COVER STORY:As the third and final series of the Danish crime thriller The Killing approaches, will its lead detective Sarah Lund retain her role as one of the greatest female characters ever created, asks EMMA KENNEDY
Why do we love The Killing? Series three of the Danish crime thriller returns next weekend and it’s going to be the last outing for Sarah Lund. We shall never see her again.
The Killing was always intended as a trilogy and what becomes most obvious, on watching series three, is that the cases Lund solves are the sideshow. The Killing is the story of Sarah Lund, played by Sofie Grabol.
Series three opens with Lund hoping for a desk job. She’s been in the force for 25 years, has bought herself a house and wants to wind down her police work so that she can have one last crack at happiness before life passes her by. But with the child of a high-profile industrialist kidnapped, Lund is thrust back into an all-consuming world from which she longs to escape.
It’s a hard watch. For those who, like me, have grown to love this complicated woman, there are moments in series three that will make your heart break: her failed relationships with her family, her loneliness, how far away she seems from that very first episode in series one where we see Lund laughing and looking forward to a new life.
I shall say no more, for fear of spoilers, but what has struck me most, watching this final series, is how affected I have been by a woman who doesn’t exist. And this is The Killing’s success. Oh Sarah Lund. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways . . .
When we first see Lund in series one she’s in transition. She’s about to leave her job and her home and pack herself off to Sweden where a new life awaits her with her criminologist boyfriend. She laughs, wears a toy Viking helmet complete with fake blonde plaits at her leaving party and then empties her desk into a cardboard box and that, we believe, is supposed to be that.
But then a girl’s body turns up in the boot of a submerged car and suddenly, Lund can’t go to Sweden. She has to stay and do her job. And that, very simply, is the secret to Lund.
Here is a woman whom nobody wants around. She has a reluctant partner who can’t wait to be shot of her and a boyfriend who would prefer she turn her attention to picking wood for a sauna rather than getting to the bottom to an unpleasant murder. Her mother, exasperated, longs for her daughter to be the compliant girlfriend, her son wishes his mother could remember the first thing about him, but Lund fends them all off with nothing more than silent stares. She has a job to do and do it she will.
Why on earth should we be drawn to a woman who’s so hell-bent on going against the grain? There’s a scene in series one in which Lund’s boyfriend turns up at her office and tells her to stop doing her job, pack it all in and hurry up and follow him to wherever he wants to go. She ignores him, gloriously so, and it’s at that moment that all women of the world should have stood up and applauded. Lund is allowed to behave like a man and that, simply of itself, is radical and revolutionary.
Imagine the same scene if the sexes were reversed. Imagine Jack Bauer’s girlfriend bursting into CTU and moaning about home improvement woes and telling him he has to stop trying to save Los Angeles and come home with her to do the grouting. It’s laughable. It wouldn’t even make it past the first draft. Lund will not be cajoled, set upon or bullied and for this, we adore her.
She is a feminist icon. She’s unbothered by fashion, she’s unbothered by romance, she’s even unbothered about her role as daughter or mother and what’s fascinating is that we love her for it. She does what she is driven to do. It’s not ambition, it’s determination and this is what makes her so attractive.
She’s brave, foolhardy, vulnerable, rubbish at cooking, headstrong, has the confidence knocked out of her, claws it back again, and through it all, there is a quiet, solid resilience that is so inspiring. I wish every young girl had a picture of her up on their bedroom wall.
I was recently asked to compare Lund with other female detectives and having watched a few shows back to back one, rather mundane, thing stood out. She says very little. She’s a quiet observer, a loner, someone who is driven by actions and deeds rather than emotions and because she is so isolated, we the viewers find ourselves rooting for her endlessly.
It doesn’t matter that she can barely fry an egg or is incapable of attending any social gathering without standing looking awkward. It matters not one jot that she can’t say goodbye to anyone she’s on the phone to, or is hopeless at holding a gun properly. Her slightly chewed and frazzled edges are why we are so fond of her. She’s a klutz and a nerd who’s had the stuffing knocked out of her. What’s not to love? I mean, really?
The sheer audacity of telling one, single story over 20 hours was a master stroke. The vast majority of crime series will have a different story each week but in The Killing the audience is drawn in and kept hanging.
In series one, we had the characters of Pernille and Theis, the grieving parents. Our emotional attachment to them was intense and far more meaningful than if their story was wrapped up in 60 minutes.
We are invested in what happens, and in both series one and two, the moment of revelation, when it eventually comes, is shocking and devastating. This is what sets The Killing apart – the writers make us care deeply. Beautifully crafted, expertly executed, it’s one of the most phenomenal pieces of television ever made.
Series three is about to start (it’s due to begin on BBC4 on November 17th). The Killing was always intended as a trilogy and this shall be our last outing with the incomparable Danish detective.
I don’t yet know how the Lund story is going to conclude. I have my theories but at the risk of spoiling, I shall keep them to myself. I was lucky enough to go to set during filming and one thing was very clear – her final journey is going to be emotional and it’s going to be intense – and when she is gone, I, for one, am going to miss her greatly.