Bucked up by the success with Unit One, I finally got round to borrowing the acclaimed The Killing, series one, from my local DVD shop. I was convinced that I was hardened enough to try more Scandi noir. Except, oh dear. Grim though its cases often were, Unit One has done nothing to prepare me for the relentless gloom that is The Killing.
It's not, I think, the sheer beastliness of the committed crime, or the protracted suffering the luckless victim - a pretty, clever, sunny teenage girl - went through that proves that little bit too much for me, though it doesn't help. It's the wallowing in the grief of her family. These scenes are convincing and well played, but who wants to watch scenarios like these? For instance, we witness the girl's parents having to tell her small brothers of her death, and later the parents catch a glimpse of the horrible crime-scene pictures, which makes them start to realise just how many traumatic facts the police are keeping from them. The Killing seems to be a crime series made by people who hate the normal crime series-viewing public: we are being punished for our morbid interest in murders. Look, it seems to say, this is what murder is like in real life: it shatters lives.
Except, this isn't real life, is it? It's still fiction. It's a "thriller" made, one supposes, in order to entertain viewers. It's not an instruction video for grief counsellors. I fail to see why glum offerings like these are considered more worthwhile by fastidious critics than golden-agey whodunnits. Why is it more moral to revel in a nasty case like this than in a cleaner bump-on-the-head murder? It's hard not to feel that The Killing indulges bloodlust while simultaneously wagging a finger at it.
In Unit One, a kindly senior police officer has a conversation with a girl he's protecting, and she asks what murderers are like. He answers that in most cases, they're "just like you and me". Only, there is "something not quite right" which makes them cross the line and kill. (As it happens, in this particular case the murderer is a sadistic loon very far from the norm, but never mind.) I don't know if it's true, but as a working hypothesis it works well. I like a really juicy motive in a murder mystery, which makes me wonder if, in the same circumstances, I would be tempted. If the murderer is clearly a psycho, which must be the case in The Killing, then some of the interest of the murder case is lost. There can be no question of someone "just snapping".
That said, I want to know who did it now, so I'll probably watch this series until the end, even though I won't be giving series two and three a go. It's well made - the Danes are clearly good at this sort of stuff. Sarah Lund is a charismatic lead, and I'm mildly interested in what happens to her when her petulant Swedish boyfriend ditches her, which is surely only a question of time (Swedes are rarely good news in Danish series, it seems). Will sparks fly between her and her new Dirty Harryish colleague? Or maybe the smooth politician is, for once, a good guy who's in with a chance?
But there are limits to my interest. If Lund's fate is undecided at the end of the series, I'll not sit through another case as gruelling as this just to know what happens to her. Her sweaters really are nice, though.