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HBO's The Investigation steers away from true-crime's tendency to treat women’s deaths as entertainment

  • The six-part limited series on the 2017 killing of Swedish journalist Kim Wall on a submarine is the next evolution of true-crime, says Karen Han. "True crime has been booming for the last several years, with the popularity of Serial and The Jinx and fictional shows like True Detective and the Danish series The Killing (remade for American TV in 2011) further enflaming the public’s fascination with murder," says Han. "The Investigation should ostensibly fall into the same category. Directed by Tobias Lindholm and premiering on HBO February 1, the six-part series is a dramatization of the criminal investigation of the 2017 murder of journalist Kim Wall. The show is immediately notable for tackling such recent history (the case came to a close in 2018), but truly distinguishes itself in one key way: Per its director, The Investigation isn’t a 'true crime' series. Rather, it’s 'true investigation.' Throughout the series, Kim Wall’s murderer is never mentioned by name, nor does he ever appear as a character, and though violent acts are often discussed, they’re never shown. Even the recovery of Wall’s dismembered body, which is a major part of the series, is handled with discretion. Wall’s name, however, is used, making her present in a way that her killer is not. (Contrast that with HBO’s marketing for The Jinx, which featured Robert Durst front and center.) Every choice Lindholm makes steers away from true crime’s weakness for exploiting women’s deaths as entertainment. The show’s center is not the gruesome details of Wall’s murder but the process of investigation itself. It’s a procedural in the truest sense of the word."


    • The limited series on the Kim Wall murder case feels like it's sidelining Kim Wall: "The male focus (and authorship) of The Investigation also forces the question of why this particular iteration of Wall’s story has been made — one that esteems the journalist’s work and goals but ultimately so centers on an admirable detective that, with a few superficial rewrites, the series could’ve been made about almost any victim of an outré crime," says Inkoo Kang. 'In an interview with The New York Times, Lindholm suggests that his show is about the restoration of justice by functional legal institutions, and there’s undoubtedly comfort in that for Nordic audiences. But even with an extensive epilogue dedicated to Wall and her parents’ endeavors to remember their late daughter by funding the work of female journalists, the show can’t help feeling like it’s also sidelining the real-life woman without whose death it would have never existed."
    • The Investigation is a show that understands the gravity of its own story: "Its intense unity of vision makes The Investigation the first great scripted series of 2021," says Daniel D'Addario, adding: "That impulse towards justice is a human one, and one that can be put towards troubling ends: So often, crime TV has its roots in the gleefully punitive. So many shows provide a giddily indulgent look at the dark side of humanity. Here, though, Wall’s killer is neither seen nor mentioned by name throughout the series. It may seem lofty to say that the cops’ primary objective is to solve the case rather than prosecute the killer — a prosecutor is involved, after all — but the show ends up convincing its viewer, beat by painstaking beat. Its subject matter is, tragically, perfectly apt: Wall was known in life for superlative work as a journalist, bringing underexposed cases to light through rigorous reporting. The similar rigor of those seeking to bring closure to the far-too-short story of her life was one way of honoring her. The Investigation, so deeply a tribute to what is good — self-sacrificing, humble, serious when it counts — about the communities we share, is another."
    • Read about the true story of Kim Wall's killing

    TOPICS: The Investigation, HBO, Kim Wall, Tobias Lindholm