Q. Take a beloved genre – namely crime drama –replace the central male ie the PI/ detective with a woman – and what do you get?
A. Miss Marple! A seemingly befuddled and adorable old dear, perfect foil for the ruthless cads and fresh cadaver creators of this world. Well, no, not in this case. The only adorable and cuddly thing about Sarah Lund, young Danish sleuth as played by Sofie Gråbøl, is her knitwear. And if you’re already a fan of 'Forbrydelsen', renamed 'The Killing’ for the English speaking world - then you may mourn the departure of ‘that’ jumper . A black and white Faroe Island number , it became her signature brand. In the opening episode of 'The Killing II', however, and like the husband of the Newly Deceased, apparently apprehended soaked in blood not far from the corpse, she is encased in red.
Could this sartorial trope hint at a satisfying crime thriller to come? Could my expectation be coloured by an immediate identification with ‘Red Riding’, the wondrous English northern crime drama, starring the wonderful Sean Bean and set in Yorkshire? This superlative trilogy epitomised all the gritty reality of serial murder, grimly set against the Machiavellian calculation of a corrupt police force.
Well, you just know from the outset the obvious suspect in The Killing II is innocent – you don’t need to be a master detective to work that one out. If he ‘dunnit’, then that’s killed off the storyline stone dead - just like the victim, slashed and tied to a pole. But never fear, Sarah Lund is here (or rather persuaded back to the day job from emotional exile somewhere far away), and Lund’s new red sweater flags up ‘Danger’. Just in time for Christmas, 2011, and like a manic depressive Santa, she prowls, unsmiling, around the perimeter of the crime scene. This woman clearly has issues!
Sarah Lund is a woman, then - but no Miss Marple. Calculating, unemotional – she barely talks to her new partner ‘in crime’, Ulrik Strange - and even in this fab moniker, there are hints at her detachment, possibly engendered by a former relationship. Lund is estranged, isolated – could this be the only way for a woman to fight the good fight in life's perennial ‘psychopath v housewife’ war on terror in which she is involved? ‘It’s what I do best’ she says.
It soon becomes clear she is even detached from her own mother. Just detached, period. She no longer lives with her (seemingly sweet and wholesome) teenage son. Is she grappling with some Post Traumatic Stress disorder? If so, she engages in the fight with a relentlessly deadpan face. Maybe she just desperately misses her jumper – can’t we give her back her signature garment, that warm, enveloping security blanket? I suspect it may make a reappearance later in the series, lest we all feel deprived from a lack of brand recognition. She has to get a change of top some time! And like Paddington bear without the rain hat, or Rupert without his check trousers, how cuddly can Sarah be in her new red woolly? Though fair enough, she’s not here to be reassuring – there’s a blood soaked plot, enmeshing the Danish Secret Service, a disenchanted right wing militia group and national politicians to be meticulously woven, and then expertly unravelled by our Sarah. This woman has a war on terror to fight, virtually single handedly!
Watching anything on the Beeb – ie unrelieved by advertisements - means you can’t take a tea break, can’t take a breath. The grim atmosphere just piles up until you’re desperate for some light relief. This is not a show to watch for laughs – humour, black or even just a hint of beige, is decidedly missing. A grainy, colourless affair, it suppresses all emotion. Even the décor, like a Seventies vision of Sparta, engenders a creeping feeling of sensory deprivation. There’s a scientific, forensic thrust to the dramatic tension that leeches out human empathy.
This may be because I am unfamiliar with the back story, (and, with bated breath, I hereby confess to never having watched The Killing!), ie I am not yet one of the initiated. Ironically, maybe, I thus feel more able to be objective about the storyline. I suppose the crux, as in all drama, is do we care? There’s a singular lack of identification with the deceased – although the video of the first victim’s last seconds brings chills, familiar as we are with ‘calls to the faithful’ videos of hostages to the War on Terror, usually people involved in a tangential way – engineers, whatever. What is unusual here is that the ‘soon to be departed’ is a woman – standard fare for crime thrillers, granted, but not the usual sacrificial fodder of Islamic guerrillas.
So will I get into The Killing II? Should I have first tackled The Killing? Maybe. Meanwhile I’ll admit to being a little underwhelmed. This particular rendition of serial Crimes of Passion for me, lacks passion, and just leaves me cold. Better give me your old jumper, then Sarah, so I can warm up my chilly soul a bit!
Here are Amazon links to the Danish Crime Thriller so you can judge for yourself -
Eileen watched The Killing II on BBC TV