An attractive young woman is murdered: the investigation into her death exposes deep corruption among the local power elites, and pushes those tasked with finding her killer into emotional meltdown. I’m talking, of course, about Forbrydelsen, aka The Killing, the Danish TV noir that’s made Fair Isle jumpers almost cool.
But it’s also the basic plot of Twin Peaks: for Nanna Birk Larsen in the boot of a car, read Laura Palmer in a plastic sheet; for Sarah Lund’s obsession for justice, there’s Dale Cooper’s descent into doughnut-fuelled madness. The two shows also share a structure in which each episode represents one day in the investigation. And the inevitable US remake of The Killing transfers the action from Copenhagen to Washington state, the setting for Lynch’s deranged masterpiece.
Talking of remakes, remember State of Play? A journalist played by John Simm (or, if you prefer, Russell Crowe) finds his loyalties torn when Sonia, the researcher/lover of his politician friend David Morrissey (or Ben Affleck), dies in mysterious circumstances, with all fingers pointing to a ruthless conspiracy of government and business interests.
State of Play in turn was clearly influenced by the 80s drama Edge of Darkness, in which a policeman, Craven, played by Bob Peck (Mel Gibson in the unnecessary remake) seeks the killer of his activist daughter; the money/power nexus in this case having modish nuclear overtones, which combine with Craven’s own grief and obsession, and ultimately destroy him. The writer’s original intention, to have Craven demonstrate his eco-credentials by turning into a tree, was thwarted in the broadcast version, but is it too fanciful to see this as a precursor to Lynch’s Log Lady?
And, for the real geeks, how about the first season of Steven Bochco’s Murder One, in which the death of 15-year-old party girl Jessica Costello draws unwelcome attention to the activities of too-smooth plutocrat Richard Cross (Stanley Tucci) and ultimately wrecks the marriage of attorney Ted Hoffman (Daniel Benzali)? Like Twin Peaks, Murder One was ultimately stymied by the network’s convinction that viewers didn’t have the intelligence and/or attention span to follow such a complex plot; in common with The Killing, later episodes begin with a plot recap that actually confuses more than it explains.
Several other things unite the five shows. One is the definite sense of place in each one: the rainy, dark glumness of Copenhagen; the lonely claustrophobia of Twin Peaks; London’s grimy bustle; the Yorkshire Moors and their brutal beauty; the nasty gloss of Los Angeles. Partly because of this, the identity of the killer isn’t ultimately the most important thing in any of the stories. Like the inhabitants of David Simon’s Baltimore, or Thomas Hardy’s Wessex, the victims and killers and investigators and avengers are essentially the playthings of their environment.
And in each of the five narratives, the victim is barely a character in her own right: each woman exists simply to be killed, like a virgin bred for sacrifice. Only Emma Craven (Joanne Whalley), in Edge of Darkness, has a chance to register her own identity before she is gunned down. And yet each one reaches out beyond the grave: Nanna, Sonia and Jessica have each been captured on video, offering significant evidence to those seeking to solve their murders; Emma reappears in ghostly form, like an incestuous Cathy to her father’s brooding Heathcliff; and Laura Palmer reappears in the guise of her doppelganger cousin, Maddy Ferguson. (Apparently, Lynch cast Sheryl Lee as Laura simply because she made a good-looking corpse, but then created the character of Maddy when it turned out she could act as well.)
So, if it’s all been done before, what’s so groundbreaking about The Killing? Must be that jumper after all.