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.

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