Below are my thoughts on the Season 1 finale of 'The Killing.' You might say that I have many thoughts about it.
But don't read on unless you've seen the final episode of the season.
YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME. (I'm going to walk away now, imbibe a handful of sedatives, and come back when I am not frothing at the mouth...)
Okay. Some of the meds have kicked in. Let's start again.
Writing about television is a funny business. One day you're recommending a show's atmospheric aesthetics and measured pace, and three months later, you're wishing you could step into the Wayback Machine to take back every positive thing you ever said about the show.
Strap yourselves in, folks. Get ready for the angriest television-related screed I think I've ever written. I'm not sure how to start, except to say that I hated the season finale of 'The Killing' with the burning intensity of 10,000 white-hot suns.
It wasn't just a bad ending to a poorly constructed, sloppy, disappointing season. It was a jaw-dropping instance of a show not just squandering its promise, but betraying its viewers. The tone-deaf arrogance of the writers and executives responsible for 'The Killing' is simply astonishing. And depressing, if you're a fan of quality television.
Let me be clear, I hold the show's executive producer and head writer, Veena Sud, responsible for a season-ender that not only DID NOT tell us who killed Rosie Larsen but turned Holder into a villain and did a number of other stupidly melodramatic, preposterously manipulative things. But I blame AMC executives as much as Sud -- if not more.
At some point, perhaps even before production began on the American adaptation of the Danish show 'Forbrydelsen,' AMC executives must have known what Sud's plans for the season were. If I'd been in their shoes as I read the season's outline and scripts, I'd have told Sud and her writers that the show's pacing was way off, the characterizations were lazy or inept and the "reveals," such as they were, were usually unsatisfying and took far too long to arrive. I think many viewers of the show, even those who started out with positive assessments, would have said similar things.
But when the executives heard her idea for the show's season 1 finale, they should have leaped out of their seats and said, "NO no no, a thousand times no." And they should have explained that AMC, in the last few years, has come to an agreement with its audience, and that what she planned would do grievous bodily harm to that agreement.
The agreement between AMC and viewers, in my mind, goes something like this: We as a network will give you smart, challenging, occasionally frustrating but generally well-constructed and emotionally engaging fare. Our shows may not fit into easily the usual television formats or paradigms, and our characters may do awful things at times, but whatever it is we're trying and whatever it is our characters are doing, we'll try to challenge, engage and entertain you. In return for giving us an hour or two of your attention every week, we will do our best to ensure that your time will not be wasted.
'The Killing,' in the last two months or so, has been a waste of time. This week, it turned into a giant insult. This wasn't a swing and a miss. Those are forgivable and expected on networks that take chances with their material. This hour was, in my opinion, the worst season finale of all time, because it was a terrible execution of a set of colossally stupid, misguided and condescending ideas. And clearly, people at the network have known about what would be in the finale for some time. They should have stopped it. All of it.
AMC flagrantly wasted 13 hours of its viewers' lives, and in this era of fragmented audiences and multiple distractions, that's the worst crime a network can commit. We have plenty of other stuff to do, and if 'The Killing' is just going to yank our chain -- not for emotionally and intellectually compelling reasons, but just because it can -- I'll plan on doing that other stuff when the show returns next year.
One thing. Just one thing. The one thing the finale needed to do was tell me who killed Rosie Larsen. That's all I think many fans wanted at this point. Most of the other things I'd once liked about the show -- the performances, the atmosphere, etc -- had dissipated in a haze of boring red herrings and sludgy misdirects, so I was hanging on for that one bit of resolution.
And hey, guess what? We didn't even get that. Now, if Sud or AMC want to split hairs and say that nobody associated with the show ever said they'd tell us who killed Rosie Larsen by the end of the season, that's terrifically annoying and adds insult to injury. "Who Killed Rosie Larsen?" was the tagline of the show's marketing campaign. If you'd told me at the start of the season that the show wasn't going to bother answering that crucial question -- a question that the network itself drew attention to -- there's no way I would have bothered with any of it. Don't waste my time and insult my intelligence.
An answer to that question wasn't the only thing I wanted when the show began. Back then, I wanted the things that good or great dramas generally provide: Memorable depictions of the complex lives and and emotionally resonant dilemmas of interesting people caught up in compelling situations. All that would have been nice, but I gave up on getting that some time ago, since this show seemed hell-bent on giving the audience only tiny slivers of those things on an occasional basis. After realizing that 'The Killing' was a plain old bait-and-switch -- this hollow vessel proved it could not satisfy the basic requirements of competent drama -- I just wanted to know who murdered the girl. And the show didn't even give me that.
I watched the last few minutes of the season in slack-jawed horror. Not the good kind of horror. I was stunned that the show would double back on so many things and then leave a host of new questions unanswered.
Guess what? Richmond didn't do it. But Holder "proved" Richmond did it with evidence that could be easily discounted. If the person on the phone with Linden knew that the cameras on that bridge were out of operation, surely that bureaucrat could supply that information to anyone else who asked. So the fake picture would never hold up in court, if Richmond's case even got that far.
Was the picture produced to ruin Richmond's election chances? Don't know.
Why did Holder engineer or produce that photo? Don't know.
Who was he working for? Don't know.
What was that person's agenda? Don't know.
Did Belko (hey, remember Belko? He still exists. And apparently he's turned into a full-on psycho) actually manage to kill Richmond? Don't know.
Yes, folks, it's true. We all spent 13 hours watching a turgid murder mystery that left us, in some crucial arenas, with LESS INFORMATION than we had the day after we watched the season premiere. That's a great feeling, right?
What a mess. What an avoidable, idiotic, ill-conceived mess. It's actually quite laughable, when you think about it. If the show had managed to make us care about these people, maybe some of these turnabouts and switcheroos would have served as intriguing revelations. [Roseanne Roseannadanna John Belushi voice] "But noooooooooooooooo......" Once again 'The Killing' basically just pulled a bunch of random stuff out of its back pocket, and the most galling part is, the show apparently expects us to think all that is really cool and subversive.
No. When a good show breaks the rules, it offers good justifications for breaking those rules and offers interesting new paradigms, exciting new possibilities and/or great character development. 'The Killing' is not a good show, because it basically took all the questions we had, threw them back in our faces, added some more from left field, and said, "So long, suckers!"
The end of season 2 of 'Battlestar Galactica'? That was a great, great "What the hell" moment. This? This was just a melodramatic crapfest.
I don't get angry with shows that try interesting things but spectacularly fail to execute them well. I may be disappointed or disgruntled, but hey, that kind of thing happens. I become angry when I feel that the people responsible for a show do not realize that they've been given a precious gift -- the gift of the audience's time. Anyone who willfully squanders that gift is deluded or shockingly cavalier. Or both.
Such behavior really sets me off, as you might have noticed. Maybe it's my Irish temper talking here, or maybe it's my regret at having given this show a positive review well before I knew what a disaster it would turn into. In any event, I certainly wouldn't blame the audience for feeling a great deal of anger about how this season and this finale played out.
There was so much stupidity on display in 'Orpheus Descending,' and not all of it was in the final minutes. Why was Jack allowed to hang out with his dad again? Why did Linden change her mind about that? Don't know. Why didn't Stan tell Mitch that he's spent all their money on a house for the family? Even if she didn't particularly want the house, wouldn't that have been information that a normal person would have offered at some point? Guess not.
As for Linden's second visit to Richmond's office, I know it was meant to be a big emotional moment for the detective, but I couldn't get over the face that she was once again alone in a room with a guy she thought was a murderer. Last week, it was pretty preposterous that she was in his home when those emails arrived, but this week, her behavior was beyond preposterous. We have no idea whether she knew that Gwen was hanging around, but regardless, this time Linden was sure Richmond was a cold-blooded killer -- and she put herself to be alone in a room with him on purpose.
She put herself in danger, she yelled at him for a while, she showed her hand in a pretty decisive way -- and then she didn't arrest him. Honestly, watching this finale was like being hit in the head with a tire iron. Repeatedly.
And then there's the whole reveal about Holder. From the start, has he been gaming the case and trying to frame Richmond? Nope, we don't even get to know when his betrayal began and what Holder's personal motivations have been. As I've been saying for weeks, Joel Kinnaman's performance has been the one redeeming thing about the show. But now his character is revealed to be a massive dirtbag in the last few minutes of the season. Thanks so much.
That isn't character development, because that is confounding information that, as is its wont, the show revealed without a hint of preamble or setup. We had no indication that Holder could play these kinds of deeply vicious games, we were given to understand that he truly cared about Linden as a partner and a friend, and yet we're just supposed to swallow that he was callously betraying her, possibly all season long.
Let me be clear about the fact that I don't hold the actors responsible for this steaming pile of nonsense. I look at the work Brent Sexton did in the scene with Bennet's wife and I regret, once again, that the show didn't give these excellent actors sufficient scope for their skills on a consistent basis.
If anything, I look forward to all of them getting new gigs -- and I hope none of them return for the next season of 'The Killing,' which AMC has already commissioned (with Sud at the helm). Why would I want capable actors stranded in a show that undercuts whatever emotional investment their performances have created by randomly revealing things about their characters without proper setup or the laying of any kind of realistic groundwork?
If anything, the fact that Linden and Holder had a few good partner moments in this episode makes me more angry about the revelation of Holder's betrayal. And again, we don't even know who he's working for. We don't know if Belko assassinated Richmond. We don't know if Linden will go to Sonoma for good or return to the hunt for Rosie's killer, who, 13 hours later, is still at large. Unbelievable.
A good season finale will set up tantalizing ideas for what may go down when the show returns. This astoundingly awful, obnoxious finale just threw a bunch of crap at the wall and purposely left viewers in the dark about a vast number of things.
I do know one thing. 'The Killing' has killed off any interest I had in ever watching the show again. That is one fact I can state conclusively.
It’s pretty clear when dissecting AMC’s The Killing, which had its season finale Sunday, that there are two opposing forces at work. There are the fans who have kept the show a success for AMC and have, through the course of a trying season, kept the faith – through anticipation of an answer to the question of who killed Rosie Larsen, the central mystery of the show, or perhaps because they were enthralled by the storytelling. On the other side were a raucous bunch of displeased fans and critics who have been harping on the show’s weaknesses for a while now.
There is no bringing the two together and I doubt, anyway, whether the fans that love The Killing are worried about what others think of their entertainment choices. It’s always this way and it will always remain this way: the audience decides.
And yet, as someone who has defended The Killing, if for no other reason than a story like this needs to be fully told before final judgment is passed, there really is no defending the show after the finale. I kept up with The Killing because I liked the acting performances of Mireille Enos and Joel Kinnaman, the detectives trying to figure out who killed Rosie, and Michelle Forbes and Brent Sexton, who played Rosie’s grieving, troubled parents.
The excellence in those performances stayed true to the end.
I also liked the atmospheric bleakness of Seattle, even when others thought there was too much rain (perhaps they’ve never been to the Pacific Northwest). But ultimately a series comes down to its storytelling and, given the conclusion (or lack thereof) in the season finale, it’s just impossible to prop up the weaknesses if there was no final saving grace.
And there wasn’t. The Killing relied entirely too much on red herrings, a gambit that grows increasingly ineffectual the more it’s used. Though I held out hope that the politician Darren Richmond (Billy Campbell) would actually be the killer, a part of me was waiting, with head-shaking disappointment, for the return of the red herring. That was the deciding factor, ultimately.
Had Richmond been the killer, not only would it have put an end to the red herring business a couple of episodes shy of the season, it would have worked thematically: the too-good-to-be-true politician who grieved for his dead wife turns out to be an amoral con artist and psychopathic killer, who is driven to commit heinous acts by his tortured memory – one that kinks out on women who could never be his beloved.
There was material to mine there. Beyond that, there was a satisfying ending that could have bled into Season 2, where we saw B storylines from Season 1 get wrapped up as a new case emerged.
But no. Richmond wasn’t the killer. And now he looks to be gunned down in the final seconds by Belko, the mentally-challenged friend of the Larsen family. But since the screen went black, that will probably be a red herring, too. Worse, we find out that detective Holder – played with ever-increasing brilliance by Kinnaman – helped frame Richmond. So, in the course of an hour, The Killing shook off a chance to close Rosie’s murder, prolonging into Season 2 a fan’s need to follow the show down another twists-filled path, and took one of the most likable characters in the show and made him a creep.
If this was show runner Veena Sud’s attempt to add depth and gravitas to a series that cruised on atmospherics and exceptional acting, I’m not sure this is the right direction. Great acting can’t cover annoyingly thin character development. Red herrings are not, in and of themselves, acceptable plot devices or story accelerants, and asking the audience of a serialized show to commit to another season when they haven’t been given any answers in the first one is foolish.
And so – disappointment. What’s worse is that we all might have been sold a bill of goods on the Danish series that led to this U.S. remake. Although it enthralled a nation, Forbrydelsen, as it was called, had numerous detractors who thought the series didn’t make a lot of sense and that – wait for it – the gratuitous use of red herrings was harmful to the overall quality of the series. Beyond that, it appears that Sud is veering away from the actual killer in the Danish series and that this stuff with Holder being in on the conspiracy is at least in part a U.S. variant (which makes it even more annoying).
If true, what that means is that liberties being take in the AMC version of The Killing are not even good ones and God only knows where they will lead. In fairness, the Danish series went 20 episodes, so it could be that Sud will wrap up exactly who killed Rosie Larsen around the seventh episode in Season 2, then move on to a new case (which would, if that pattern holds – and this is a bit chilling – lead to another unsolved cliff-hanger for Season 2), which then would lead into Season 3.
I wouldn’t rule out going along for that ride, but it certainly doesn’t sound appealing right now.
There’s also the notion that Forbrydelsen, which I haven’t seen, just isn’t as great as hyped. A thought.
As for our version of The Killing, I’m not nearly as aggrieved as some critics are about this ending – it wasn’t the worst ending to a series ever, nor was it so galling that I’m convinced this is the downfall of “Story Matters” at AMC. Both of those are too knee-jerk to be believable and the impact probably lies somewhere at the halfway mark of those pronouncements.
What we know right now is that The Killing wasn’t able to save itself in the end, that some fans may rightly recalculate their loyalty and that AMC is as fallible as the next channel when it comes to quality control. There are no red herrings in those sentences.