The Killing: On/Off The Reservation

One of the ways that The Killing has chosen to adapt Forbrydelsen, its Danish source, to an American context is to draw from the genre western. That has become particularly apparent, for both good and bad, in recent episodes that have focused on the casino and lands of the Kalimish Tribe and their corrupt and powerful chief Nicole Jackson (played by Claudia Ferri). The difficulty of working against the constraints of investigating a crime on the tribe’s land (they do represent another sovereign nation after all) add further complications and tensions to the efforts of detectives Holder and Linden. However, the portrayal of the Kalimish (a fictional tribe, as far as I can determine) is not going to win any awards for the producers of The Killing for positive portrayals of American Indians.

The actors playing the most significant members of the Kalimish (the ones with the majority of the speaking parts) are mostly played by actors without indigenous backgrounds (as far as I can determine from various internet bio searches), with the exception of Q’orianka Kilcher, who plays the maid Mary, a friend of Rosie’s who arranges to meet with Detective Holder and who provides a crucial piece of evidence (Rosie’s missing backpack). We have a brief appearance by Tantoo Cardinal (a Canadian actress of Cree descent), and while it’s always good to see this actress in a role, she plays a prostitute at the Casino who tries to pick up Holder, and the primary element of that character is that she’s too old to be attractive as a prostitute. Cardinal is currently on stage playing Regan in an all-aboriginal production of King Lear, a performance that has received excellent reviews. Why waste Tantoo Cardinal on such a minor role in The Killing?

The Kalimish are mysterious and clannish, and “sovereignty” as it’s portrayed in The Killing means little more than a cover for various illegal activities. Holder is taken out into the woods and severely beaten, and the Kalimish use their sovereign status to complicate the Linden’s efforts to find her partner in time to save his life.

On the other hand, the Kalimish are in keeping with The Killing‘s more generally noirish view of the world: all groups, from politicians to policemen to moving truck business owners, are potentially corrupt, and the only hope for justice in this world of corruption is for the few individuals like Linden who are willing to ignore politics and seek out the truth whatever the cost. However, one of the elements of The Killing that I have liked thus far is the willingness to go against television dramatic norms and conventions—and the portrayal of the Kalimish, at least thus far, seems very much in keeping with those conventions rather than challenging them.


The Killing (Season 2)

When we last left The Killing, America was in an uproar. How dare the season end on a cliffhanger and not reveal the murderer of Rosie Larsen? Disgruntled viewers, it seems, have decided to “punish” the show for daring to do something unexpected, and the ratings for the second season have shown a distinct falloff from the previous year—which is a shame, as The Killing remains one of the most compelling crime dramas on television, with outstanding acting, with an admirable willingness to depart from the by-the-numbers formulaic approach of most tv crime dramas, and, with, for anyone interested in western literature and culture, a beautifully composed mise-en-scene that includes lots of location and exterior shooting that takes full advantage of the unique landscape and seascape of the Pacific northwest.

Season 2 starts where season 1 left off, with detective Sarah Lund realizing that the surveillance photograph placing mayoral candidate Darren Richmond on a bridge near where Rosie’s body was found had been faked. Richmond himself has been shot by Larsen employee Belko—who believes he is avenging Rosie’s murder. Belko himself commits suicide in custody, and Richmond is left paralyzed. So, the consequences of faking the photograph of Richmond are quite significant—especially as Richmond finally reveals his whereabouts on the night of Rosie’s death (and Lund finds a collaborating witness), and it becomes quite clear with the first few episodes of the new season that he is not Rosie’s murderer.

Interestingly, the assassination attempt on Richmond is where The Killing begins to depart sharply from Forbrydelsen, the Danish television series that the American show is based on. The first 12 episodes of The Killing follows its source fairly closely, with some departures occasioned by the change to the American context. The first 8 episodes of The Killing‘s second season are completely different in terms of plot from the original series. The Richmond character is not paralyzed or shot in Forbrydelsen, Mitch Larsen (Rosie’s mother) does not leave the family to go off on her on. And the Belko character in Forbrydelsen becomes a prime suspect, and large sections of the last half of the series focus on investigating his possible involvement. I suppose death does not necessarily rule him out as a suspect (he could, after all, have killed himself as much in remorse for the murder of Rosie), but that would lead to a very different dynamic than following and investigating a living suspect.

It was also good to see Sofie Gråbøl, Forbrydelsen‘s Sarah Lund, in a cameo as Deputy Attorney Christina Niilsen—an appropriate homage to the actress who first put on one of Sarah Lund’s distinctive sweaters. Mireille Enos, who plays The Killing‘s version of Sarah, does a great job in the role, but Sofie Gråbøl’s Lund is one of the great character portrayals in television history. The Killing‘s Sarah is a little more fragile, and is more human and more humane, and those are by no means bad qualities, but Gråbøl’s Lund is another order of being, an uncanny observational and deductive force of nature. Like Sherlock Holmes, she’s not quite a fully functioning (or fully socialized) human being, and it’s that slight sense of separateness and otherness that makes her a compelling (if not always sympathetic) figure.

Hell on Wheels takes the prize

Hell on Wheels: Season 2 in production

From the Calgary Herald, an update on the filming (just started) of the second season of Hell on Wheels (click on the excerpt to go to full article):

Shot on the Tsuu T’ina Nation last year, the look of Season 1 was at least partially defined by the big-skied wonder of Alberta’s wilderness, despite being shot just 10 minutes outside of Calgary. It was also defined, at least for cast and crew, by some ill-tempered weather that rained down on the production and made the already-hellish tent city even more hellish.

The production returned last week to a new Alberta location, with bigger sets and an even darker story that will continue to follow the men and women who built the Transcontinental Railroad as it snakes further west, an enterprise that was dangerous, dramatic and marred by political corruption and racism.

New this year, however, is the location, which will allow for even bigger sets than the sprawling, filthy tent city and movable, smoke-billowing train that was built last year. Calgary producer Chad Oakes of Nomadic Pictures said cast and crew are busy filming at an expansive location 30 minutes southeast of the city along the Bow River. He said interior shots will be done at a 56,000-square-foot makeshift studio in Calgary’s northeast near the airport. Season 2’s 10 episodes are expected to take 80 days to finish, employing anywhere from 130 to 160 crew members and as many as 300 extras per episode, Oakes says.

More racial strife, scarier battles with the Native Americans and a further development of the prickly relationship between Elam and Cullen will also be on full display in Season 2 he says. “We want to escalate the danger of Hell on Wheels, the danger of building this railroad,” he says. “It was a race against the rival Central Pacific. It was basically an urban slum on the Prairie and people died daily. Not only was it a tough job and the railway work very dangerous, but the town itself was very dangerous. That’s our No. 1 priority this year, to make it a bigger, badder Hell on Wheels that our characters have to swim through and deal with.”


In Plain Sight: Ending Well

The final episodes of In Plain Sight demonstrated how to end a series well. Some old favorite characters returned for cameos (Mary’s former fiancée Raphael, as well as Jinx and Brandi, both of whom have been absent for most of the season, and we hadn’t seen Brandi since she ran out on her own wedding at the end of the previous season). Some things we have been waiting for played out finally—Mary’s family-abandoning father finally returned, and Mary seems on the path to resolving her abandonment issues. And some things we didn’t even know we had been waiting five years for, happened–I mean, who knew that we had been anxiously waiting to see Marshall in drag performing a Donna Summer song? I didn’t, but the moment I saw it, I knew, I had been waiting for just this moment. Thank you, In Plain Sight, for giving it to me.

And some things that I was dreading because that might happen–didn’t. I have long appreciated In Plain Sight for not turning the admittedly special relationship/partnership/friendship between Mary and Marshall into yet another “will they or won’t they” romance. In Plain Sight resisted using the series finale to bring Mary and Marshall together as a couple. Marshall did declare his love for Mary, in a beautifully staged “balcony scene,” but he did so in a way that encapsulated the unusual nature of their best-friendship and that re-affirmed both Marshall’s committment to his romantic relationship with Abigail and that allowed both he and Mary to express their deep affection for one another.

The end was also presented as a new beginning, with Stan going off to Washington as a WitSec director, and Marshall being promoted to take his place in Albuquerque. Brandi, it seems, is very very pregnant, so there’s another new beginning, with the sisters making plans to join together to take care of their children. Mary invites her single-parent dad boy friend to a group dinner, suggesting another new beginning.

Also, Mary’s bank robber father was allowed to make his exit in a blaze of western glory. In an episode that began with Marshall and Mary discussing Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, “Sacrificial Lam” ended with a shootout that recalls the final moments of Butch and Sundance in George Hill’s famous 1969 western. “All’s Well that Ends,” states the title of the final episode, and that’s true enough, but it’s even better when the end is also as satisfying and as well done as the final episodes of this excellent series.

New Contemporary Western