March 11, 2014

THE SKED Pilot + 1 Review: “Those Who Kill”


THOSE WHO KILL:  Monday 10PM on A&E

A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot and the production of regular episodes: writer/producers may be hired or fired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover) give plenty of notes, helpful and otherwise, and critics start to rear their ugly heads. Tone, pace, casting, and even story can change. Here at THE SKED, we’re going to look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular season episodes as well.

Previously… on THOSE WHO KILL:  Catherine Jensen (Chloe Sevigny) is a Pittsburgh homicide detective on the serial killer beat.  She has demons in her past, and so does Thomas Schaeffer (James D’Arcy), the forensic psychologist she takes on–against the wishes of her Captain, Frank Bisgaard (James Morrison)–as her unofficial partner.  At the end of the pilot, Catherine coldbloodedly executed the unarmed murderer she’d tracked down.

Episode 2:  We started to learn about Catherine’s backstory, with the revelation that she believes her stepfather, unctuous Family Court judge Howard Burgess (Bruce Davison), to have tortured and killed not only her brother, but other children as well.  She desperately wants Schaeffer to help bring Burgess down, something he’s hesitant to take on because of his own past failures.  The episode also gave us a look at Catherine’s barren personal life, as she picked up a married father for a one night stand while she was taking care of her best friend’s daughters at a family restaurant.

After the reasonably polished pilot, this episode, written by US series creator Glen Morgan and directed by David Petrarca, was shockingly disjointed and sketchy in its storytelling, failing to develop either of its central plotlines effectively.  The new serial killer story, which will be continued for at least another episode, was so terse as to barely exist, with the single notable aspect being the victim’s scrawled “I Am” in her own blood (or maybe the killer scrawled it) beside her body, although presumably it will tie in with quick scenes of another woman laid out on a table with a dog licking at the blood on her hands, sequences that smacked of torture porn.

Catherine was presented as almost comically obsessive (not that the show has the barest hint of a sense of humor), repeatedly jumping into the new case even though she was suspended pending clearance for her shooting in the pilot–literally jumping, in fact, into the dumpster where the body had been found, and where she, of course, discovered the clue everyone else had missed.  The rest of the squad were, in contrast, such idiots that it was remarkable they could find their way to the office in the morning–after the revelation that the victim was 4 months pregnant, no one even seemed to ask who the father had been.  Like Catherine, Schaeffer is the kind of genius who merely needs to look at a file or crime scene for seconds before arriving at a mindblowing insight.

Those Who Kill is a handsomely made show (the sequence where Catherine picked up her instant lover was gorgeously shot–if anything, too pretty for the humble family pub where it was set), but it’s in danger of falling apart very quickly.  Sevigny is used only for her most obvious quality as an actress, her almost feral intensity, which makes her character seem like little more than a collection of fixed stares, while D’Arcy is merely brooding, and none of the other characters have any flavor at all.  The serialized story of Catherine and her stepfather is flat in its obviousness so far, and one couldn’t even make sense of the current plotline.

After the heady ambitions of True Detective, Those Who Kill serves as a reminder that dark, violent plotting alone doesn’t give a crime series depth.  The ratings for its premiere were disastrous (Kill lost about 60% of its Bates Motel lead-in audience), and that’s more a failure of the show’s elements and marketing than its quality, since by definition those people who didn’t watch couldn’t even have known if they’d like it.  But now it needs to claw its way back by way of quality, and tonight’s episode suggests that it may not be in enough supply.


PILOT + 1:  Disintegrating Fast


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."