THE KILLING: Comparing The Danish Show To The American Show

Crime writer Ed Brubaker weighs in on the differences and similarities between AMC’s THE KILLING and FORBRYDELSEN, the Danish show that inspired it.

Eisner Award winner Ed Brubaker writes the monthly adventures of Captain America, but he also has written some of the best crime comics of recent years. Titles like Lowlife and Criminal chronicle the lawbreakers while his work on books like Gotham Central chronicled the cops.

Fair warning—this match-up will likely be unfair, because Forbrydelsen (the Danish show that AMC’s The Killing is based on) is my favorite cop show since The Wire. Also, I live in Seattle, where The Killing takes place, but wasn’t filmed. So I was probably always the wrong audience for The Killing.

But here are some side-by-side comparisons, and some general thoughts:

1. The ending. This is what most of the outraged US fans might be most interested to learn. What is now known as Forbrydelsen season one, was originally going to be broadcast as two seasons. It began in January of 2007 in Denmark, and quickly became the most popular TV show on the air. It ran for ten weeks, then ended with an enormous game-changing cliff-hanger… and Danish fans were outraged that they’d have to wait ten months for the next season to solve this mystery. Apparently the network got so much angry email from viewers that they immediately went back into production, and launched what is now considered the “second half” of season one that September.

So… The Danish show got their fans just as angry with a cliffhanger ending instead of a solution.

Side note: Forbrydelson 2, as it next season was called, picks up two years later and follows a completely different case, which is solved in ten episodes.

2. The murders. In Forbrydelsen, the victim is Nanna Birk Larsen, who becomes Rosie Larsen in the US version. Nanna and Rosie’s stories are pretty close—the costume party at school, the sex room in the school basement, the secrets. And the Birk Larsen family is a lot like the Larsen family in the US version. They run a moving business, have two other kids, the wife has a screw-up sister who knows more than she’s saying. Rosie and Nanna are both raped, chased through the woods, and drowned in the truck of a car connected to a local political campaign. In fact, the opening scenes of both shows, the girl running through the woods being chased by the unseen figure with the flashlight, are nearly identical.

Really, the first episode of the US version, overall, is about 80 percent the same as the Danish version.

3. The detectives. Both Sarahs begin the season about to leave their job, to move with their fiancé and son to somewhere else – in Forbrydelsen, it’s to Sweden, in The Killing, it’s to Sonoma. Both get too wrapped up in the case to ever leave… but Sarah Lund and Sarah Linden are not at all the same character. That was obvious from the first moments of meeting Sarah Linden, in a scene almost exactly like our first meeting of Lund. Linden smiles, cracks jokes, and constantly chews gum. She’s pretty and has a personality of some sort. That’s not Sarah Lund.

Lund is a homicide cop with every fiber of her being, and you see it in every move and bad decision she makes. She doesn’t smile, she doesn’t make jokes, and her intensity burns like a roman candle behind her eyes. She doesn’t have good hair, and she doesn’t wear make-up. She has less dialog than anyone else in the show, and yet she is your hero. Sarah Lund is my favorite TV cop since Jimmy McNulty.

And Sophie Grabol, who plays her, is one of my favorite actresses. She lives and breathes that role, her quiet intensity drives her every move. Lund’s problem is she pursues every lead no matter the consequences. She has no fear, just a drive to uncover the truth. There’s a great scene where she leaves her mother’s wedding reception to go check out a new lead, and her mother actually apologizes for her, knowing that’s just what she’s like. She can’t stay and toast her mother and her new husband when she could be tracking down a killer.

Mirielle Enos does a great job with what she’s given, but Linden isn’t yet as deep as Lund, and she’s too young to be a case-hardened homicide cop.

4. The partner. In Forbrydelsen, Lund is forced to partner with Jan Meyer, the guy being transferred in to take her place. They don’t get along, because Meyer is a jock asshole, and Lund doesn’t give a shit about anyone but dead people. Over the course of the season, one day at a time, they develop a grudging friendship, when Meyer realizes Lund is the best cop he’s ever worked with. And Meyer, while you don’t like him much at first, grows on you, too.

But Detective Holder, Linden’s partner, is probably the least realistic homicide cop I’ve ever seen on TV (at least on a show that claims to be a realistic police procedural). It’s like they wanted to cast Jesse Pinkman from Breaking Bad or something.

And the turns Holder’s character takes are not the same as the turns Meyer took in the original show.

5. The murderer. Early on, the writers of The Killing said their show would move further and further from the original as it went on. They also said the murderer wouldn’t be the same person in the US version as it was in the Danish show, and from what I can tell so far, that’s true.

6. The location. From what my wife tells me (she lived in Denmark for a while) the original was pretty dead on with its representation of Copenhagen. But The Killing never feels like Seattle.

Here’s an example from the finale episode (spoiler alert). At the climax of the show, the last piece of evidence they need to make an arrest is a toll booth photo from Desolation Bridge. Unless they put in that booth in the last year, there’s no toll on that bridge. And while beautiful, Desolation Bridge is not a highly-travelled bridge, so there wouldn’t be.

And where is Discovery Park supposed to be in this version of Seattle? To get to the non- existent country gas station where Rosie leaps from the car and runs into the park, she’d have been driven directly through Ballard, where she lived. Why didn’t she leap out then and run home? You don’t have to be that familiar with Seattle to put this together, you just have to look at a map.

You expect this kind of stuff on TV, and I know I sound like a local who’s just nit-picking. But why set your show in Seattle if you don’t want to pay any attention to the city’s details? Why not just call it Rain City if you’re going to make it all up?

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Now, I don’t want to give you the idea that Forbrydelsen doesn’t have its own problems. But it was a riveting series—at times a procedural, at times a political mystery, and at times a scary as hell crime thriller. Every two or three episodes there was a major twist or some rug-yanking incident. It kept you on the edge.

But there were too many suspects, and all of them felt like “the one” until they suddenly weren’t and maybe it was one of the previous suspects after all. There were probably a few too many plot twists over the 20 episodes. But you didn’t care because Sarah Lund was your hero. She was the glue that held all the plot threads together.

Make no mistake, there was a lot of smart writing and great performances on The Killing, and friends of mine who never saw the original loved the US version. And I will most likely be watching again next year, because AMC makes some of the best shows on television right now. Until then, I’d recommend anyone with an all-region DVD player order the original show and sit down for 20 hours of great cop drama.

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