Who killed Rosie Larsen?
That's the question expected to keep the public hanging for the next three months on AMC's The Killing. Launching April 3 for a 13-week run, the dark drama series follows the police investigation of a teenaged murder victim in agonizingly methodical detail. Those viewers accustomed to the quick CSI-style resolution will be have to learn to be patient.
"This is slow-burn storytelling," said executive producer Veena Sud at the TV critics tour in Los Angeles. "Each episode follows a single day in the investigation, but our series is not just about solving a murder; it's also about the ripple effect Rosie's death has on everyone left behind. It's very real, and very disturbing."
The definition of commitment viewing, The Killing is in accord with the AMC formula of unorthodox dramas that began in 2007 with Mad Men and has been followed in succession by Breaking Bad, Rubicon and last year's hugely popular The Walking Dead.
While those AMC series were more or less original creations - The Walking Dead was adapted from a comic-book series - The Killing is a remake of the Danish drama Forbrydelsen (which translates literally into "The Crime"). The original series was a ratings sensation on Scandinavian television when first broadcast in 2007, and then again in Britain when rebroadcast by the BBC in subtitled form last year. Although the AMC version uses Forbrydelsen as a template, the story has been tweaked for an American viewing audience.
"We're using the Danish series as our blueprint," said Sud, who wrote the first episode, "but our take is not a literal translation of the story. We're diverging and creating our own world of suspects."
Filmed last year in Vancouver, passing this time as Seattle, The Killing gets off to a decidedly grim start. The opening episode documents the drowning death of Rosie Larsen, a seemingly normal 17-year-old high-schooler without an enemy in the world. From there, The Killing splits into three parallel stories.
The most powerful plotline details the impact of Rosie's death on her working-class parents Stan and Mitch, played by Brent Sexton and Michelle Forbes, who are naturally devastated.
"It was vital to show the grief of Rosie's family," said Sud, a former show-runner on the CBS crime drama Cold Case. "We wanted to show what happens in the moments and the hours and the days after you've lost a child. What it's like to pick out a dress, to identify your child at the morgue. What it's like to make breakfast for her younger brothers the next morning."
At the same time, the show closely tracks the personal story of homicide detective Sarah Linden, played by Mireille Enos, seen most recently portraying twin sisters on HBO's Big Love. The sombre police veteran is handed the case mere days before she's scheduled to leave Seattle and move with her young son to California, where she plans to marry her fiancé and start a new life. Instead, she's immediately obsessed with finding Rosie's killer.
"The timing of the case is certainly unfortunate for Sarah," Enos said during the TV tour. "She's a deeply intelligent and deeply private woman, with an uncanny intuition for her work. Just when she's on the verge of finding happiness, she finds herself being slowly drawn into this horrific murder, almost against her will."
The Killing's third storyline focuses on the character of local politician Darren Richmond, played by Bill Campbell, who previously starred in the series Once and Again and the miniseries The 4400. The early stages of the police investigation point to Richmond possibly being complicit in Rosie's murder, which is more bad timing, since he's in the middle of a mayoralty campaign.
"Richmond is a slick character, no question," said Campbell in L.A. "He's your typical political animal and he knows that having his name come up in this investigation could completely derail his career. It's entirely likely he has something to hide, although it's not what most people think it is."
The Killing is not the first TV series to draw out the whodunit over an entire season. Back in 1991, Twin Peaks sustained the question of "Who killed Laura Palmer?" over the course of an entire season. The legal drama Murder One did likewise in 1995, chronicling a high-profile murder case. Both series eventually revealed the killer.
Similarly, the original series Forbrydelsen revealed the killer at the end of its first season, and then went on to document another murder case for its second series (the third series is currently in production). Obviously anyone with a computer is capable of discovering who killed Rosie Larsen in the Danish edition, but those viewers seeking spoilers for the AMC version could be sorely disappointed by the denouement.
"There's no guarantee the guilty party will be the same person," said Sud cryptically. "We're following the story organically and we'll do what feels right… Whether or not it gets solved at the end of the season is a mystery."
The Killing launches April 3 at 9 p.m. ET on AMC.