Dead Good

The Killing is showing on BBC4, Saturdays at 10pm 4 December 2011

Florence Smith Nicholls is impressed with the new series of The Killing

Forget Midsummer Murders, Silent Witness-even Inspector Morse. If you’re looking for a crime drama with a distinctly different flavour then I can’t recommend enough The Killing (Forbrydelsen). The first series, an elaborate 20-part entanglement of plot threads as elaborately interwoven as any of the iconic jumpers the protagonist wears, was a Bafta award-winning success. Now a shorter second series has begun: it’s time to go Danish.

The Killing has three principal strengths; a fantastically driven yet dysfunctional lead in the form of Sarah Lund, a slow-boiling plot with unparalleled depth, and a backdrop of political intrigue. The first series was entirely focused on the investigation into the murder and rape of a 19 year old girl, Nanna Birk Larsen. Whilst most hour or even two-hour murder mysteries are often limited to depicting relative’s bereavement in a few grief-stricken scenes, The Killing sustained a longer storyline in which Nanna’s family’s experiences became a central part of the show. Furthermore, the theme of political corruption is a central concern, as potential mayor of Copenhagen Troels Hartmann became embroiled in the case.

Sofie Grabol gives an understated and intense performance as Sarah Lund. Her work is her obsession, to the point that her somewhat neglected teenage son even accuses her: “You only care about dead people.” Certainly, Lund may at times seem more concerned with the deceased, but it is the often strained inter-personal dynamics which she maintains with colleagues, her ex-husband and even her own mother which provide a further facet to the programme.

It’s fitting that the second series has a different feel: Lund is back, but not as we know her. Her steely confidence has all but evaporated after the escapades of the first series, and our first glimpse of her is as a lone, uniformed figure conducting passport control for ferries. Of course, it’s not long before she answers a call to arms as her former boss Brix wants her opinion on the murder of a woman whose body is tied up in a Memorial Park.

Nothing is ever as it seems in The Killing. There’s still the same sense of a liberal society with a rotten core, still the same unsettling soundtrack, the same pondering shots of mournful skies. However, Lund and Brix are almost the only characters from the old series who survive into the next. The former has a new-sidekick in the form of Ulrik Strange, a neat freak who may yet live up to his name as well as a whole host of strangers including a newly appointed justice minister and his team, an ex-serviceman in a secure psychiatric hospital and his family, as well as an army colonel.

For those that found the slow pot-boiler pace of the previous series frustrating, you’ll be glad to hear that the heat has been turned up a few degrees. Without giving too much away, there’s more than one murder being investigated, and writer Soren Sveistrup has made the politics all the more prominent. Without such a keen focus on the victims themselves, and a shorter duration, it could perhaps be said that The Killing has lost some of its original unconventional edge.

Yet, the new series has potential, and Lund is just as intriguing as ever: “This is what I do best.” I couldn’t agree more. Don’t snack on the American imitation – sample the best Danish export since the sweet pastry.

Florence Smith Nicholls

The Killing is showing on BBC4, Saturdays at 10pm