Just when I think the increasingly threadbare serial-killer crime genre is in the process of fading, along comes another show like Those Who Kill, which premieres tonight on A&E Network following the Season 2 premiere of Bates Motel.
Set in Pittsburgh but based on a successful Danish TV series, Those Who Kill stars Golden Globe winner Chloe Sevigny (Big Love) as recently promoted homicide detective Catherine Jensen. Jensen is a prickly type who frequently ticks off her colleagues with her boundary-crossing style, especially after she insists on teaming up with forensic psychologist Thomas Shaeffer (James D’Arcy). Schaeffer, we soon learn, has an unfortunate history with Catherine’s boss, Frank Bisgaard (James Morrison), who holds Schaeffer responsible for botching one of his own cases in the past.
Still, after Schaeffer leads Catherine (with almost comical speed) to the burial ground her latest quarry is using for his victims, she’s confident he’s the man for the job – even though he has an unsettling knack for connecting a little too deeply with the killer’s psyche.
If Schaeffer is a bit strange, though, Catherine is a pretty odd duck herself. She keeps pictures of the homes of serial killers John Wayne Gacy and Jeffrey Dahmer on her living room wall, and is convinced that a member of her own family is behind the unsolved disappearance of her older brother, who vanished several years ago.
This is the kind of back story that gives an actress several interesting notes to play. I just wish Sevigny didn’t feel compelled to play all of them at once. Sevigny always has been a very … well, let’s say “generous” actress, but her performance in tonight’s premiere is just all over the place, with far too many shrill notes verging on hysteria. Since series pilots often feature broad performances as the cast tries to fill in the rough outlines of their characters, I’m hoping she will dial it back in coming weeks, because frankly I’d hate to live in any large city where this high-strung loose cannon was packing heat.
On the plus side, D’Arcy – a British actor who copes with an American accent reasonably well – is very interesting in his role, and veteran actors Bruce Davison and multiple Emmy winner Kathy Baker will appear in future episodes. Also, the guy running Those Who Kill behind the scenes is Glen Morgan, whose past work on The X-Files leaves me cautiously optimistic for this new show’s prospects.
Fun fact: D’Arcy played Anthony Perkins in Hitchcock, the 2012 theatrical biopic starring Anthony Hopkins in the title role. Which leads us, not a moment too soon, to the welcome return of A&E’s hit thriller Bates Motel, in the time slot immediately preceding Those Who Kill.
As fans may remember, Season 1 faded out on the image of Blair Watson, the high school advisor of Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore), lying dead on the floor of her home, her throat cut. Earlier in the episode, we had seen Miss Watson giving Norman a ride in her car during a torrential downpour. As Norman waited for her to drive him back to the Bates Motel, Miss Watson adjourned to her bedroom to change clothes. Her door slipped ajar, giving Norman a provocative glimpse of the teacher partially undressed. Cut to Norman running home, hellbent for leather, and into his mother’s arms.
Season 2 opens with Norma (Vera Farmiga) getting a robo-call from the school principal informing her of Miss Watson’s death. She asks Norman again about what happened the night before, but all Norman is able to recall are disjointed fragments, none of them particularly stabby.
Flash forward four months, and business is booming at the Bates Motel. Norma is almost – dare I say it? – happy, although she worries that Norman is becoming morbid, practicing taxidermy in the basement when he isn’t making regular trips to Miss Watson’s graveside. (Before you think Norma finally has sharpened her parenting skills, think again: She’s worried Norman’s behavior will make people think she’s a bad mother).
Soon, however, Norma has another distraction to fret about: Work is about to begin on the dreaded highway bypass, long delayed for lack of funding, which would re-route tourists away from the motel. She is not pleased.
That’s only scratching the surface of tonight’s season premiere of Bates Motel, but suffice it to say that, among other things, by the time the hour is up we have reason to wonder whether Norman really did kill Miss Watson. More to the point, Farmiga and Highmore slip back into their mother-son roles effortlessly, picking up one of the most amazing double acts you’ll find anywhere in prime time.