Form trumps function in the final six episodes of the critically divisive "The Killing," which lands on Netflix on Friday.
Many less beset and troubled shows have been canceled without benefit of conclusion or coda over the years, but shifts in viewer expectation, coupled with the recent rise of streaming services and platform migration, make all things possible. Just as it resurrected fan favorite "Arrested Development," Netflix is testing the Just to Wrap Up waters.
Unfortunately, whatever satisfaction might be derived from seeing "The Killing" intentionally concluded (Netflix made only four episodes available, so the nature or quality of that conclusion cannot be vouched for) is overwhelmed almost immediately by a sense of melancholy: Even the most forgiving fan will find "The Killing" a shadow of its former self.
In the Season 3 finale, Det. Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) ruthlessly shot her fellow officer/lover when he turned out to be the serial killer she was hunting. The fourth "season" picks up just after she and her partner, Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman), have apparently disposed of the body, as they clean up and attempt to get their story straight.
The story toggles between their (not very convincing) cover-up and a new case while wildly attempting to gather up all the various themes and narrative loose ends like a contestant in a timed shopping spree. Linden, whose alabaster stillness was once so revelatory, is now such a mess that one fears for Enos' actual physical well-being — was she always that thin? — while Holder has lost almost all his easygoing hipster-grubby charm.
Not even the presence of Joan Allen as the crazy, great head of a military academy (Yes, the show is reaching, into "Citadel" territory) can keep viewers from wishing it would just conclude already.
Watching, one feels several degrees of sadness; in many ways, the show was a victim of the same set of circumstances that might have turned it into another Emmy-winning hit.
When it debuted on AMC in 2011 to swooning reviews, Veena Sud's adaptation of a Danish crime series seemed to further the network's brand for darkly intense character dramas, its mismatched but still haunted detectives poised to become TV's new prestige power couple.
Then the first season finale ended with a last-minute, oh-wait-we-got-the-wrong-guy twist outraging many who felt Sud had reneged on her "promise" to wrap up the murder investigation. Social media exploded with invective, revealing a new truism of the rising age of television: There is no fury like a super fan scorned.
The show never recovered. Driven more by a need to placate than explore, the second season devolved into a much more standard, though still well-written and hypnotically performed police drama. Gone was the one day/one episode structure, gone was the attempt to tell the story of a crime by examining the ever-widening ripples of its emotional and actual fall-out.
The story increasingly focused on Linden and Holder, as their relationship wavered between mutual aid and co-dependence. The through-line of troubled kids stretched a little thin, the grim romance of the glowering skies became oppressive.
AMC canceled it at the end of the second season. Netflix intervened and it came back to AMC for a third season, only to be canceled again. Last year, Netflix announced that it would air these six final episodes.
A strange life span, even by today's form-proliferating standards.
Over the years, a few series have been famously brought back from the dead, either through fan outrage ("Cagney & Lacey," "Chuck," "Community") or creator interest ("Dr. Who"). More recently, shows floundering on one network ("Cougar Town," "Damages") have found refuge on another. Many shows now offer connective narrative and bonus episodes on the Web. But never before has one platform provided a formal final act of a show that appeared on another.
It is both a pragmatic and provocative event in television history. Obviously, Netflix is exploring its creative potential — what can it do that other platforms can't, and is that worth doing?
But more important than an evolving business model is the recognition of a new set of expectations. Though the vast audience is splintered, its diversifying members are highly invested — they don't want to be cut off mid-thought. Viewers long for, especially when binge-watching — and increasingly expect — personal closure.
As with a film, or a novel, or a play, we now need the stories of television to truly end.