The Killing USA – S1 E12/13 “Beau Soleil”/”Orpheus Descending”

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So, this was the hugely disappointing ending of the first season of the US version of The Killing that caused so much controversy in the States? I really can’t imagine why.

On the contrary, after the disastrous, risible episode 11 (about which I vented last week), this was a triumphant return to strong form and possibly the best work that the series has done since its feature-length pilot.

It helped that the approaching end-of-season meant that there were a series of revelations that quickened the pace of the investigation and gave a real sense of urgency to proceedings. At times the series has meandered and looked listless (in a way that the Danish version never did despite arguably even slower pacing) but that’s not the case here, and I would even go so far as to describe these last two episodes (shown as a feature length double bill finale in the UK) as genuinely gripping.

A lot of that is thanks to most of the key plot beats being lifted and adapted wholesale from some of the Danish series’ strongest mid-season work: the detectives finding the fuel discrepancy in the murder vehicle; the charged encounter between Linden and politician Richmond in his apartment; the revelations about Rosie’s involvement in a high class escort agency and about a (seeming) client who becomes the shocking prime suspect leading to an arrest. Even the Danish show’s most memorable mid-season cliffhanger – Linden coming to a realisation about the case as she sat on a plane taxiing down the runway to take her and her son away from this for good – was used to perfect effect in the final moments.

But the US version also added its own embellishments, and for once they all worked extremely well: the sound of the repeated ‘new mail’ chime in an unexpected setting; replacing the oddly unsubtle ‘Faust’ with the more nuanced ‘Orpheus’; the shocking realisation that a key piece of evidence has been fabricated (and by whom!); and the re-use for the first time since the pilot of Frans Bak’s music cues, as Linden makes a key realisation in a gas station that loops the investigation back to the original murder scene are all hugely effective.

The US version also continues to do a slightly better job of the original of untangling some of the plot threads and previously underdeveloped secondary characters that showed how the Danish version was more improvised on-the-fly than it looked on the surface. In particular, the political strand’s characters (Richmond, Jamie, Gwen and the Mayor) are finally fleshed out from their former unpleasant one-dimensional nastiness and become rather more rounded and accordingly interesting people as a result. Finally, the troika on which the series depends is finding its proper balance.

So was the dissatisfaction that greeted the ending of the season in the US just down to a frustration that it didn’t give a neat answer to whodunnit? If that’s the case, then this is one case where fans of the Danish original can rejoice. When it was announced that the US adaptation would last for 13 40-minute episodes versus the 20 hour-long episodes of the original, it seemed impossible to see how the US producers would condense the series into such a short run without compromising the story (even before they threw in pointless “fillers” like episode 11.)

Now we have the answer: they haven’t. They’ve simply divided the story into two, and what we have had so far it pretty much a faithful recounting of the first half of the Danish series episodes one through ten. There’s plenty we haven’t had yet – no mention of the ‘party flat’ for example that was so important in the original, let alone the butt-clenching tension of the blocked toilet! Will that be picked up with the same fidelity in season 2 of the US version?

I hope so – and hope that the second series doesn’t drift off on too many of its own misguided innovations that so nearly sunk it last week.

2 thoughts on “The Killing USA – S1 E12/13 “Beau Soleil”/”Orpheus Descending”

    John Hood said:
    September 27, 2011 at 11:42 am

    The casting and cinematography has never failed to impress. The latter evocative of David Fincher’s Se7eN and The X-Files.

    The S1 finale was too convoluted for its own good! But, I’ll be back for more.

    andrewlewin responded:
    September 27, 2011 at 12:12 pm

    By the comparison with Se7en I presume you mean: “It never stopped bloody raining the whole time”?! Actually the comparison with Fincher’s film has indeed been pointed up many times and I totally get why. I think “X-Files” was filmed in the same Pacific Northwest area, no?

    The climax did pile on at least one element too many – I could have don’t without Belko – but actually I thought it tied together very nicely and wasn’t over-complicated. Just nice to see some actual plot development after a few weeks of paddling around doing not very much …

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