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The Killing: The Post-Season Aftermath

The season finale of AMC’s The Killing has caused some ruckus. Read past the jump for a spoiler-filled look at what happened as well as some analysis and a look at some reaction from Twitter.

Warning: The following contains explicit details about The Killing. Don’t read on if you want to get spoiled.

The Victim

The Killing is a crime drama that airs on AMC. The story follows the investigation and the impacts of the death of Rosie Larsen, a teenage girl. As well as following Detective Sarah Linden on the case, the show presents the effects of the death on the Seattle mayoral campaign, the Larsens and their friends, Rosie’s school, affected communities and even Linden’s personal life. I found this all-encompassing look at the effects of murder to be what made the show so special and so different from your usual case-an-episode dramas. Beyond the overall plot, the characters also made the show. They often felt and looked real (and I’m not just saying that because the AMC promo I kept seeing before the show quoted someone on how the characters seemed genuine). I was surprised at how unphotogenic Sarah seemed, compared to what you’d expect from TV, and even if Councillor Richmond came across as an almost ridiculously honest guy, he looked too good, as politicians often do, which added to his facade. The Larsens’ mourning was filled with understandable sadness and rage. Even Linden’s weird and often sketchy partner Holder was shown to be a troubled, yet talented and indeed human character and I enjoyed seeing the partnership between the two evolve. The story was also fun to see progress. While the middle sometimes came across as either a way to force the intrigue that comes with terrorism into the show or to deliver a message of acceptance regarding Muslims, it was tied in well with the other storylines. In the end, the creative team behind the show did offer a good explanation for Rosie’s death.

And then the last two minutes of the season happened.

The Crime

As the final moments of season one were upon us, Councillor Richmond, on the verge of a mayoral victory, is arrested for Rosie’s death. Linden is finally about to depart on a plane that’s been waiting for her since the series started. Then she gets a call. There’s no way Richmond could have been caught on camera at the toll booth since the cameras have been out for a while. Then we have Holder meeting with an unseen person in a car. He confirms that his fake toll booth photo worked and he rides off in the car. Finally, we have Belko, the Larsen family friend/creep, come up to the arrested Richmond and seemingly kill him. And with that, everything changed. The last part, the assassination, I didn’t mind. It plays well into Belko’s unstable character and his obsession with the Larsens. But the rest…

The Collateral Damage: Holder

One of the greater tragedies of the ending is the complete change to Holder’s character. While he always came off as less than trustworthy, he didn’t seem entirely corrupt, which it turns out he was. He grew on me – and it seems on Linden as well-  and went from a officer who went too deep into his persona and who was an addict to a trusted associate who was ready to be there for his partner, no matter what (think of the episode “Missing”). That he gained Linden’s respect with the ultimate goal of abusing it makes his whole evolution feel as if it was in vain. Certainly, one might argue that this simply adds to his character and while it does, this revelation almost makes me feel as if Holder, and the show, was lying to me the whole time. That, in so many more ways than one. since if Holder falsified the toll booth photo, chances are Richmond didn’t kill Rosie Larsen. Now we have a whole other problem to deal with.

The Motive

“You just don’t understand me!”

I approached The Killing with a certain idea, one I’m sure many viewers had: that the show would focus on one case for each theoretical season it would have. We would see it all, from start to finish, from body to arrest. I guess I was wrong to think that. It turns out the show didn’t intend to actually complete the story of Rosie Larson’s death, or at least not do it within one season. Now, if we put the entire blame on this misunderstanding, the execution was still pretty bad. Denis McGrath, Canadian TV writer, talking of the show:

If the team behind The Killing were really going for a storyline extending longer than one season, that should have been made clear sooner or at least better. As McGrath notes, LOST was able to pull off game-changing season enders. While the sci-fi nature of the show certainly helped it, the show still seemed to escalate towards something big as the end neared. Fringe is another example of this, where large events are hinted to and big endings are expected. With The Killing on the other hand, I (and I’m sure others) expected a conclusion rather than a cliffhanger. At the end of the penultimate episode, Richmond became the clear main suspect and with this episode, his fate slowly got sealed as more evidence came to light. But then it all got undone by the revelation that Holder faked the photo. The roller coaster ride was ending, the train arrived at the station but you suddenly got jolted forward for no clear reason.

Now, let’s look at this differently, not as a misunderstanding on the audience’s part. Denis McGrath tweeting again:

Clearly I didn’t get what I wanted: a clean finish with a clear answer. And following McGrath’s reasoning, the team behind the show needs to acknowledge the views and perceptions of their audience. If they don’t, well… this happens. And this isn’t good for either the audience or the show. The audience won’t appreciate this sudden change in what they thought the show was and the creators are left doing damage control trying to explain the vision they obviously failed to make clear the first time around.

A good example of this is the movie Knowing with Nicolas Cage.  Spoiler Alert  – As the movie plays out you assume it’s a half-decent global disaster movie with some supernatural elements. Then, out of nowhere, aliens get involved. The sudden twist hurt the movie since it was pretty much unexpected. The same thing happened with The Killing.

“What else could I do?”

Another feeling I got from the finale was one of uncertainty. As if the show, and the team behind it, were unsure if viewers would care to return for a second season. This might have also been directed towards AMC. The show did get renewed only recently. There’s a feeling that the end was put in to give a reason to have a second season. This isn’t new, however. As a fan of Chuck and someone who knows of its often tumultuous quest for renewal, I know how this works. With Chuck, you’d get a shocking event in the finale, not really a twist but more of an upping of the stakes, as to make fans hungry and demanding for a new season. Damon Lindelof of LOST fame:

http://twitter.com/#!/DamonLindelof/status/82648084064124929

http://twitter.com/#!/DamonLindelof/status/82663182073724928

While the tweets are rather cryptic and don’t specify which reaction, for or against, he doesn’t approve of, it does make me think that some shows don’t really need to finish their season in the same manner as LOST. Beyond the issues with the audience’s expectations for it, The Killing should have also trusted that its audience would return for another season without doing a, as I already covered, badly executed reveal. Heck, LOST had the advantage for a good part of its run of knowing when it would end yet still pulled the kinds of finales it did. Those twists were probably because it knew it could pull them off and (somewhat) explain them within the frame of their own universe.  That didn’t work for The Killing. As Denis McGrath puts it:

The Killing required answers. Concrete and clear ones. You didn’t get any at the end of this season.

“It’s not like he tried to stop me!”

For all I know, it could have been AMC itself who asked for the last scenes with Linden in the plane and Holder at the car, just to make sure folks would come back. Which brings up another topic I’ve heard some rumbling about: The effects of the finale on AMC. Why did AMC let this happen? There’s the possibility it was intentional but there’s also the chance that they thought this was a good ending and got blindsided by the reaction. Either way, it doesn’t look good on AMC.

“There was no other way!”

Now, let’s be a bit more pessimist about this. Dan Harmon of Community tweeting:

With the quest for attention from viewers and from networks, are these kinds of polarizing shock cliffhangers becoming more and more unavoidable? You can even look at Harmon’s own show, Community. Often they do event episodes like a stop-motion Christmas special or an episode parodying a movie genre (even though it might not help them much with the ratings). There’s a possibility that on the quest for attention, good shows might lose what made them good to begin with and we end up with… well, with what we saw with The Killing.

Now what?

Going forward, The Killing seems to have two options: Continue with the Larson case or start a new one and let Rosie’s murderer go free. Neither options are very good. Staying with the case has a very likely chance of becoming stale quickly, despite being a solution where most of the cast can stay on. But if this really is how the Larson case ends, then fans will no doubt be worried that the next case won’t really have a conclusion either. An endless stream of unsolved murders is, just like for those investigating them, kind of aggravating to watch.

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  1. […] Just as being different is important, being consistent is as well. There’s nothing wrong with a formulaic story structure where a crime happens, the team is put on the case, they encounter leads and dead ends until finally the bad guy gets caught by end of episode. Simple fact is, that works. I’ll admit I’m a bit procedural-ed out after living with real Law & Order fans, and being one myself, in my teenage years. While I’ve gone on to try some different kinds of shows, be it a sci-fi cop show like Fringe or medical detective show like House, you can often see the same kind of “something goes down, try to explain why it went down and find out why it went down” structure in those shows. It isn’t a failure of creativity. It’s just that the concept works and people like a story they can fully enjoy within an hour. Plus, trying to mess around too much with this idea can get you into trouble. Just ask the folks at The Killing. […]



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