Looking back at The Killing series 2
As series three begins on BBC4 this weekend, James appraises The Killing's second series...
This feature contains spoilers for seasons one and two of The Killing.
When we last saw Detective Inspector Sarah Lund she was leaving Copenhagen police station with her tail between her legs, having been unable to prevent Theis Birk Larsen shooting his daughter’s killer stone cold dead. Someone had to take the fall for not apprehending Nanna Birk Larsen’s murderer sooner, and with Lund already in the dog house following the death of Detective Inspector Jan Meyer, the shoe fit.
Two years after the events of season one, the body of a woman is discovered in a war memorial park. The corpse belongs to Anne Dragsholm, a military lawyer, viciously stabbed to death, but not before she was tied to a chair and videotaped reading a message about the hypocritical nature of the Danish government. The only other accompaniment to the murder is half a soldier’s dog tag left with the body.
Just from this opening it was obvious that The Killing II was going to be quite a different beast to its predecessor. The killing in question this time around already had the feeling of something on a much grander scale than the death of Nanna Birk Larsen, which we know now was revealed to be routed in a deeply personal motive. In fact, one of the biggest differences between seasons one and two of the show was that due to having only half the number of episodes, the second jettisoned one of the core elements of the first, that of focussing a portion of the story on the victim's family.
The victim’s family in the case of Anne Dragsholm turns out to be her husband who forcibly confesses to her murder. Before this happens though, DCI Lennart Brix (one of very few returning characters) sends his new Detective Inspector Ulrik Strange to locate Sarah Lund and enlist her help with the case. Our first encounter with Lund in The Killing II could not be more different than her first appearance in season one. Then a woman on the verge of a new and stable life in Sweden, Lund has now been reduced to a passport controller in Southern Denmark.
It becomes instantly clear that Lund’s obsession with the case of Nanna Birk Larsen has completely devastated her to the point that she has shut herself away from her family. Her taking of a job well beneath her level of expertise is telling that she has lost a great deal of confidence in her abilities as a policewoman. It is only after Lund hears of the confession of Dragsholm’s husband that her interest in helping is piqued. This is the beginning of the re-emergence of the Sarah Lund we know, the woman who sees things a little bit differently to everyone else and just can’t bear to let those nagging thoughts go. It’s on with a fetching new red jumper, and back to Copenhagen.
And it’s not before time either. No sooner is Lund on the case than a second body shows up, throat slashed with a soldier's dog tags. What forms the first of The Killing II’s major plot strands is the hunt for a very organised and deadly killer. Someone is offing members of a Danish military unit who were caught up in a controversial incident in Afghanistan a number of years earlier. It seems that Islamic extremists are behind the deaths. Do we buy that? No way. Neither does Sarah Lund.
One member of said unit is so in fear of his life that he breaks out of a mental hospital at the end of episode two. Jens Peter Raben is adamant that a sole officer known as Perk was responsible for the slaughter of civilians that the unit witnessed in Afghanistan. As the bodies start to pile up, the investigation takes Lund and new associate Strange to the rural islands of Denmark and into Afghanistan itself. Lund couldn’t find a desert camouflage jumper so settles for traditional BDUs.
The return of The Killing does keep its political edge with its second storyline. It could be said that the nature of the investigation is a lot more politically inclined for this series but there is another plot strand that once again involves those in political office. Thomas Buch has just been appointed Minister for Justice, though immediately we feel like he’s out of his depth and fumbling in the dark. Over the course of the season Buch comes to realise that he may be being a scapegoat for his predecessor’s involvement in covering up military operations in Afghanistan. Might this all be related to the murders that Lund and co are investigating?
Although the plot of The Killing II did not encompass a third storyline, it had to be crammed into half as many episodes which means it moves at the speed of a rollercoaster. The multiple victim pile up leads to the investigation never seeming to have time to stand still. As a result, this season is every bit as gripping as the first. The story might not strike quite as an emotional nerve with its audience this time around, but the edge of the seat writing is as present as ever. That feeling of 'one episode is never enough' is just as prevalent.
In season one, we watched Detective Inspector Sarah Lund head towards a dark place where she had cut herself off from everyone who cared for her and ended up with nothing. As a result, when we join her in season two, she is already the disconnected individual, and it shows with her conduct into the investigation from the very beginning. Her behaviour towards DI Strange when he first meets her is just downright rude.
Perhaps because of the fewer episodes, we don’t see as much interaction between Lund and her mother and son in this season. The fiancé we presume is long gone. Her son seems to have almost accepted that his mother is not going to be there for him but actually seems happier for it, as though he is relieved to know one way or the other if he can rely upon her. Her mother appears to still be holding out hope for her daughter and seems genuinely pleased just to see her in one piece when she returns to Copenhagen. In the first season where she would have shown despair though, she seems to just accept events when Lund leaves her wedding to attend to the case.
During season one of The Killing Detective Inspector Jan Meyer was a character that the audience could take to its heart. As Lund’s partner, Meyer was the voice of reason and we could feel his frustration with Lund’s methods, even if we were routing for him to go along with them. DI Ulrik Strange fills the partner role in this series though he isn’t as easy to warm to as Meyer. Strange seems cut from the same mould as Lund, which is why, for a time at least, the story threatens to take their relationship beyond the professional. It’s an odd moment for The Killing II when Strange takes Lund home and asks her if she’d like to “invite him in for cake.”
The chemistry between Sofie Gråbøl, reprising her role as Sarah Lund and Mikael Birkkjær, who plays Strange, is as excellent as it was between Lund and Meyer, but in a different way. Strange seems more amused than exasperated by Lund. You get the feeling that he might actually be able to break Lund’s defences, if only she’d give him a chance.
The Killing II takes a different approach again with its lead character in the political side of the story. Thomas Buch is a guy that we feel we can immediately like. Whereas Troels Hartmann in season one had a distrustful air about him from the very beginning, you get a sense straight away that Buch is a good guy. He’s just been handed a very difficult job – to get an anti-terrorist bill through parliament while someone is killing soldiers on Danish soil.
Nicolas Bro plays such a likeable character in Buch that we always feel on his side. We know that he’s being bullied by those around him, though we may not be quite sure who. Like Jan Meyer is season one, he’s a family man and we briefly get to see how events affect this. The programme needs to have characters like Buch and Meyer in it. As much as we love Lund, the show would be poorer is it didn’t have these touches of normality.
The final big player in The Killing II is Ken Vedsegaard’s military staff sergeant Jens Peter Raben. As mentioned earlier, Raben is so disturbed by the killings that he breaks out of his mental hospital, where he is recovering from the traumas his unit encountered in Afghanistan, to conduct an investigation of his own. It’s Raben whom the police are so desperate to detain as he seems to know more about what is going on than anybody else. But does he? Or is he just nuts? Even his own wife doesn’t seem to know as he rushes from one victim to the next in a bid to warn them of the danger they’re in.
Vedsegaard plays Raben with just the right balance between madness and desperation. He is the character that drives much of The Killing II’s story along. He brings some pretty major reveals to the plot but because he’s been portrayed so well, neither the audience or Lund and co know whether to believe him.
In the first season of The Killing we were presented with a whodunnit of labyrinth like proportions. In The Killing II, we got a high end, near political, serial killer thriller. There were more than enough red herrings, mysteries and reveals to keep any fan of the first season satisfied but this time we were also dealing with a killer who was an out and out psychotic. Some of the deaths this time were pretty nasty, horror movie type stuff.
The season could almost have been tag lined 'Sarah Lund Strikes Back'. The show chronicled her re-emergence from the shadow she’d become, albeit maybe a little quickly, and we got to see Sofie Gråbøl as the character we have come to relish over the course of the show. Given the outcome of The Killing II and Lund’s parting 'I told you so' look to her superior Brix, it will be very interesting to see where the character is at the start of the upcoming season three.
The return of The Killing left no fan complaining. It didn’t bring back former characters for guest appearances (there was barely a mention of the name Birk Larsen), it was in no way a rehash. It took its central character and moved her forward through a storyline that was every bit as gripping as ever. Most fans would probably say that they preferred the previous season overall, maybe because of the emotional connection they felt with the Birk Larsen family, few none would deny that this season was anything less than brilliant.
The third season of The Killing will be the last hurrah for Sarah Lund and is said to focus the financial world, indicating that this will be again a markedly different storyline to seasons one and two. Perhaps with Lund going up against the bankers she may well encounter individuals with a colder attitude than herself? Better dig out the jumpers now...
Read James' look-back at series one of The Killing, here.
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