It is a generally known fact among my friends that I do not own a television. I find most television programming to be pretty awful with the exception of a handful of shows. These shows, I will often download from the internet or even watch online. The other useful purpose for live television – sport, only really comes around once every four years as far as I’m concerned and internet streaming is getting to the point where we will be able to watch just about any important live sport in HD, just as long as the people who decide on TV rights sort themselves out.
Unfortunately, not owning a television results in me missing out on random discoveries. Despite being a bit of a Doctor Who fan, I only discovered that it had been revived by Russell T. Davies when I saw it randomly on TV. In a foreign country especially, this can be difficult because not only do I not own a TV, even if I did, I am not particularly motivated to watch it since my Danish (I currently live in Denmark) is not really up to it. As a result, I have missed out on some high-quality Danish television in the form of “Forbrydelsen”, literally “the crime”, translated to “The Killing” for international export.
It first came to my attention a few months ago via a BBC news article about how popular the series had become in britain. Apparently, it had gotten to the point that the distinctive jumpers worn by Sarah Lund, the main protagonist (pictured above), had become popular. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I made a note that I should watch the series, but only got around to it recently, when an opportunity came up to watch it “as seen on the BBC”. This is an important detail, since it was essential for me to be able to watch it with subtitles because, as I mentioned before, my Danish isn’t really up to it.
The series proved quite addictive. I watched every episode of all three seasons over the course of the recent Easter long weekend. It was announced around the start of the third season that it would be the last ever. The first season consisted of 20 episodes, while seasons two and three each consisted of 10 episodes. Unusually for crime series, the story arc spanned the full season, beginning with a murder and ending with the solving of that murder by Lund.
In order to maintain audience interest in a single crime over the course of a whole season of weekly episodes is achieved by closely following the stories of the police detectives, the family of the victim, as well as some politicians who are somehow connected to the murder. Even the personal life of the detectives is followed, and this attention to detail not only makes all of the characters very “real” in the eyes of the audience, but they immerse the viewer in the world of the series and help maintain the suspension of disbelief (as well as giving us insight into Danish society).
It’s a winning combination because there’s something for everyone. At the center, there is the “standard” detective story – finding clues, interrogating witnesses (who are almost never totally forthcoming at first), and following leads. But around all of this is the impact of the crime on the community, realized by following the plight of the family/families of the deceased. And if that isn’t enough for you, there’s political intrigue on the side which is an ingenious combination really, since politicians can dependably be expected not to tell you everything, and that is a good way of controlling the flow of information about a crime in a detective story.
If I have any complaints, then I would say that it is a little bit formulaic. It’s a good formula – but I can definitely see why they decided to stop after three seasons. Certain sequences of events began to get predictable, almost to the point where episodes became mini-caricatures of themselves. For example, there’s a few scenes in which Lund is shown wearing a partial military field uniform, including a helmet and bulletproof vest, and underneath the vest can clearly be seen her distinctive jumper which, frankly, considering the circumstances and context, was quite a ridiculous choice of wardrobe. The body count also steadily increases – a total of three people are killed in the first season (which is also twice as long as the other seasons), seven in the second, and eight in the third.
But like all good series’, it’s the writing that really grabs you. The acting is great, and the production values are film-like. Also refreshing for TV is that (owing to the structure of the series) each episode can be paced like a movie. There’s no rush to fit everything in. Despite numerous plot holes and red herrings which are often so unbelievable that you wonder why they left them in, this Danish drama is more than addictive, with each episode ending on some kind of revelation and with a story that will keep you guessing right up until the final episode. Noteworthy is Sofie Gråbøl’s performance in the lead role of Sarah Lund, who’s social-awkwardness and obsessiveness breaks from the common stereotypes of women on television (not to mention her dress-sense, which breaks from stereotypes of the Danes). Her character is complex, mysterious, and wounded, and the acting is exemplary, standing out in an ensemble of very strong performances.
I encourage all readers of this article to do yourselves a favour, and get your hands on the DVDs. I recommend finding a long weekend or other suitable break in your life-schedules to watch them a-season-at-a-time because once you’ve started on a season, it is very difficult to stop. In fact, this show has given me renewed motivation to learn the Danish language.
(p.s. the reason for “not the chicken” is because the Danish word for chicken – kylling, sounds a bit like “killing” in English)