It feels as though 2014 is quickly shaping up to be the year of the damaged detective on television.
It's fitting that Those Who Kill, A&E's gripping new drama series starring Chloe Sevigny and James D'Arcy, premieres the same week that HBO's True Detective will wrap up its inaugural season. Both shows follow law-enforcement officials who are haunted by the demons of their work — in Sevigny's case, recently promoted homicide detective Catherine Jensen. But while Catherine will draw inevitable comparisons to other tortured investigators, Sevigny's portrayal — like Matthew McConaughey's excellent outing as Rust Cohle in True Detective — infuses the character with a level of nuance that's rarely seen in standard detective fare.
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"There's this great lineage of cops on TV and there's been all these amazing male characters that are morally ambiguous, and finally to have a female one ... I just felt like this was a great opportunity," Sevigny tells TVGuide.com about her return to television. "I thought the character was really complex and multilayered."
In the premiere (Monday, 10/9c), while investigating the case of a serial killer who kidnaps and tortures his victims before murdering them, Catherine enlists the help of forensic profiler Thomas Schaeffer (D'Arcy). "Catherine and my character are both pretty damaged individuals. ... They see themselves as kindred spirits right away," D'Arcy tells TVGuide.com. "Thomas is studying a live case here, which I think is very exciting to him. ... But also, within all of that, he has a very protective streak toward her."
For the record, Sevigny says the show will not explore any sort of romance between Catherine and Thomas. "Our head writer, Glen Morgan, wrote on The X-Files, and they liked to keep tension between Scully and [Mulder]," she says. "So I think that was more the model that they wanted to follow."
Though the pilot plays out like a police procedural, its final moments set up the show's overarching plot, which chronicles Catherine's quest to find out what happened to her brother, who disappeared years prior, and to prove her suspicion that her stepfather is a serial killer.
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"Catherine, to me, is the biggest mystery of the show," Sevigny says. "What happened to her, the crime that happened to her in her family, is the big crime of the whole series, and she just can't live her life until it's solved. I feel like a lot of people, when a crime happens to somebody that they love, it just becomes their identity, and that's what happened to her. When people lose someone, their grief overcomes them to the extent that they just can't live their life. ... They can't find any peace; they can't find any rest. That's exactly what's going on with Catherine, and that's what I thought was so interesting. Instead of just her being an alcoholic like every other cop on TV, or her having some sort of mental problem, it's the crime. It's really informed who she is and what she's become and what she's doing with her life."
Adds D'Arcy: "This is not a serial killer-of-the-week show, which was important to me. ... [Morgan's] plan and his hope was to make a show that was more focused on the victims than on the perpetrators, which I thought was an interesting twist on these kind of stories."
Those Who Kill marks Sevigny's second leading turn on TV, after 2012's little-watched British series Hit & Miss, in which she played a transgender hitwoman. "Having loved playing Mia in Hit & Miss so much and being so frustrated that nobody really got to see it ... I just wanted the opportunity to play another lead role on television, I guess is really the long and short of it," Sevigny tells TVGuide.com. "I feel like there were some similarities in the characters."
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The show is based on a Danish series, but the adaptation and the original are similar in premise only, according to Sevigny and D'Arcy, neither of whom has watched the original series. ("I turned it on once and I watched the opening credits and I cringed, so I turned it off," Sevigny says.)
Over the course of the pilot, viewers learn that Catherine has a history of being abused, is a cutter, turns to white wine for comfort, and has tortilla chips in her pantry that have been there so long they're no longer edible.
"I think that she sees herself a bit of as a failure," Sevigny says of her character. "Her brother was being abused and she didn't speak up for it because she was intimidated and frightened at the time. ... She ultimately feels like she let down the person who was the most important person in her life, which was her brother. I think she's trying to now make up for that by being a policewoman and helping other people, because she was not able to help her brother."
And she's not the only character haunted by her past. Schaeffer has a history with the department — a botched case is hinted at — that has led to tension between him and Catherine's boss Frank Bisgaard (James Morrison), not to mention some friction at home. At one point, his wife (Anne Dudek) flatly tells him that she'd rather catch him having an affair than working on another active case.
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"Thomas is somebody who feels that he really does have a skill, which he dislikes intensely about himself, but it's a skill which he believes can make the world a better place," D'Arcy tells TVGuide.com. "He has this ability to completely empathize with the serial killer. ... Obviously trying to manage that along with having a family at the same time is not without complications."
As Thomas and Catherine realize that they may relate to the killers they're hunting more than they would care to admit, it's a treat for viewers to peel back the layers of these characters in turn. At one point in the premiere of Those Who Kill, Catherine tells her best friend's young daughter, "You have to be worse than them," referring to the monsters the little girl sees in her nightmares. Based on a surprising decision she makes toward the end of the episode, it's clear that this is Catherine's mantra for dealing with monsters both real and imagined.
Those Who Kill premieres Monday at 10/9c on A&E. Will you watch?