THOSE WHO KILL Review: A&E’s New Crime Drama Breaks Convention

     March 3, 2014


In a TV landscape already saturated with cop series and crime shows, can Those Who Kill make its mark?  Its first positive distinguishing factor is its setting — the show takes place, and is filmed, in Pittsburgh, which is a refreshing change of scenery.  The other is that the personal history of newly minted homicide detective Catherine Jensen (Chloe Sevigny) — a history which drives her dogged pursuit of criminals — is one that is still very much present, alive, and shrouded in mystery, though not secrecy.  Hit the jump for more on what makes Those Who Kill (based on a Danish series of the same name) a promising new show.

those-who-kill-posterThose Who Kill starts off unexpectedly, with Jensen seen staking out, and then breaking into, the home of a sleeping older couple.  She watches them with a murderous gaze.  As she exits, she steals a framed photo off of the wall.  It is her mother and step-father who she seems to despise so deeply, holding them responsible for the long-ago disappearance of her brother (and a lot more than that), which gives some basis for her nocturnal visitations.  It also establishes the drive that will define the rest of her work with homicide.

That idea is tested immediately, as Jensen is thrown into a case regarding a mummified body found in a factory.  The way the show gets Pittsburgh’s vibe — the working class dialogue of the factory workers versus Jensen’s gentrified and probably converted apartment — is a testament to the show’s desire for authenticity.  It’s a theme that also plays out with Jensen and forensic psychologist Thomas Schaeffer (James D’Arcy), a rogue academic who she recruits because of his expertise and devotion to his cases: it’s clear that both have trouble distancing themselves emotionally from their work, to a point beyond most police dramas.

Schaeffer’s ability to use his mental and emotional intelligence to make leaps of logic is reminiscent of Hannibal‘s Will Graham, a man who is so affected by the crimes he consults about, he actually imagines himself as the killer.  Schaeffer does the same, and in a creepy moment, actually embodies the mind of a killer against Jensen, which he later said he “learned valuable things from.”  But at what cost?

Jensen herself though goes over the line in understanding criminal behavior to the point of reenacting it, too, and depending on what the show does with that, could either enhance her character or just not work at all (the latter of which is where it is in the pilot).  But Those Who Kill does a lot in its first hour to set up the parameters of Jensen’s environment on the force, Schaeffer’s issues with the department, as well as his own (his wife, at one point, says she’d rather he had an affair than get involved in another case).  There’s also, of course, the overarching plot about Jensen’s family.

those-who-kill-chloe-sevignyBut the show is one that has set its focus on serial killers.  Unfortunately, having only seen the first episode of Those Who Kill, there are a lot of questions about where the show can go from here with that narrow commitment.  The show did a great job of finding a twisty path for Jensen and Schaeffer to follow regarding their first serial killer case (which was creepy and graphic), but reasonably speaking, how many serial killers can there be in Pittsburgh?  It seems unrealistic and unwieldy.  However, if the show can find a way to focus on one-offs as well as multi-episode killers, then that could be very promising.  The toll that would take over time (“Every time this psycho kills someone, you’re going to feel responsible, and you shouldn’t,” Jensen’s boss tells her) would be interesting to explore, especially as Jensen and Schaeffer also investigate her step-father.

Those Who Kill has proven in its first episode that it knows how to break typical crime show conventions, and is chock-full of some genuine twists and turns, along with a lot of “almosts” that make the eventualities more rewarding.  The show takes the approach, so far, of letting viewers know everything, and seeing how, or even if, the detectives can work it out on their end.  But whether or not it will continue to involved Jensen in such a personal way remains to be seen.  It doesn’t seem realistic or workable moving forward, but not having seen anything else, it’s difficult to judge.

From what I have seen, though, Those Who Kill makes a strong case for itself as a show to keep watching, not only for the revelation of the central mystery, but for the strength of Jensen and Schaeffer’s characters. It also pairs perfectly with A&E’s other creepy, atmospheric series Bates Motel, which will serve as the lead-in.  There’s a little bit of hokum in there (like Jensen’s collection of art that are all pictures of famous serial killers’ houses), and some kinks to work out, but overall, it may not be able to fill the void left by True Detective, but it’s worth investigating.

Those Who Kill premieres Monday, March 3rd at 10 p.m. ET on A&E.