So, hopefully I’ve sold you on Sarah Lund and the Danish TV series Forbrydelsen now.
But what about that US remake, The Killing?
Instead of Sarah Lund in Copenhagen, we get Sarah Linden in Seattle. The entire adaptation switches between creating an exact, scene-by-scene, shot-by-shot replica of the original, and veering off in sometimes hard to understand directions.Not only has Sarah changed nationality, much of her personality and motivation has changed. She still wears the sweaters and the raincoats, and she still has her trademark ‘do not give a fuck’ attitude.
But. The US version amps up Sarah’s flaws. As mentioned, Lund unravels spectacularly in the Danish show. Linden does the same - even more so - but for some reason the US writers chose to inject some new facts, to ‘explain’ her.
First of all, the AMC show introduces the idea that she has previously become unhealthily obsessed with a murder case, and (spoilers coming up!), that meant she almost lost custody of her son. The show hints that Linden has been institutionalized before - ironically, in the Danish show Lund has to fake a psychiatric report saying she’s unstable.
Linden is also portrayed as growing up in a series of foster homes, and the woman the audience assumes to be her mother turns out to be her social worker. If you were just making a detective show from scratch, that might be interesting - to show a character who has gone through the system herself, and is now part of the system. And yet, it’s really hard for me to understand why, presented with the awesomeness of Lund and her trademark self-possession, the US writers chose to do this. It seems like they didn’t have enough confidence in the character and they needed to add layers of backstory and angst to spell out that Linden is a great detective but just cannot cope. Perhaps it’s also a lack of confidence in the audience.
You might rightly argue that mostly I’m objecting to this because The Killing messed with a much-beloved character; this is going to be how Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans feel when the new movie comes out.
But then we have the ‘Muslim Sub-Plot’. In both versions, the victim’s Muslim schoolteacher comes under suspicion for the murder. The Danish version adds a fairly preposterous red herring, but the US adaptation slathers on an extra couple of problematic layers by adding terrorism and female genital mutilation in the Somali community.
Early on in the investigation, Sarah Linden and her partner visit a mosque. The imam confronts them with the fact that a local Muslim girl has gone missing and her case has received nowhere near the attention of the murder they are investigating, of a white teenage girl.
Obviously, this hasn’t been pulled out of nowhere: it’s a serious problem, in real life and pop culture. Programs like The Killing (and Twin Peaks, the show we’re meant to draw comparisons with) mimic real life, and put a huge amount of emphasis on finding the killer of one white attractive teenage girl. An American may have a better grasp on this than me, but it seems like these long-form detective shows, which concentrate on solving one murder across a season - rather than a new case each week - are relatively rare. So this makes it extra interesting the sort of victim that the producers and writers chose to portray.
A throwaway line is a cursory way to treat this serious issue, and it doesn’t really undercut the fact that The Killing is replicating the same dynamic yet again. In the end, we discover the girl isn’t even missing; she’s run away from home because her family wants to put her through forced marriage. The Danish version does this too, but the US producers obviously didn’t think this was shocking enough, or bundled together enough issues, because they make her much younger (a young teenager), plus her parents also want to subject her to FGM. By the way, she’s the only woman from the Somali community who gets screen time, and she barely has a speaking role.
With this brisk treatment, then, we can get back to obsessing over the white girl’s death. It left me with one big question: if the writers wanted to address this issue, which, yes, television should be doing…why did they not change the race and/or ethnicity of the victim and her family? This would have genuinely added something new to the adaptation and allowed the writers to expand on issues that are given such a cursory treatment.
And that’s before we even get to the Native American casino twist; I can’t wait to see where they go with that in season two.
The adaptation has other problems, which I won’t go into because they more about plotting and pacing than politics (AOL’s TV blogger Mo Ryan called the finale a “melodramatic crapfest”). As I mentioned in my last post, I do have to say that plenty of people still love the show and it’s been showered with Emmy nominations. Perhaps these issues will be better addressed in the next season.