It was with some degree of skepticism back in July that I started watching Forbrydelsen – or as it’s known in this country The Killing – on NetFlix.
To me, watching subtitled drama seemed like a bit of a chore. Would I not just be reading the TV show? Would I get involved in it as much as I would an English language show? Why not just watch the US version?
The thing is though, so many people recommended it, and they did so with gusto. What they said was that the US version was boring and the original Danish version, with the complex and deep character of Sarah Lund (played by Sofie Gråbøl) was the one to watch.
So I gave it a go.
And though it took me a long, long time to finish it, I’m glad that I did.
Forbrydelsen (The Killing) Review: What’s This About?
There are 40 one hour-long episodes of the Killing spread over 3 seasons.
The first – a twenty part season – is about the murder of the teenager, Nanna Birk Larsen.
The second focuses on the serial killing of a Danish military team who were witness to a war crime during a tour of Afghanistan.
The third centres around the kidnapping of the daughter of Copenhagen’s most prominent businessman.
Each of the seasons heavily ties each investigation to conspiracy and underhandedness in local or national government.
Thoughts – Slow Burning Television
On the whole, The Killing is an absorbing example of TV drama.
But in the case of all three seasons – and especially the first – they are slow burning and take a little while to really get into.
Like I said above, I started watching it at the start of July I only managed to finish it at the start of the week. Is that a problem? No. But when you consider that while laid low with the flu for the rest of the week, I managed to get through around 22 episodes of the comparatively frivolous US drama, Revenge, it does make me think.
And it’s not even that I watched them all in a nice even spread. With each season, I ended up finishing them by watching the last four or five episodes in a day.
So I think it’s fair to say that it’s a show that takes a while to really get moving.
But then that’s not to say that the early episodes are dull, because they aren’t.
Indeed, if I was to praise Forbrydelsen for anything it would be the cliffhangers.
Now for those of you who don’t read my Doctor Who reviews, I consider a cliffhanger to be a difficult art to master. Using Doctor Who as an example, it’s all too often the case that an episode will end with The Doctor or one of his companions facing their demise. But as the viewer, you know fine that they’ll escape unharmed.
To me, a good cliffhanger is not one that relies upon shock value, but instead progresses the storyline. That’s what The Killing does.
And it all builds towards an exciting and reasonable conclusion.
The Difficulties of Watching Subtitled Television
While The Killing being in Danish doesn’t ruin the show, it does provide a certain obstacle to enjoying it as much as you would if it was in English.
Obviously, like I said above, you have to read the episode as much as watch it.
Now on the one hand, that’s fine. I found that I followed it with ease and very quickly forgot that I was reading it. Indeed, in one episode of Season Two, the characters started speaking English in a scene and it took me a while to notice.
But on the other, it became more difficult to appreciate the performances of the actors. I thought about writing the same as every other reviewer and discuss how Sofie Gråbøl or Morten Suurballe put in powerful performances, but I’ve got to be honest with you and say that if I did that, I’d be writing it for the sake of it. I’m sure they were great, but when I can’t understand what they are saying and can’t really tell if their delivery is fine then it’s not something I can say for sure.
What I would say though is that they certainly looked as though they were acting well.
The other problem – and this might go some way to explaining why it took me so long to get through it – was that to watch an hour of subtitled TV requires absolute attention. You can’t take your eyes away from the screen for a moment, otherwise you’ll miss the dialogue. It’s only when you are faced with this that you realise how much you let your attention wander – whether it’s checking your phone, looking away to eat food or taking a moment to say something to those around you – when watching shows in English. And watching it while tired is also an absolute no-no.
Maybe then its testament to just how absorbing The Killing is that I stuck with it and binge-watched the last few episodes of each season.
My Issues With Season Three
Of the three seasons, the final one was the weakest in my opinion.
Why? Because it seemed to tread over old ground too much. To avoid spoilers, I’ve written the next line in white text so you have to highlight it to read it…
The notion of political corruption and covering stuff up for the greater good of the government had already been done, arguably twice before, and it felt a bit tired to do it again.
But it certainly had an interesting conclusion.
Again, I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t seen it, but the finish to the show – one which leaves only a little wriggle room for it ever to return – is bound to be one that will be subject to much debate among fans of the season for years to come.
Did I like it? Yes, I suppose I did, but it probably wasn’t what I was hoping for.
- If I’m going to be hyper-critical, it seems a bit odd that the entire Danish political scene changes in each of the three seasons.
- Even though I can’t tell if he’s played by a good actor, and even though I can’t understand a word he says, Lennart Brix enters the Stuart Reviews Stuff Cool TV Character Hall of Fame. The man is so laid back he’s almost horizontal.
- Best of the three seasons is the first without question. And I loved the reveal of who the murderer was. The bit where it dawns upon you who is to blame is one of those sit-up-and-take-notice, “Holy Shit” moments. Superb.
- Nicholas Bro, who plays Thomas Buch in Season Two, is disgustingly fat. How he can’t look at himself in the mirror and realise he needs to stop eating pies is beyond me. He’ll be dead before he’s 60 if he doesn’t lose some of that blubber.
- I wasn’t too keen on the character of Juncker in Season Three. I just didn’t see the point in him, really. And he came across as a bit of an arse.
- But then the standards by which we consider people to be arses in The Killing is way off. There’s no doubt the biggest arse of the lot is Sarah Lund. The thing is though, it’s written so that we forgive her her flaws. She’s our arse, goddamnit.
Forbrydelsen (The Killing) Review: Final Thoughts
So to sum it up, I enjoyed it a lot, in spite of its slow burning nature and subtitled handicap.
True, the final season felt a bit like treading over old ground, but it was still enjoyable.
To get into The Killing – in my opinion at least – requires a fair commitment. You have to give it all your attention and you have to push through the early episodes of each season to let the story form.
But if you do, you’ll enjoy it.