As a fan of the original Swedish series, Forbrydelsen, I had mixed feelings about watching this. After all, wouldn’t it just be a pale rerun of Sarah Lund’s adventures? Here, Lund has metamorphosed into Seattle-based Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) a nervy and committed detective about to quit the force and marry her fiancé. On the eve of her departure, she’s teamed with a new partner, Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman) a hip, jive-ass, chain-smoking low life, initially much more unlikable than his Swedish counterpart. Just as Linden is about to depart, news comes in of the murder of a teenage girl, Rosie Larsen and Linden starts putting off the nuptials in order to stay at the helm of the investigation.
So far, so like the original – but just as I was at the point of abandoning this as a ‘seen it all before,’ something strange happened – something that demonstrated that the ‘perp’ from the original story, couldn’t have committed this murder. Having established the basic outlines, the producers of The Killing USA had decided to run with the idea and introduce a few tropes of their own. Chief amongst them, was the decision that rather than tie the whole thing up neatly in one series, the Larson investigation would actually extend over two and would be a much more complicated affair than its Nordic progenitor. So, in come a whole bunch of plots and sub plots. Rosie’s Dad, Stan (Brent Sexton) used to be a mob hit man. His wife, Mitch (Michelle Forbes) suffers a nervous breakdown and goes on the lam. Then there’s the machinations of would-be city Mayor, Darren Richmond (Billy Campbell) and the many shady people who work for him and oppose him. Even more complicated is the fact that Linden and Holder both have ghosts of their own lurking in their respective pasts. After initial hostility, the two detectives gradually establish a working relationship and both actors deserve plaudits for making their characters so believable and (against all the odds) really likeable.
The result is that a few episodes into season one, the story begins to grip and apart from a few soggy stretches towards the middle of season two, it manages to keep you hooked to the end. Only the finest armchair detectives will work out whodunnit (I was left guessing until the final moments). This being an American production, of course there are some elements of sentimentality, you won’t find in the original, but at the same time, there’s a final episode twist that is so cynical, such a vicious slap in the face, it literally left me gasping.
Season three takes a major step away from the source material. Linden and Holder team up again investigate a series of killings that appear to go back years, while the man who was originally charged with the murders, Ray Seward (Peter Sarsgaard), awaits imminent execution on death row. But, if the killings are still being perpetrated, how can Seward possibly be guilty? Freed of the constraints of following the original storyline, this is the best season of the three. The relationship between the two detectives deepens (at several points incorporating a tantalising ‘will they, won’t they’ element), the desperate race against time to exonerate Seward is nail biting by the final episodes and there’s a last minute reveal that most viewers will not see coming.
The Killing USA is therefore not the pale imitation you might have expected, but a complex and entertaining drama with an identity of its own.