Critic’s notebook: Some (possibly) last words on ‘The Killing’
(There will be spoilers.)
AMC’s “The Killing” ended its second and possibly final season Sunday night. Ratings were down this year -- some viewers defected over what they considered to be an irritating/uncalled-for/unfair cliffhanger where a solution had been expected; others had already grown tired of its rat-maze of dead ends and diversions -- and whatever might happen in the future to police detective partners Sarah Linden and Stephen Holder (the brilliantly paired Mireille Enos and Joel Kinnaman), the case that brought them together back in April 2011 is now closed. In this season’s last moments, as reports of a new dead body crackled over the police band, Linden seemed to walk away from her job, which will mean whatever it finally means, or will never definitely mean, when “The Killing” does or does not come back.
But it’s an ending, for now. Every television show that comes to a considered conclusion, as opposed to just a cancellation, has the opportunity to disappoint. Even more than novels or movies or plays (the other narrative modes in which the finish colors what went before), the end of a TV series -- because it generally takes a large investment of time, over a long stretch of time -- can really get an audience riled. You still may have not forgiven David Chase for the blackout that terminated “The Sopranos”; there must be fans of “Lost” who want their six years back.
Murder fictions can get sloppy sometime. There are loose ends no matter how tightly the writer/culprit tries to plan and human psychology, depended upon like a link in a Rube Goldbergmachine, is mistaken for something as accountable as classical physics. And yet, because we watch these stories less for their conceptual seamlessness than for character and mood, cleverness and philosophy, thrills and fun, we tend to cut them slack. At the same time, people expect much from TV now, and AMC has worked hard to establish itself as a serious competitor with the likes of HBOand Showtimeand the level of scrutiny has been raised accordingly.
The end of “The Killing,” developed by Veena Sud from a Danish series “Forbrydelsen,” was met by many critics with a sigh and a meh (often followed by trenchant analysis). I found the second season to be the better, better-focused one, and its finale both viscerally effective and true to the spirit of the series -- downbeat, wrung-out, Northern. Its forest of wrong trees to bark up grew sparser this year and Linden’s messy personal issues faded as it became clear she was never going to marry that guy in Sonoma and her son went off to Chicago to stay with his dad. It cleared the way for the detectives to bond, pushing against various forms of official obstruction and pushing on toward the solution as they grew into a kind of single entity.
Because the series took a year and a quarter to represent the business of a month, it did suffer from a sort of chronological dissonance -- as with “Lost,” things seemed to take more time than they did on the story’s own clock.
Candidate Darren Richmond (Billy Campbell) rebounded from the shooting that paralyzed him -- the cliffhanger event that ended Season 1 -- with miraculous speed, going from depressed bed potato to hoops-shooting wheelchair ace in what on the show’s time line was something like a week, but which took much longer to watch and so felt less strange in the moment. The temporary abandonment by Rosie’s mother, Mitch (Michelle Forbes), of her family seemed to last weeks, because it did for us, rather than the few days of story time it occupied. (It would be interesting to watch “The Killing” at its own daily pace, but that is an experiment for some future imaginary time of relative leisure.)
If the endgame was not always sensible it was frequently exciting, in an old-fashioned way. Indeed, much about the series, in spite of its new-car smell, was old-fashioned and theatrical, from the endless chilly rain to most everything related to the political-conspiracy storyline, to a killer (or sort of the killer) who turned out to be yet another psycho of the “But I did it for you!” variety.
And yet it worked much more often than not: The guessing-game aspect of the series -- “Who killed Rosie Larsen?” -- was, as in the similarly tagged “Twin Peaks,” perhaps oversold. Although it boasted standard features of the whodunit, “The Killing” was more about the hunters than the hunt, more about the sadness than the badness. Its villains were, in their way, only trying to make something good happen, and got lost.
In Sud’s final bit of misdirection, Richmond’s campaign manager, Jamie (Eric Ladin), who for some time was the odds-on favorite for Who Done It, was revealed to be the killer only part way: The actual murder was left to the victim’s Aunt Terry (Jamie Anne Allman, phenomenally good in her closing moments) who, grasping at what she saw as a last chance at happiness, pushed a car into a lake, not knowing that it was her niece in the trunk. Rosie’s death -- its effect heightened in flashbacks that gave us a first sustained look at her -- was shown to be not only accidental but, even for the conspirators she may or may not have overheard, unnecessary.
The one thing about “The Killing” on which seemingly everyone agrees is that Kinnaman is a star. Indeed, if this show goes forward, the producers could do worse than to make him its focus. I will miss the character if he goes, but I expect we’ll see a lot more of the actor.
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