AMC has already found success in taking viewers inside the unique worlds of a 1960s advertising agency (Mad Men), a dying crystal-meth cooker (Breaking Bad), and a group of survivors battling zombies (The Walking Dead). Now the cable channel has delved into the murder-mystery genre with The Killing (airing Sundays at 10 p.m. ET, 9 p.m. CT), which follows the twisty and grim murder investigation of 17-year-old Seattle teen Rosie Larsen. Exec producer Veena Sud had just finished five seasons writing for the CBS’ procedural Cold Case but was instantly drawn to this adaptation of the Danish series Forbrydelsen. “I heard that phrase The Killing and I said ‘I’m in,’” says Sud. “I love how dark and raw that title is, and ditto on the material. It was wonderfully addictive, great storytelling and an awesome female lead.” The same could be said for the American version, which logged AMC’s second-highest premiere ratings ever. EW talked to Sud about The Killing’s central mystery, comparisons to Twin Peaks, and what season 2 would look like.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How closely does this hew to the original series?
VEENA SUD: Our version of The Killing uses the original series foundation — three stories, one murder, one episode, one day. We took the framework of the original, which was phenomenal storytelling, and used some of the shorter arcs and the longer arcs in their storytelling but started to just riff. After the pilot, just started to kind of go off in our own direction.
So the three storylines you’re talking about are the police investigation, the political campaign, and the parents of Rosie?
Yes. So it’s almost like high and low. It’ the upper echelons of the city’s power machinations — the politicians; the middle managers of the city — the cops; and ground zero — the city of the family of the slain child.
Is the killer the same as in the original version?
We have a different killer. It’s a really delicate house of cards sustaining a mystery for 13 hours. Knowing that we weren’t going to go to that same place that [the original series] did, we had to create our own twists and turns.
When you started this, did you come up with the killer first and then back track?
With this story because it’s so deeply character based, we really ended up saying, “Let’s not be married to the idea of [blank] as the murderer, and let’s walk in these people’s shoes. Let’s walk in the vicitm’s shoes, the cops’ shoes, and see where that path takes us.” So it was the polar opposite of knowing the end.
Will we get flashbacks to Rosie?
No. You’ll never see flashbacks. The only time we’ll see the dead girl alive is in photographs or in the real things you would have if someone passed away. That was a decision we batted back a lot because flashbacks are so incredibly effective. I really wanted to be faithful to walking in the detective’s shoes. So the detective never gets flashbacks. We gave ourselves that challenge. It’s actually really hard. How do you create an affinity for this person you’ve never known?
Were you ever concerned about how dark this show is and people tuning in?
No. I mean I’ve always been drawn to dark material. Any sort of authentic experience is what we seek as TV viewers. I’m sure at one point ER seemed to be too dark and Homicide seemed to be too dark. But I think as long as you tell a true story, people will come. We do want real experiences and real connections and not artificial kind of closure and artificial endings.
Will we find out the killer before episode 13?
I can’t [say]. It ruins the mystery.
There have been comparisons to Twin Peaks. What do you think about that?
I have never seen Twin Peaks. I heard that. I assumed because we’re set in Seattle and there’s a young girl that’s been murdered, I think maybe it’s natural people would compare shows because you don’t often see, dark, brooding cop shows set in Seattle. I guess there’s two of us now.
What can you tease about the rest of the season going forward?
One thing we’ll be seeing is that every single one of our characters has our secrets. Under the microscope of a murder investigation, no one’s secret remains safe. That includes the family, Sarah Linden, Darren Richmond, and that includes the victim. One of the big questions we’re gonna start thinking about as the series progresses is: How well do you ever really know anybody? You think you know your wife. You think you know your best friend. You think you know your child. But do you really?
What would season 2 be?
I can’t say without giving it away. But the great pleasure of writing The Killing is to get to take all the tropes and clichés and formulas and either riff off of them or throw them out the window. That is the mindset I’ve had from the very beginning. There is no formula. There is no endpoint. Let’s see where this story takes us. If I don’t know the end, then no one else will guess it. Having said that, there’s a deeply satisfying and shocking ending to this story.