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Series / Forbrydelsen

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Sarah Lund in that sweater, flanked by the major figures of the first season's case.

This is the entry for the Danish-language TV series known in English as The Killing. If you're looking for the American remake, go here.

A tale of murder, politics and knitwear, Forbrydelsen (first season 2007, second 2009, third and final 2012), literally translated as "The Crime", but known in English as The Killing was a crime drama produced by State Broadcaster DR.

The first season, set in Copenhagen, focuses on the murder of Nanna Birk Larsen, a 19-year-old Danish schoolgirl. Each episode of twenty focuses on one day in the investigation, from three different perspectives:

Detective Inspector Sarah Lund (Sofie Gråbøl), a dour moody woman who likes wearing Faroese sweaters, is about to move to Sweden with her boyfriend, but decides to stick around and work with her replacement, Jan Meyer, to solve the crime.

Troels Hartmann is trying to become Lord Mayor of Copenhagen, when his campaign gets connected to the murder and his own activities come under scrutiny.

Theis and Pernille Birk Larsen, Nanna's parents, have to come to terms with the murder of their daughter. Their decisions will shape their lives and those of others.

The second season is set two years later and revolves around the Danish military. Lund, having been exiled to a passport control job, is called back to Copenhagen when Afghanistan veterans start getting bumped off in gruesome ways, creating a panic over Islamist terrorism. Meanwhile, new Justice Minister Thomas Buch is trying to get a new anti-terror bill through parliament, while trying to find out just what was going on with his ill predecessor.

In the third season, Lund is trying to get a less stressful administrative job in the police, but finds her old obsessions growing again when the discovery of a dead body by a dockside turns out to be the forerunner to the kidnapping of the young daughter of a shipping magnate, which appears to be connected to the rape and murder of a schoolgirl years before.

A massive hit in Denmark (a third of the population turned in for the first season finale and the second half of the season was brought forward), when shown in the UK on BBC4, got rave reviews, huge audiences for the channel and won the 2011 International BAFTA. It has become a Trope Codifier of the Nordic Noir genre and combined with Engrenages opened the floodgates for subtitled shows in the British market.

This show contains examples of:

  • Alas, Poor Yorick: The scene where Sarah holds a skull in an Afghan house. It is clearly that of a child and has a prominent bullet hole in it
  • Amazingly Embarrassing Parents: Lund's mother turns up at the police station to talk in front of Lund's colleagues about her student love life and how her son doesn't want her in his life.
    • In series one, when Troels stops by Lund's apartment to talk about the latest issues with the case, her mother assumes he's a reporter or the coroner and dragoons him into helping fold a tablecloth. She's genuinely oblivious he's the leading candidate for mayor of the capital of Denmark. (For his part Troels goes along with it and doesn't say anything until Lund tells her mother off.)
  • Bait-and-Switch: The engine that the drove the show's narrative, especially in season one. It systematically raised pretty much every major character (except for Lund and her partner) as potential suspects in the murder, and then systematically ruled them all out for one reason or another, making the climactic reveal all the more shocking.
  • Big Bad: The killers of every season.
    • Season 1: The murder and rape of Nanna Birk Larsen is a traumatic event for many, especially her parents Theis and Pernille. Therefore things get disturbing when the killer turns out to be Theis' best friend Vagn Skærbeck, who killed Nanna because of such a petty reason that he was attracted to her, and was furious she would choose a "Paki" over him. Whether or not he committed more murders is never truly confirmed.
    • Season 2: A bunch of Afghan veterans die one by one, and the killer is instantly shown to be some sort of Islamist. However, things go deeper than that, when the killer is revealed as Inspector Ulrik Strange, who committed an atrocity that killed a bunch of innocents during during his time as a member of the Jaeger Corps in the war, and kills the veterans to prevent it from coming out. He nearly manages to murder Lund as well in the end after realizing the truth.
    • Season 3: Niels Reinhardt, Robert Zeuthen's personal assistant, is actually a pedophile who raped and killed the victims in the season but has managed to hide it for a very long time. If Lund hadn't executed him at the end, he probably would have continued.
  • Big Eater: Meyer is frequently seen stuffing his face, usually with junk food. Ditto Buch.
  • Bluffing the Murderer: On Strange in the second season, and unsuccessfully on Reinhardt in the third.
  • Bulletproof Vest: Utilized by Lund in the ending of the second season.
  • Can't Get Away with Nuthin': Lund, whose tirelessness and indeed success record as a detective is appreciated by almost no-one in the show, least of all her superiors, who routinely take her off cases, reassign, demote or otherwise punish her for relatively trivial procedural offences. One can only assume that if there had been a fourth season, it would have culminated in her being assassinated by a Danish intelligence black ops team for having incompletely filed some paperwork. There's also the little matter of her murdering a guy, but he was a serial rapist and murderer of teenage girls who was going to escape conviction.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Gilsfort, who gave Reinhardt an alibi for the time of Louise Hjelby's murder so the investigation wouldn't reflect badly on Zeeland corporation. He's entirely indifferent to if Reinhardt is guilty or not.
  • Consistent Clothing Style: Sarah Lund always wears a Fairisle sweater and jeans. She changes which sweater depending on the day. (It crosses over with Limited Wardrobe in the seasons themselves, when she doesn't change frequently, but she also maintains the exact same style throughout 3 seasons.)
  • Crusading Widow: The kidnapper in the third season appears to be trying to avenge the murder of his daughter.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Lund was one in season one, as was Meyer, as seen when they're first paired up and she lays out her rules about how there's no smoking or eating crisps in the car.
    Meyer: Any preferences for underwear?
    Lund: Clean.
  • Defective Detective: Lund is a great detective but an emotionally constipated person, even before the events of the series pile on the emotional trauma.
  • Detective Mole: In the second season, Strange, Lund's new sidekick, is the killer.
  • The Determinator: Lund will do pretty much anything to solve a case, often putting herself in a lot of danger to do so. Deconstructed in that she doesn't force herself to go on investigating; it's as if she can't help herself, and her all-consuming need to solve the case will always take priority over the needs of everyone else in her life.
  • Donut Mess with a Cop: Averted. Quite often, the detectives are too busy to eat at all; Lund frequently misses dinners cooked by her mother and eats them cold when she gets home late. Lund eats Meyer's banana at one point, which annoys him.
  • Dying Clue: As Meyer laid dying after getting shot, his last words were a repeated "Sarah". This causes Internal Affairs to cast their suspicion on Lund, but she points out that her and Meyer were firmly on Last-Name Basis, so if he was accusing her, he would not have done so by calling her "Sarah". Indeed, it turns out that he was actually trying to say "Sarajevo", as it was a prominent part of what was written on his assailant's shirt.
  • Eating Lunch Alone: Actually Eating Dinner Alone: Lund usually doesn't eat anything until she gets home at night, at which point she sits alone in the kitchen eating the cold leftovers of whatever her mother made for dinner.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Vagn Skærbeck is extremely hateable and him raping Nanna and even more so his attraction to her isn't very nice, but he did have a hard time doing it and somewhere down his sociopathic mind he probably does feel regret for doing it.
    • Niels Reinhardt is mentioned to have a wife and grown children despite being a pedophile-rapist.
  • Evil Former Friend: Vagn. And Strange. And Reinhardt. The show likes this. Then subverted with Borch, who is hiding things but genuinely trying to help.
  • Exposition Victim: Lund ends the second season by baiting Strange into shooting her, but then reveals that she was wearing a bullet-proof vest.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: Lund and Meyer slowly head in this direction over the course of the first season. Tragically, he is killed just when they're getting there; just before they head out to the warehouse where he will be shot, he advises her "as your friend" to go home and get some sleep. She ignores him, and her sleep-deprivation leads her into errors of judgement that contribute to his death.
  • First-Name Basis: Borch calls Lund "Sarah" because they had a relationship years ago.
  • Foreshadowing: One clue to the identity of the killer in season one is that when Vagn first meets Theis after Theis has learned that Nanna is dead, and Theis is obviously stunned with grief, Vagn doesn't offer Theis anything by way of sympathy — he just looks a bit uncomfortable, and the only thing he says is "I don't know what to say." Which is of course literally true.
  • Great Detective: Averted. Lund frequently makes mistakes (for example, in season 1, deciding too soon that Kemal must be the killer) and she solves cases not through superior powers of deduction but by her sheer tirelessness, constantly returning to the evidence and going it over it one more time and refusing to give up until she's got a suspect.
  • Heroic BSoD: Lund has one of these when she's told that Meyer has unexpectedly died.
  • Honor Before Reason: Troels remains an on-again, off-again suspect for several episodes, on account of his refusal to account for where he was on the night Nanna got killed. It turns out that he was at his wife's family's cottage, where he was unsuccessfully attempting suicide in a fit of drunken melancholy. Why he thought that that was worse than being charged with rape and murder is a bit of a mystery.
  • Hope Spot: In season 1, after Jens Holck is dead, Theis returns home from his drunken binge and Pernille has returned from almost sleeping with a random guy in a hotel; she's about to admit what happened when he gently lets her know that it doesn't matter, and they're finally reconciled, and then Pernille's sister brings the boys home, and the whole family is reconciled and at peace, because Nanna's killer has been at last identified, and is safely dead. Unfortunately, there are four more episodes to go.
  • Hot for Teacher: The first season is complicated by the victim's sexual attraction to one of her teachers, which was shared by other girls as well.
  • Iconic Outfit: Lund's Faroese sweater in the first season. The Radio Times promoted the second season in the UK with a knitting pattern.
  • The Killer Becomes the Killed: In season 1, Vagn, by Theis. In season 3, Reinhardt, by Lund herself.
  • Knight Templar Parent: The kidnapper in Season 3 is a father trying to solve and avenge his daughter's murder, which was covered up and declared a suicide. He kills several people involved in the cover-up and is prepared to murder an innocent nine-year-old to make her father suffer, but changes his plan to only using her as a hostage when doubts are raised about her father's role.
  • Last-Name Basis: Lund and Meyer. It becomes a plot point when Lund is accused of shooting Meyer, because, as she points out, if he was going to use his last words to accuse her, he wouldn't do so by calling her "Sarah".
  • Let Off by the Detective: Borch tries to do this for Lund after she kills Reinhardt, but quickly realizes there's no story they can give that will be accepted and instead helps her escape the country.
  • Limited Wardrobe: Lund often wears the same clothes three or four days straight. Justified because she gets so engrossed in cases that she just doesn't have time to change.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Lund's boss Buchard in season one. After it takes her only one day to go from some abandoned clothes and a video rental card in a field to finding a body in the trunk of an abandoned car, she is packing up the last of her stuff and about to leave the office when her boss starts reading aloud the gruesome details of how the victim was raped and killed, knowing that as soon as Lund has heard exactly what happened to the victim, she won't be able to just hand the case over to anyone else. It works.
  • Man on Fire: One of the disabled veterans in the second season is gruesomely burned to death in his wheelchair.
  • Married to the Job: Lund doesn't have much time for romance or family. That's not to say that she doesn't try, but she often screws it up by walking out on or ignoring them because she is so focused on a new lead.
  • Modesty Bedsheet: Subverted with Lund in season three; after sleeping with Borch, she wakes up with the sheet pulled up to her chest, then leaves it behind in her hurry to get up.
  • Must Have Nicotine: Lund and Meyer in season one: she pops nicotine gum constantly, he just smokes. Halfway through the season she steals one of his cigarettes and after that he just gives her the packet.
  • New Old Flame: Lund and Borch used to be a couple back when they were in school.
  • No Badass to His Valet: The scene when Lund meets Meyer's wife for the first time says it all, really.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Everyone assumes that Vagn is an idiot. Brix even comments that it's ridiculous that they're questioning him since he clearly couldn't even hammer a nail. It turns out that he's a cunning sociopath who's been using this trope to conceal the fact for most of his life.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Buch, thrown into the ministry to sink or swim, keeps suspecting his new aides of being this and secretly betraying him in his quest for truth. At the very end, it's he who betrays them.
  • Oh, Crap!: Lund has one of these late in season one, when she's alone in a house with a man who has previously been eliminated as a suspect, and looking at the design on his sweatshirt she realises, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that he's the killer—and then she realises that he's just worked out what she's thinking.
    • Repeated with double the threat in the third season: Lund comes across evidence that makes it blatantly clear that the man who she's alone with is probably the man who raped and murdered a teenage girl, at which point the girl's Axe-Crazy father turns up looking for vengeance having come to the same conclusion.
  • Papa Wolf: Theis in season one, although the show depicts this as a really, really bad idea. In season 3, Robert Zeuthen.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: In the very first episode, Vagn is seen calling a man "Paki", and later repeats racial slurs when Theis is beating Kemal, and in the final episode during his Motive Rant he reveals he raped and killed Nanna because he had a crush on her, and he couldn't stand the thought that she loved a West Asian man instead of him.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: All three seasons. Lund always solves the crime, but in season one the murderer is then murdered by the victim's father, who'll go to prison for it; in season two Lund's partner, who she was starting to fall in love with, turns out to be the Big Bad and she's forced to kill him; in season three the kidnapped girl is found alive, but the real Big Bad escapes justice until Lund herself murders him and has to flee the country, leaving behind her One True Love and the newborn granddaughter she'll probably never get to meet.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: After the foul-up of the first season, Lund is demoted and packed off to do passport control in a remote Danish port.
  • Red Herring: The show specialised in this so much that it became a Red Herring Canning Factory.
    • In season 1, Kemal, Troels, Jens Holck and Leon are the four most important suspects before Lund finally figures it out. In the meantime, the viewer is briefly invited to suspect Olav, Vagn, Bremer and even Theis himself, before suspicion lands on the Red Herrings, distracting the viewer from the fact that one of the aforementioned is in fact the culprit.
  • Refusal of the Call: Lund blows off the investigation of the docks corpse at the beginning of the third season, and then is blamed by others and herself for not investigating more closely and possibly preventing the kidnapping.
  • Revenge by Proxy: The motivation behind Emilie Zeuthen's kidnapping. It was originally planned to end with her being murdered in front of her father before doubts were raised if the target was actually guilt; he still doesn't let her go, though.
  • Riddle for the Ages: Whether Vagn was really a Serial Killer, or whether he was only guilty of the first murder linked to him in addition to those in the main action.
  • Sacrificial Lion: Lund's sidekick Meyer is killed towards the end of the first season.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Raben in the second season.
  • Sleazy Politician: Given the number of political characters with conflicting agendas, this trope is frequently played with. Bremer, Morten and Mogens are the clearest straight examples, while Hartmann, Buch and Kristian Kamper double-subvert it.
  • Sociopathic Soldier: Strange is trying to cover up an atrocity he committed while with the Jaeger Corps in Afghanistan.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Meyer doesn't die in the novelisation of the first series, though he is left paralysed for life.
  • Spice Up the Subtitles: The official English subtitles for the first season translated practically every Danish profanity as some form of "fuck" regardless of how mild or extreme it was, leading to complaints from Danish speakers.
    • The Danish word "Perker" is usually translated to "Paki" in the English subtitles. Whilst both words are extremely offensive racial slurs used in the same way. They have different etymologies. "Perker" is a mix of Persia (Iranian) and Turker (Turkish), whilst Paki is derived from Pakistani. However both words are used as racist slur towards North Africans, West Asians and South Asians.
  • The Stoic: Lund. Deconstructed in that it's not that she's so good at controlling her emotions, but because she runs from her feelings.
  • Sympathetic Murderer: In season one, Theis becomes one by killing Vagn. In season three, Lund becomes one by killing Reinhardt
  • Take Me Instead: The kidnapper in the third season finally challenges Zeuthen to hand himself over in exchange for his daughter, with the implication that this was always his objective.
  • The Unfettered: Have you murdered someone? Are you Danish? You lose! Lund will find you out, she will make you pay, and she will sacrifice friends, family, colleagues, bosses, her sleep, her happiness, her government, her health, her career and her freedom to get it done. Particularly striking because virtually everybody else eventually sells out, often at the eleventh hour.
  • Vasquez Always Dies: The second season introduces a tough survivalist ex-soldier woman, who gets murdered the following episode.
  • Vigilante Execution: Lund ends the final season by murdering Reinhardt after he outright taunts her with the possibility that he'll rape and murder another teenage girl
  • What You Are in the Dark: The show likes this trope. Several characters are put in situations in which they can have everything they wanted if they let a cover-up stand but stand to lose it all if they do the right thing. Hartmann, Buch, Kristian Kamper, and to a lesser degree Robert Zeuthen, eventually fail after passing earlier tests. Lund passes, if you count shooting a rapist-murderer in cold blood as doing the right thing.
  • Wild Teen Party: An out-of-control high school party causes some confusion in the investigation of the first season.
  • Wouldn't Hit a Girl: One scene in Season One has Theis being mugged by a gang of teenagers- he grabs one and goes to punch him when he discovers, to his shock, it's a girl. His hesitation gives them a chance to finish robbing him and run.