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Series / The Killing

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Det. Sarah Linden and her partner Stephen Holder.

The Danish original is under Forbrydelsen. If your moody sweater-wearing detective has brown hair, follow the link.

The Killing is an American crime drama airing on AMC based on the Danish series Forbrydelsen (literally translates The Crime but marketed to English-speaking territories as The Killing). Each arc focuses on one crime with each episode devoted to one day in the investigation. Set in Seattle, Washington, the first arc (broken into two half-seasons) focuses on the murder of Rosie Larsen, from three different perspectives:

Detective Sarah Linden was about to move to San Francisco, but the grisly crime persuades her to stick around and solve it herself, accompanied by her would-be replacement, Stephen Holder.

Rosie's parents, Stanley and Mitch, try to move on with their lives to the best of their ability, but it's far easier said than done.


Mayoral candidate Darren Richmond makes the case an important part of his campaign, declaring that this kind of crime will not happen on his watch. But along with the tactic comes struggles with his conscience over exploiting the tragedy.

The Killing provides examples of the following tropes:

  • 555
  • Adult Fear: Trusting your seventeen year old daughter to be safe staying with friends for a weekend away, only to come back and be told she's missing and then finding out she's dead.
  • Alone with the Psycho: Linden with the Pied Piper, a.k.a. her ex-partner and lover, Skinner in the season 3 finale.
  • Animal Motifs: Butterflies, in Season 1-2.
  • Anti-Hero: Both Linden and Holder to varying degrees. Both, particularly Linden, fall further into this as the series progresses.
  • Artistic License – Geography
    • The Blue Moon bar is a real place, but it's in Seattle, not Tukwila.
    • Advertisement:
    • Wapi Casino island: Is it Whidbey or Bainbridge? The detectives point to Whidbey on the map in one important scene, but the rest of the indications point to Bainbridge.
  • Ask a Stupid Question...: When Jamie asks the doctor how he's going to tell Richmond that he's paralyzed from the waist down, the doctor calmly states that the patients usually tend to notice pretty quickly.
  • Back for the Finale: Mayor Richmond, his first appearance since Season 2.
  • Be as Unhelpful as Possible: In full, infuriating effect.
  • Big, Screwed-Up Family:
    • The Larsens in Season 1 and 2 - Mitch is a Lady Macbeth, Stan is a (supposedly) reformed gangster, Rosie was contemplating prostitution and running away from home before being murdered, and her aunt Terry killed Rosie accidentally after falling in love with one of her sex work clients.
    • The Stansbury family in Season 4.
  • Bittersweet Ending:
    • Season 2: Rosie Larsen's killer is brought to justice, and the Larsen family receive closure, finally able to move on. However, Linden loses her badge in disgrace as a result of her actions in the case, and Chief Jackson and Michael Eames escape any punishment for their parts in Rosie's death and coverup. Richmond is elected Mayor, but compromises his morals in order to strengthen his position in office.
    • Season 4: The murder case ends with Kyle realizing he killed his family, and being arrested, while Colonel Rayne shoots AJ and Lincoln dead and is also arrested. Linden confesses to the murder of Skinner, but it is covered up by the Mayor and she receives no punishment. She leaves the police and Seattle, alone. Five years later, Holder has also left the police and divorced Caroline. However, Linden returns to Seattle and seems ready to "stay" for the first time, with Holder.
  • Boom, Headshot!: The murders that kick off Season 4 are all done with point blank shots to the head.
  • Bottle Episode: "Missing" and "Six Minutes".
  • Butch Lesbian:
    • Chief Jackson and her security chief.
    • Bullet in the third season.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Linden's fiancee. Their relationship collapses in the first season. In the second, it's revealed that he was Linden's therapist, and he returns to Seattle to get her out of the psych ward.
  • Cigarette of Anxiety: Linden held hostage in the car with Pastor Mike in "Try" in Season 3. He's got a gun and already told her not to smoke but she really, REALLY needs one.
  • Cliffhanger: Each episode tends to end on the revelation of a dramatic new lead. The Season 1 and Season 3 finales also end on major cliffhangers.
  • The Cobbler's Children Have No Shoes: Several characters point out that Linden is neglecting her own child, leaving him alone for extended periods of time, while she's busy trying to solve the murder of someone else's child.
  • Continuity Nod: In Season 3's "Eminent Domain", Holder briefly mentions "Mayor Richmond's waterfront", which was a plot point in Season 1-2.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Terry just happened to push the car into the water to stop it ruining her boyfriend's life...which turned out to be her niece Rosie.
  • Convenient Photograph:
    • Subverted by the picture of Rosie and Richmond. It's discussed a lot and thrusts Richmond into most people's suspicions, but it really is completely innocent.
    • Played straight by a picture that Linden finds in a victim's house in Season 4. It shows her in a picture with the Pied Piper - aka Linden's ex and now-superior Skinner.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Rosie Larsen was locked in a car trunk that was pushed into water, while still alive. She ripped out her own fingernails trying to escape before drowning.
  • Cruel Mercy: In the finale Mayor Richmond prevents Linden from confessing to killing Skinner to expose his crimes by extension in part to save face for the police but also because of this; she put him in a wheelchair through ineptitude, and now he's getting revenge by denying her closure.
  • Cryptic Background Reference: People close to Linden are routinely bringing up events in her life and past cases which hint that they have a reason to worry about her getting too involved in the Larsen case. The case becomes important in season 3.
  • Da Chief: Lt. Michael Oakes.
  • Darker and Edgier: The fourth season after the Channel Hop to Netflix; free from TV restrictions, there's a lot more salty language and an uptick in violent content.
    • The third season was also much darker than the previous two (already quite grim) seasons, with a more nihilistic tone and setting (among the homeless street kids of Seattle rather than the political campaign and middle class of Season 1 and 2). Its central case also doesn't concern just one murder, but a serial killer of dozens of girls.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Both Linden and Holder, especially Linden. This crops up in a big way in the final two seasons.
  • Dead All Along: The missing Kallie turns out to have been an off-screen victim of the Pied Piper in the Season 3 finale.
  • Dead Person Impersonation: Pastor Mike is actually a disgraced former pastor using the real and deceased Pastor Mike's name.
  • Death of a Child: Several of the Pied Piper's victims are as young as 12, and one of the victims of the family massacre in Season 4 is a six year old girl, shot point blank in the face.
  • Death Row: The setting for a major Season 3 subplot.
  • Decomposite Character: The show stretches this trope over multiple seasons in the case of Forbrydelsen. In Season 1 of the latter, the killer was Vagn Skærbeck, Theis' kind of pathetic best friend who gets close to the Larsens and seems to help them overcome their grief. His American counterpart is a sad-sack loner with serious mother issues too - although she is portrayed as extremely abusive but he isn't the killer and actually commits suicide when Stan suspects him. Vagn's loathsome qualities (such as the significant photograph found of one possible victim) and the suspicion that he has been raping and killing for years is given to the Pied Piper in Season 3.
  • Disposable Sex Worker and Disposable Vagrant: The reason the Pied Piper in Season 3 targets teenage homeless girls; society has forgotten them, and their murders go unnoticed. However, the show does not portray them this way at all.
  • Distant Finale: The final scene of the series finale takes place five years later, with Linden returning to Seattle after Walking the Earth, to visit Holder, who is now divorced and has left the police force. After apologizing for not trusting him earlier, she initially leaves, intending to never come back, but in the final shot of the series returns to Holder a second time, as they smile at each other.
  • Domestic Abuse:
    • Chief Jackson is eventually revealed as such, among other unpleasant characteristics.
    • Ray Seward also freely admits to hitting his wife on numerous occasions.
  • Downer Ending: Season 3, and how. The final episodes see Ray Seward being executed despite being innocent (and another scumbag, but innocent of murder, man going down for the Piper's murders), Bullet being murdered and Holder distraught, Kallie's body remains undiscovered and her mother with no closure, Lyric going back to prostitution after failing to go straight, and finally Linden discovering her ex-partner and lover Skinner is the Pied Piper, leading to her shooting him dead in cold blood, right in front of Holder, just as the finale ends.
    • And the case in season 4.
  • Driving Question:
    • Season 1-2: Who killed Rosie Larsen?
    • Season 3: Who is the Pied Piper?
    • Season 4: Who killed the Stansburys?
  • Dropped A Bridge On Her: Bullet is very suddenly killed off, off-screen between episodes.
  • Easy Amnesia: Kyle Stansbury, after surviving a self-inflicted but botched gunshot to the head, loses a day of memory. It gradually returns to him.
  • Faux Affably Evil:
    • Janek seems like a very reasonable authority figure at first, especially for a criminal boss, but it's soon revealed as a front for a sneaky Manipulative Bastard.
    • In Season 3, the Pied Piper, Skinner, reveals that he is a brutal, seemingly motiveless sexual sadist.
  • Fingore: Some of the Pied Piper victims have one of their ring fingers cut off, in order to remove their jewelry for a trophy.
  • First-Episode Twist: Rosie Larsen dies.
  • Frame-Up: Twice.
    • Richmond is framed for Rosie Larsen's murder in the Season 1 finale.
    • In Season 3, Scott Mills is framed as the Pied Piper by the real one.
  • Functional Addict: Kris, the resident drug dealer, hints that Holder might be a junkie as well. The only reason he qualifies as this is that they have yet to show him do drugs on-screen. Turns out the reason for that is that he's a functional ex-addict. He's been in a Narcotics Anonymous program for six months.
  • Gender-Blender Name: Rosie's mother Mitch (short for Michelle), and her friend Sterling. Also Reggie, Linden's houseboat-dwelling female friend.
  • Going by the Matchbook: A variation; one of the casino workers hands Holder a matchbook from her father's barbershop with a date and time scribbled in it, as a subtle way of arranging a meeting in a safe place.
    • Season 3 sees a message being left on a pizzeria menu, with a similar intention as the above matchbook.
  • Good Cop/Bad Cop: Linden and Holder, though which is which can vary depending on the situation. Lampshaded.
  • Graceful Loser: After a bitter and amazingly dirty, no punches pulled election, when Mayor Adams loses he concedes gracefully, complete with kind words for Richmond about what a potentially great leader Richmond is.
  • Grave-Marking Scene: Holder visiting Kallie and Bullet's graves in the finale and leaving a keepsake at the latter's.
  • Grey Rain of Depression: A given in Seattle.
  • He Had a Name: Linden in the Season 3 finale, when Skinner explains he killed "that girl" for knowing too much, she replies "Her name was Bullet".
  • He Knows Too Much: Ultimately the reason revealed for Rosie Larsen's murder, as she inadvertently overheard a secret meeting concerning a backdoor business deal for the Seattle waterfront. Also, in Season 3, the reason the Pied Piper targets and murders Bullet; she had undisclosed info that could have exposed his identity.
  • Heroic BSoD: Holder in Season 3 after Bullet's death, he's in a despondent daze for several episodes, and doesn't fully snap out of it until the season finale.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Terry, who Desperately Craves Affection and is prone to falling in love with her clients. Zigzagged when it's revealed she's the one who killed Rosie.
  • Huge Guy, Tiny Girl: Holder and Linden; he stands a full foot taller than her.
  • Innocence Lost: Many of the homeless girls turn to prostitution to get by.
  • If It's You, It's Okay: Subverted. Lyric, who is straight, leads on Bullet as they share some intimacy, but ultimately rejects her and returns to her boyfriend, telling Bullet that she "isn't gay, ya know?".
  • Ivy League for Everyone: Councilman Richmond and his late wife met at Dartmouth.
  • Kids Are Cruel: The borderline deranged teenage cadets at the military school in Season 4.
  • Killed Offscreen: Bullet, Kallie.
  • The Killer Becomes the Killed: In the Season 3 finale, Linden shoots the unarmed Pied Piper dead, in cold blood.
  • Kill the Cutie: Bullet in Season 3.
  • Lady Macbeth: Mitch to Stan which lands him in jail when she pushes him to pursue Ahmed after the police let him go.
  • Last-Minute Reprieve: The episode "Six Minutes" revolves around desperate attempts to get one of these. It doesn't work.
  • Last-Name Basis: Linden and Holder.
  • Maybe Ever After: The Season 4 finale concludes with Holden and Linden meeting up, Linden telling him he was home for her, and the two of them driving away to an uncertain future.
  • Magical Native American: So very averted.
  • Maligned Mixed Marriage: Mr. and Mrs. Ahmed. Her racist family doesn't approve.
  • Memorial Photo: At Bullet's funeral. Holder notes that Bullet would have hated the picture her family chose, of her as a young smiling girl with braces. Danette tells him that it's how her family chose to remember her, rather than the butch and streetwise girl she really was.
  • Missing White Woman Syndrome: An imam notes that the cops are looking a lot harder for Rosie Larsen's killer than for a missing Muslim girl.
  • The Mole:
  • Also Holder, but he turned out to be a subversion when it was revealed that he had no idea that the photo implicating Richmond was fake.
  • Motivational Lie: Both of Richmond's top aides, Jamie and Gwen, use this at different points when Richmond's morale is low. When Richmond is depressed about being paralyzed, Jamie tells the inspiring story of his grandfather Ted, and how he stoically carried on after losing his leg in a work accident. In the second season's final episode, it's revealed to be something Jamie made up. When Richmond is despairing about his chances in the election, Gwen brings him a video that a random person created and uploaded to youtube, celebrating Richmond. She uses this as proof of how much people believe in him and are pulling for him to win. The end of the episode reveals that she paid the video's creator to make it.
  • Motive Rant: Denied. Though the Pied Piper gives the story of his first kill to Linden, he says he doesn't have to explain himself when pressed for his motive in continuing to kill.
  • The Mourning After: Much of the drama in Season 1 and 2 revolves around the Larsen family attempting to come to terms with their daughter's death.
  • My Greatest Failure: Holder stole a rare coin from his nephew (one Holder gave to him in the first place no less) while an addict, to pay for more drugs. He also gains one in failing to prevent Bullet's murder in Season 3, which leaves him distraught.
  • My Greatest Second Chance: There have been hints that Linden sees the case this way. The main driving force for Linden through season 3.
  • Not So Stoic
    • Linden flips her lid when Holder gets attacked on the Indian reservation and her boss won't authorize a search party. The episode is titled "Off the Reservation", intelligence slang for "going rogue".
    • When she breaks down crying after she believes her son has gone missing definitely qualifies.
    • Linden had an affair with her ex-partner, Skinner.
  • No-Tell Motel: The motel that's a haven for underage homeless prostitutes in Season 3, which also has a back room for making porn videos of them.
  • Once an Episode: With very few exceptions, nearly every episode will have at least one scene of Linden and Holder setting in a car (usually while smoking) discussing something, either their current case or personal lives. Lampshaded in the final episode where Linden regards these car chats with Holder to have been the happiest period of her life.
  • Off the Wagon: Holder in Season 4 (though briefly).
  • Outliving One's Offspring: Stan and Mitch Larsen spend most of Season 1 and 2 trying to come to terms with life after their daughter's death.
  • Plot-Triggering Death: Rosie Larsen's murder in the first episode causes Linden to remain in Seattle to solve the cast despite her plans to retire and move to California.
  • Poor Communication Kills: More than once. The characters have a habit of not answering their phones at the worst times, leading to Stan beating Ahmed nearly to death in Season 1, and Bullet's murder in Season 3.
  • Posthumous Character: Rosie Larsen is already dead by the first episode, but the first two seasons revolve around uncovering who she was. She herself appears in videos and one flashback in the Season 2 finale.
  • Put on a Bus: Linden's son Jack in season 3. Comes back in season 4.
  • Rage Against the Reflection: Linden punches in her own bathroom mirror in Season 4, after her cover-up of Skinner's murder begins to unravel.
  • Rape as Drama:
    • The Pied Piper sometimes rapes his victims before killing them.
    • Also, Bullet is beaten and raped by Goldie (disconcertingly, she never tells anyone this happened, so with her death at the end of the season, Goldie never faces any justice for that particular crime) early in Season 3.
    • In Season 4, Kyle's stepmother molested him and molested another kid.
  • Rape Leads to Insanity: Or molestation, in Season 4. Being molested by his stepmother caused Kyle to snap and kill her and the rest of his family when he is forced to masturbate in front of the other cadets. Her other victim is also shown to be a violent misogynist as a result.
  • Rasputinian Death: The eponymous killing, which even ends in drowning.
  • Recovered Addict: Detective Holder once had a bad drug habit but has six months of sobriety by the time the show's first season begins.
  • Red Herring: Too many to count.
    • The first season is just an endless string of these. Somewhat deconstructed — following up on all these false leads causes severe consequences for many people, and the Chief puts them on a much shorter leash after all their mistakes.
    • Quite a few pop up in season 3 as well; one is a pedophile scumbag but not the killer, another was a well-intentioned ex-priest who wanted to keep helping poor children despite having been falsely accused — and found guilty — of sexually abusing a girl he was trying to help, and the last was just a disaffected, pretty lazy cop.
  • The Remake: Of a smash-hit Danish show. Some scenes are pretty much identical to the original.
  • Remake Cameo: Sofie Gråbøl appeared in series 2.
  • Retirony: A non-fatal version; Linden is about to leave for California the day the Rosie Larson case begins.
  • Returning to the Scene: Happens in Season 4, the killer returns to the the murder spot, inadvertently alerting an observer in the process, and leading to the police discovering the crime. The kicker comes from the fact that the killer in question is Linden, returning to the spot she killed Skinner to dispose of his cellphone.
  • The Runaway: Most of the homeless kids in Season 3 are runaways. Linden as a foster child was a "runner", regularly running away from the various foster homes she was in.
  • Sacrificial Lion: Bullet and Ray Seward in season 3.
  • Scary Minority Suspect: The Somali teacher.
  • Seattle: The race for mayor is a major plot point.
  • Seinfeldian Conversation: Holder and a fellow officer are hotly debating whether or not hamburger pickles count as vegetables when Belko tries to break out of confinement with a gun and takes a hostage.
  • Shame If Something Happened: Janek seems fond of this line.
  • Shoot the Dog: Jamie seems to see this as his big role in Richmond's campaign. He does the dirty but necessary things that Richmond can't or won't, either because Richmond's morals won't let him, or because it would be possible bad publicity.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: Season 3's ending.
  • Shown Their Work: Jasper says that during the night of the crime, he was at a bar called the Blue Moon in Tukwila. There actually is a Blue Moon Tavern in Washington.
  • Slashed Throat: The Pied Piper's method of murder, cutting the victim's throat from ear to ear with a serrated knife, so deeply that some of the girls are almost decapitated.
  • Sleazy Politician
    • Richmond zigzags on this trope as the series progresses, ultimately getting charges of obstruction of justice dropped against allies who were closely involved in the Larsen affair. His aide Jamie mostly tries to keep the excesses of his sleazy exploits out of his boss's knowledge, because (a) he wouldn't like them and (b) they might tarnish Richmond's own reputation.
    • The incumbent mayor is (at least behind closed doors) unapologetic about being one of these; his lowest blow involves framing Richmond for the murder by tampering with evidence.
  • Smug Snake: Mayor Adams and his aide, although see Graceful Loser above.
  • The Stoic: Linden
  • Suicide by Cop: In Season 3, Skinner deliberately goads Linden into shooting him after his crimes are exposed.
  • Sweater Girl: Linden! In fact wearing the same type of sweater as her Danish counterpart, Sarah Lund
  • Sympathetic Murderer: Kyle in season 4.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: Linden/Holder. culminates in an Almost Kiss during Holder's Heroic BSoD after Bullet's death.
    • In the series finale, the final scene ends with Linden returning to Seattle to apparently remain with Holder (the one person to never leave her), but whether this is romantic or platonic is left ambiguous.
  • Trauma Conga Line: Bullet over the course of Season 3, who starts out homeless on the streets, has her only friend abducted, is rejected by the girl she crushes on, is beaten and raped by a pimp, inadvertently drives Holder (the only cop to give a damn about her) away, and finally she is brutally murdered by the Pied Piper.
  • Troubled Child: Adrian Seward, prone to compulsively draw a mysterious picture of a set of trees in the forest.
  • Turn in Your Badge: The Chief demands Linden's badge after one too many defying of orders in late Season 2.
  • Villain Has a Point: Janek correctly points out to Stan, numerous times, that his grief and righteous anger over the death of his daughter is causing him to neglect his still-living sons. Stan eventually realises this himself and makes peace with them.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot:
    • Poor Jamie.
    • Linden in "The Road to Hamelin" when the full weight of Skinner's crimes hits her.
    • Kyle when he is brought to the crime scene of his family's murder.
  • What the Hell, Hero?:
    • Mitch starts to give Stan one for attacking Bennett, only for him to turn it around on her, reminding her that she very much pushed him into it.
    • Likewise she yells at her sister Terry for taking her place in many respects while she was out of town to deal with her grief, all but directly calling her a homewrecker and an interloper. But again, Terry turns it around on her by pointing out that all of them are grieving for Rosie as well, her pain isn't special and her family didn't stop needing a mother figure just because she decided to go it alone for a while.
  • Walking the Earth: Linden did this for five years between the Season 4 finale and the final scene.
  • You Just Told Me: How Linden tricks Richmond into revealing that he had someone watching them while they were investigating the school.


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