting. AMC has another hit.
Tonya Ricucci said…
fabulous. I got completely sucked in. Can hardly wait for the next episode.
Anonymous said…
I loved it. My wife loved it. I agree with everything you've written about it. I'm particularly happy that Michelle Forbes is in it - been a fan of hers since Homicide: Life on the Streets.

After watching an episode of Wallander this weekend -- also taken from original Scandinavian source material -- and absolutely loathing it for its pretentiousness, I was thrilled to see The Killing, which felt like it had a touch of Scandinavian sensibility, but was wonderfully understated. More powerful because of it.

Great scripted drama. I put it on a TiVo Season Pass immediately after viewing the premiere. Thank you, Jace, for putting a head's up, here -- I never would have known about it otherwise.

evie said…
Loved, loved it. The scene with the dad finding out while the mom hears his anguish over the cellphone is haunting. When I watch something this good, it makes me wonder why so much else is so awful.

Not only will I watch it again, it will be one of the very few shows I watch live. Pretty much this and Mad Men.

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