By Allison Brennan


It’s not a secret that I love television.


I gave it up for three years when I first started seriously writing. At the time, I had three kids and a full-time job—the only time in the day to write was after the kids went to bed. The only time I watched television was what the kids were watching. Rugrats, Spongebob, Lizzie McGuire, and whatever was on the now-defunct TV Land. (My two oldest, now 15 and 17, were probably the only kids in their generation who’ve seen most episodes of Little House on the Prairie, the Brady Bunch, and Bewitched.)


When I started watching tv again, I was highly selective. First, I couldn’t stand to sit through commercials. Other than during the Super Bowl, I don’t think I’ve watched a commercial – unless it was something on a kids show. I started buying DVD sets, then got an Apple TV when I moved and love it.


TV has gotten so much better over the last few years. I recently blogged about the BBC program LUTHER which I loved. Edgy, different, with fantastic characters. They only had six episodes, but each was riveting. They’re producing two two-hour episodes for the fall.


It’s no secret that I love JUSTIFIED, another amazing show with a cast full of talented actors who bring these flawed characters to life. The season finale? Wow. Just … Wow. I am so frustrated that I have to wait nine months for Season Three . . . but I’m thrilled to get a third season, especially since LIFE (another favorite show) was cancelled after only two.


I can’t remember where I heard the recommendation, but I decided to buy season one of THE KILLING.


I don’t know whether I love it or hate it.


With LUTHER, I had a complex, character-driven police procedural in an unfamiliar world (the UK) that tackled the issues of justice vs vengeance. John Luther himself is an intriguing character who bends (and breaks) the law for justice. Lots of shades of gray.


With JUSTIFIED, I had an over-the-top adventure with a hero you love and criminals you both love and hate. Boyd Crowder is one of the greatest characters created, a villain who was redeemed in so many ways that we begin to root for him, so when he starts down the dangerous road, we’re still on his side.


LUTHER made me think; JUSTIFIED kept me on the edge of my seat.


THE KILLING made me cry.


My crying in movies isn’t new—FINDING NEMO at both the beginning where the mother clown fish and all her eggs are eaten by a shark, except for Nemo who Marlin protects to the extreme until Nemo rebels and Marlin’s worst fears are realized. And again at the end when Marlin finds Nemo again and thinks he’s dying. I cried in TOY STORY 3 at the beginning when the mom sees Andy’s empty room and tears up because he’s going to college … and again at the end when he gives his toys to another child as he’s leaving for college. But I never, if ever, cry in television shows. They don’t seem to have that power over me . . . until THE KILLING.


It’s a crime show like the others. It had complex and very real characters. More real than the others in so many ways. It’s edgy. It has a political component I spent 13 years working in the California State Legislature, and the nuances of the political subplot are so true-to-life I suspect one of the writers has worked in politics as well. I’ve only watched the first two episodes (so far six have aired) but I couldn’t turn away. Even when I wanted to.


It’s not graphic or violent like JUSTIFIED. It’s not even that fast-paced. In fact, it’s quite methodical. I’m not saying it’s slow, because it’s not, but it doesn’t rely on the “high stakes” speed that other crime shows incorporate.


What captured me—and repelled me—is the emotion. There is so much emotion in each scene that I can’t turn away. But the emotion that hits me isn’t a feeling I want to have.


Fear. Grief. Heartache.


The victim is a 17 year old girl, Rosie Larsen. She goes missing on a Friday night. Her parents are on a camping trip, she’s a good kid and they trust her. They thought she was staying with a friend. No one realizes she’s missing until after school starts on Monday.


The parents begin to expect something when the detective, Sarah Linden, finds the father’s credit card near the victim’s bloody sweater. She doesn’t yet know the identity or fate of the victim, but pretty quickly realizes that it’s Rosie, and she’s likely not alive.


Starting with the parents absolutely believable reaction—worry and anger—followed by the father seeking answers, starting with Rosie’s ex-boyfriend and going to his house to drag Rosie home, only to learn the woman in the ex’s bed isn’t his daughter. I could see me playing out the same reactions, inwardly scared to death that something happened but holding onto the hope and anger. 


But what really did it to me emotionally was when Stan the dad turns up at the location where Rosie’s body is found (through his own, increasingly frantic search) and while talking on the phone with his wife when a car is pulled out of the lake he demands answers. He’s nearly arrested until Sarah comes over and she doesn’t have to tell him the person in the car is Rosie. She turns and walks back and he breaks down sobbing in rage and pain while his wife is on the phone hearing it.


The opening to episode two has the parents identifying the body and that scene also had me in tears even though there was no rage or tantrums, just a quiet truth and grief. The parents, played by Michelle Forbes and Brent Sexton (from JUSTIFIED) made me believe that was their daughter in the morgue. That was followed by separate interviews where they are in shock, particularly the mother, speaking in monotones, knowing the truth but still not believing it.


Worry. Anger. Pain. Grief. Guilt. Sorry. None of these are violent, but they are all powerful emotions.


THE KILLING is one of the best shows on television today because it taps into the deepest fears a parent can have. And it probably affected me more than the average viewer because I have a seventeen year old daughter.


And because it explores these raw fears so truthfully, I almost hate the show. Almost. I can’t stop watching, but I can’t watch one episode after another. I need a break to recover. Maybe watch an episode of JUSTIFIED. Just as riveting, without the emotional pain.


Has a television show, movie or book ever affected you so deeply that you were emotionally wrung out after the experience?






24 thoughts on “THE KILLING

  1. Chris Nickson

    I haven't seen the US remarke of this, but I'd highly recommend the Danish original. It's 20 hours long, and superbly done. I have no clue how good the US version will be, but it would be hard pressed to match the original, which is some of the best television I've ever seen, period. Subtitles are wonderfully done, to the point of art, and Copenhagen is portrayed in a dark way. From what I've read, the reason the Danish version hasn't aired in the US is because the networks felt people couldn't cope with subtitles. Evidently the culprit is different in each version, too. Buy the DVD of the original. From my experience (I lived in the US for 30 years) remakes, especially American remakes, never quite match what's come before. I'd be happy to be proved wrong, though.

  2. Catherine

    The 1965 film, 'The Collector' with Terence Stamp as the lead. I watched this at a friend of my parents. It was a dinner party where I was shunted off with the host's 17 year old daughter to watch whatever she wanted. The house was old, we watched with the lights out. All I could see was the flickering of the black and white screen. I'd always been repelled by the idea of capturing butterflies and pinning them to a board. I hated that every time I left the room I was sent back into by it my parents.

    I hated feeling sorry for this terrifying lonely disturbed man and how easily he went from sympathetic to driven by darknesses I really shouldn't of been watching let alone sort of understanding at that age. Maybe being trapped with no choice reads fairly large at that age, but yeah watching that movie did wring out my emotions.Emotions were wrung to the point that I can recall scenes, the lighting, the mood, and the feelings evoked now, 30 years later.

  3. Grace

    I love to watch shows that keep me on the edge of my seat with a few scenes of laugh-out-loud humour thrown in but I can't, can't watch angst driven shows that deal deal with the murders of children or teenagers. It hurts too much. I'm not sure if I'm a coward, superficial, or an evader of horrific realities of life, but I can't do it. Strangely enough, I can read it but I think it's because it's one step removed. That said, some writing and actors' talents are phenomenal and good TV does exist.

  4. PK the Bookeemonster

    The movie City of Angels with Nicholas Cage and Meg Ryan. My husband and I saw it in the theatre when we were dating. I SOBBED. In public. The soundtrack's song by Peter Gabriel makes me cry. I love/hate that movie.
    We've very much enjoyed The Killing. I like the episodic story story telling that occasionally can be found. AMC also had Rubicon which was excellent but now canceled of course. On Sundays, there is also The Borgias and The Game of Thrones. And on Friday evenings, Camelot. Nothing on tv for months and then in April, wham.
    After our dog died in March, we've been so empty so this weekend we added two dogs. Never had two before. I think my TV time is over.

  5. Alexandra Sokoloff

    You sold me on this one – Danish and English versions!

    I cried though the entire season 4 of The Wire (that's the season with the kids, right?). I don't think I've ever seen TV so wrenching.

  6. Fran

    "Sophie's Choice". I watched it once, and I will never watch it again, but oh dear gods, it completely unraveled and remade me.

  7. Barbie

    I'm a leaky faucet when it comes to television. Really. I cry all the time! I think I've cried with pretty much all shows I watch (believe me, you know it's bad when I cry with THE BIG BANG THEORY!). I get attached to characters and often, when they hurt, I hurt. I rarely sob or anything (but I have!), just a few tears. I cry more when I identify with the situation, or, when like you, it's something that shows my deepest fears. There was this season finale of MEDIUM in which Allison sees her life as if she'd died. It was horrible. I wept the whole 42 minutes, seeing her kids without their mom, their pain.

    Another time I cried A LOT, and I remember that because it wasn't something that touched me personally was a CSI:NY episode with a former Nazi as a murdered and about the Holocaust. I wept in rage for all those people who had to go through such a horrible, horrible thing.

    In books and movies, since I usually don't get to follow characters in the every day of their lives for a long time like tv shows, I only cry when I deeply identify with a situation or when it's something I deeply yearn for (like a big sister or best friend scene).

    Happy Mother's Day, Allison!

  8. Allison Brennan

    Chris, I heard about the Danish version when I first heard about the show and someone said the US version stayed true to the feeling, even though it was different it was fantastic. I do sense a different feeling than most US shows. There's a lot of imagery and scenes that rely on the actors expressions and non-verbal reactions than most US shows. The actress who plays Sarah Linden (Marielle Enos???) is amazing. She doesn't talk a lot, but I always know what she's thinking. I would probably have a problem with subtitles, that they would affect the enjoyment. But maybe I'm wrong, I don't know.

    PK — two dogs is like having two kids. Twins, when got together! LOL. Enjoy them. We need a dog, but we need a gate at the driveway first and those are expensive. We're in the country and it would be easy for a dog to get lost, especially with all the stray cats and rabbits to enticing him into chase!

  9. TerriMolina

    I feel the same way about The Killing…it's such a strong story. I have a soon to be 18 year old daughter so shows like these make me more cautious for her. The emotional impact of the show hits me more now because a week after I watched the premiere we learned on of my daughter's dearest friends took her own life. (I paid tribute to her on my blog).
    There aren't many movies or TV shows that affect me emotionally, that I can think of, and I think it's because I learned to close them off when I was a child, after my parents died.

    Happy Mother's Day, Everyone!

  10. Alafair Burke

    I haven't seen The KIlling yet but just saw Val McDermid talking about it, too. I really don't need yet another show right now, but I may need to make room for this one.

  11. Gayle Carline

    I'm enjoying The Killing, too. I have an 18-year old son – whoever thinks having a son is less worrisome is wrong. There's a moodiness and dread in the storyline that's unshakeable.

    Two episodes of different shows made me cry: One was an early ep of ER, where a woman with eclampsia comes into emergency and Dr. Greene is trying to save her and the baby and is in over his head but can't get anyone from OB to come help. I had just spent two months on bedrest due to pre-eclampsia (delivered my healthy son), so the storyline hit home in a big way.

    The other is an episode of NCIS, where a WWII vet turns himself in for murdering his pal at Iwo Jima. It's just so poignant. I tell myself they're trying to manipulate my emotions, but it doesn't matter. I still tear up.

  12. Schwartz, Stephen Jay

    Good God, Alison, THE KILLING sounds absolutely intense. From your description, I really want to watch it. From your description, I don't want to get near it. I know it would affect me. I tend to tear up during very emotional films as well – I cried while watching JERRY MACGUIRE and TOY STORY 3. I embarrass my kids. And I'm currently in the period of avoiding films and TV so I can put that time into research, reading and writing. Which makes things difficult, since I'm getting back into writing for films and I have to have a very current background of watching films and TV. It's a conundrum.
    I had a great experience at the Festival of Books last weekend – my kids and I got to meet Barbara Eden. My boys have been watching I DREAM OF JEANNIE episodes for a few months now and they are huge fans. When we found out that Barbara was going to be at the Festival we made a point of trying to meet her. We ended up spending a half hour with her. She's a real sweetheart. She also hosts a big labradoodle event in the Fall, and she's invited us to attend (with our own labradoodle.)

  13. David Corbett


    First: Happy Mothers Day. And a wonderful post.

    Interesting — I was considering blogging Wednesday on the New Yorker's hit piece on THE KILLING — to my mind, one of the laziest, most indifferent and self-indulgent pieces of criticism since Manhole Dog Leash (Manhola Dargis) of the NY Times snidely savaged THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES.

    I think THE KILLING is highly commendable and riveting on a number of levels, especially it's portrayal of the victim's family. (The scene where the parents tell their two young sons that their older sister is dead continues to haunt me.)

    I too think Mareille Enos is great, though I think the director lingers on three-quarter profile shots a bit too portentously. But I'm caught up in this story, precisely because it takes its characters seriously, and because the other elements — setting, pace, plot, music — support the portrayals so well.

    But what I most love is AMC's willingness to produce of a TV program that truly mimics a novel — doesn't try to squeeze it into a constraining two-hour movie, doesn't try to make it a five-season whatever.

    As for blow-out, wrung-out movie experiences, my God. Where to start:

    The one where I laughed so hard I couldn't catch my breath: NIGHT AT THE OPERA, my first Marx brothers movie watched as an adult.

    The one where I was terrified to the point of dumbfounded shock: NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD – saw it in a theater in Columbus, Ohio when no one knew what it was; the whole audience was spooked.

    [Before that, the scariest movie I'd ever scene was DOBIE O'GILL & THE LITTLE PEOPLE. Go ahead and laugh, but I was seven and that banshee and the headless coachmen scared the bejeebers out of me so bad I ran to my mother's room. And I wasn't that tight with my mother.]

    War drama: CLOSELY WATCHED TRAINS, Best Foreign Film Oscar 1968, I think — one of the great films that came out of the Czech Spring. Stunned me — such an unexpected, heart-wrenching ending.

    Crime drama: CHINATOWN.

    Sci-fi: DISTRICT 9.

    Plus: MIDNIGHT COWBOY (God, what a script, by the great Waldo Salt, and what an ending).

    AMORES PERROS (my favorite movie, ever — I was mush afterwards).

    BELLMAN & TRUE (recently wrote about it for Spinetingler:

    ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST (I inadvertently followed my friend into the lady's room afterwards I was so dazed by the movie).

    SEXY BEAST (used to be my test for a date — if a woman couldn't relate, we weren't going to work).

    MEMENTO (saw it five times).

    And yes, THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES (won best foreign film Oscar two years ago, from Argentina, mesmerizing, wonderfully shot and told — really, a must-see, a murder mystery/love story/political drama/morality tale — oh just see it).

    I walked out of BIUTIFUL feeling gutted, and my protective girlfriend, God bless her heart, was pissed at Iñárritu (the director) for pummeling me so hard emotionally (one character looked like my late wife as a teenager, and the final credit sequence has as background the second movement to Ravel's Concerto in G, one of the most amazingly beautiful and elegiac pieces of music ever composed, and one of my late wife's favorites — she wept when we listened to it together on a PBS program, one of those moments in a marriage you never forget).

    Catherine: Funny you should bring up THE COLLECTOR. I've never seen the movie, but I did read the book, and it's the only book I've ever read that so creeped me out at the end I physically threw it down. One of the reasons it's so devastating is that Fowles takes incredible pains through the whole middle of the book to present Miranda's POV. Her death is horrifying and you feel it deeply. Or, most people do. When I went on to work as a PI, we had two serial killer cases that involved psychopaths who thought THE COLLECTOR was a handbook for the abduction and torture of women.

    But that's another story.

    Thanks again, Allison, for the great post. Go ahead and cry, girl. And keep watching.

    And Happy happy happy happy Mother's Day.

  14. Allison Brennan

    David, that scene with the boys just terrifies me. In addition to my 17 year old, I have four other kids, two of them boys 10 and almost 7. I don't know what I would tell them. My 10 year old was 8 when we had to put our dog to sleep and he was a wreck.

    I read CUCKOO'S NEST before watching it, but it haunted me as well–one of the pivotal movies when i was a teenager. I recently re-watched it with my daughter who'd read it for school and it brought back the same feelings, but in a different context — I'm far different at 40 than I was at 15! You've sold me on SECRET, I'll have to find that — hope iTunes has it …

    Don't know if I want to read the criticism of THE KILLING. I have always loved television that takes one story and tells it over time. There was a series that was canceled after two seasons called MURDER ONE and I loved the first season which followed a criminal defense law firm in defending a murderer. I think it was Stanley Tucci, but not positive. I never missed an episode. That was definitely not as good as THE KILLING, but the same long-story concept.

    I can be jaded and morbid much of the time, but there are some things that just hit me, and it's not always related to kids. I even cried at the rather dumb movie Mamma Mia (not totally dumb, but not a keeper) when Meryl Streep was singing about her daughter growing up to get married. I was sitting between my two teenagers and had tears streaming down my face. And another tear-jerker — HOMEWARD BOUND. A Disney movie about two dogs and a cat who find their way home and I'm just sobbing about Shadow, even after i've seen the movie ten times. :/

  15. KDJames

    I'm a total sap. My kids mock me and say that I'll even cry at a bad weather forecast. So the list of movies/shows/commercials that make me cry is so long it's not really memorable. I think the movies that don't make me cry are more memorable.

    I shouldn't be allowed to even talk about movies, because I can never remember the names and end up just describing them and hoping someone knows what I'm talking about. I saw one a few years ago set during WWII about people hiding/living in the woods and it was so stark and bleak and full of betrayal and death and the acting was excellent and even if you told me the title, I doubt I'd recognize it. [sigh]

    Some titles I do remember. EYE OF THE NEEDLE was haunting (one of the few movies as good as the book, IMO). THE DEER HUNTER which I knew nothing about before watching it and really thought it was about deer hunting. ORDINARY PEOPLE — again knew nothing except Mary Tyler Moore was in it and, hey, how bad could it be? PSYCHO, which I'm convinced caused an entire generation of women to install sturdy locks on their bathroom doors. Oh, and on a much lighter note, THE IN-LAWS (the original) had me helpless with laughter.

    Have you noticed these are all really OLD movies? That's because I finally learned to ask what the hell the movie was about before I agreed to watch it. Thanks to all of you for the excellent list here of things I now know to avoid at all costs. 😉

  16. Gayle Carline

    Ok, I wasn't going to admit to crying over Shadow in HOMEWARD BOUND, but if you're woman enough to admit it, so am I. The way he limps up, thinking, "Oh, Jamie, I've been so worried about you"…

    Excuse me. I've got to go find a tissue.

  17. Dana King

    I have a handful of movies that pop to mind: MYSTIC RIVER, MILLION DOLLAR BABY, SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, PLATOON.

    My wife and I are following THE KILLING, she more closely. I find some of the tension artificial: are there really only two homicide cops in Seattle? Would any cop stay like that, or be expected to stay for an investigation so late in her tenure? Does it really rain EVERY DAY in Seattle? And some of the emotional scenes come across as we've seen too many before. Talking to the priest before the funeral, it was only a matter of time before the mother asked why God didn't a better job of protecting her when she was alive. Yes, all mothers would say that–I was thinking it-but there was nothing new in the way it was handled, which diminished the effect.

    Still, we're making appointments to watch. Flawed, but still engrossing.

  18. Catherine

    David I imagine the book would be harrowing too.I mostly find a book more harrowing than a movie as I bring more of me in reading than in watching. In this case however I mostly remember the despair in the eyes of the actress in the movie. The futility.

    It doesn't surprise me as much as it probably should that you came across people finding this a handbook. It's not been a movie I've wanted to watch again to get my adult impressions. I'm satisfied to leave the fragments that stay with me well alone usually…it's just that today it's what first came to mind regarding what movie has wrung me out emotionally…it looms large.

  19. KDJames

    Can't believe I forgot to mention Per Petterson's book OUT STEALING HORSES (translated from Norwegian). The writing was compelling in a way I can't explain based on the subject matter. I could not stop reading. Unlike anything I'd read before or have since. A sort of relentlessly unemotional and unstructured narrative, the ending came with such understatement it felt like a physical punch to the gut. I literally gasped and had to stop reading for a minute to collect myself. It was emotionally devastating in it's simplicity. My mom had the same reaction and it made me wonder whether you have to have a strong Scandinavian ancestry/upbringing peopled with strong taciturn men to appreciate the book. I've never encountered anyone else who has read it. And that's a damn shame in itself.

  20. David Corbett


    Of course, you would taunt us with a program we can't see! (BBCA is currently obsessed with Dr. Who.)

    I hope to see Forbrydelsen sometime. I can understand your take on The Killing, but for American TV, it's definitely progress.


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