The Killing Season Finale Recap: Unsolved Mysteries

Photo: Carole Segal/Copyright: AMC 2011
Photo: Carole Segal/Copyright: AMC 2011

In the wake of a season finale so jaw-droppingly horrible that ordinarily rational professional television critics are already calling it “the worst … of all-time,” showrunner Veena Sud dropped this stinkbomb in an interview with the equally rational, equally miffed Alan Sepinwall:

We never said you’ll get closure at the end of season 1. We said from the very beginning this is the anti-cop cop show. It’s a show where nothing is what it seems, so throw out expectations. We will not tie up this show in a bow. There are plenty of shows that do that, in 45 minutes or whatever amount of time, where that is expected and the audience can rest assured that at the end of blank, they will be happy and they can walk away from their TV satisfied. This is not that show.

Cool. Cool attitude. Very respectful. This would be the equivalent of walking into a restaurant — a restaurant clearly labeled as “restaurant” that serves “food” to people at “meal times” — sitting down to order, and having the chef throw a bowl of rabbit droppings at your head. If you complain, the chef self-righteously lets you know that this isn’t one of those places where you can be “happy” and “walk away satisfied.” If what you want is reasonably prepared food fit for human consumption, well, there are plenty of restaurants that do that.

Anyway, Veena: mission accomplished! We are not satisfied. Far from it. If the season begins with a question — a question you, y’know, plastered on every subway train in America — then it’s not unreasonable to expect an answer to that question in return for the thirteen hours we’ve committed. Now, does that mean that a creative person owes an audience resolution? Wholeheartedly, we say: no. As the contentious Ms. Sud makes it abundantly clear in the above quote, she never intended to give us poor saps what we thought we deserved. And we could have lived without resolution if there had been anything else at all worth living for. But the finale was just the last in a long, frustrating, and soggy line of cheap fake-outs, preposterous 180s, and colossal storytelling disappointments. By last night’s episode, we were Rosie Larsen: huddled, miserable in the dark woods waiting for the killer to reveal himself. And, unlike Rosie, we were denied even that.

But before our ranting gets the better of us, let’s recap. We began the finale right where we ended the previous week: Linden in Richmond’s dark office, her face a mask of horror when she sees how few e-mails the poor bastard actually receives. (“Have you tried Gilt Group? They’ve got some good deals. What about Thrillist?”) In the dark, she and the councilman — flashing his absolute best, rock-gargling Batman voice to date — deliver one of those “important” sorts of dramatic exchanges that no doubt sound better on someone’s Final Draft document at one in the morning than they do in the mouths of actors. Linden accuses Richmond of being Orpheus — but then admits not knowing who Orpheus is. (Good policing No. 1!) Richmond, rather than saying literally anything that could diffuse the tension in the room or remove the presumption of guilt, whispers a very Basil Exposition–y rundown of the famous Greek myth. (Except in his version Orpheus isn’t a happy-go-lucky shirtless busker, he’s a death obsessed mayoral candidate lunatic.) Just when we’re about to scream “turn on a light, already!” the inevitable happens: Linden’s cell phone rings. It’s Holder. The hooker has I.D.’d Richmond as Orpheus (except no she didn’t — more on that later) and so Linden announces “I’m leaving Councilman.” And she leaves. Great work!

So while Linden and Holder dive into the sort of investigative minutiae they should have been doing from the start (checking the campaign car, poring over gas tanks and mileages, creating a timeline), Richmond is left alone to … do what? Kill himself? Finally sign up for Gmail? Do what literally any actual powerful human would do in the face of weird stalking from a homicide detective: lawyer up? Haha, no. Our man finishes his ’77 Pomerol and then shoots hoops, crowing for the assembled media about his Seattle all-stars. Said media, of course, would rather ask him about his alleged affairs — affairs that are suddenly plastered all over the front page of that wildly important fake newspaper, the Seattle Record. Now, forgive us if we missed something here, but: huh? How did the paper get individual photos of various Richmond conquests overnight? (We thought they were endorsing him!) And, more crucially: who cares? Last we checked, Richmond was a widower! He can have “affairs” with whomever he wants, right? The only thing more bizarre than this was the campaign’s reaction to it: Gwen is pissed — because she’s clearly the murderer jealous — and Jamie seems nonplussed (he’s even started drinking, just like a real boy!). But if an election can swing overnight over a buried skull, why not some sexy skeletons in the closet?

Anyway, Linden — having once again established her ineptitude as a detective by announcing her intentions to the suspected perp — is desperate to prove she’s right about the guy she’s already accused. So she and Holder do some math trying to link Richmond’s campaign car to the drive to and from the casino. They also interview Meg, a pleasant Canadian woman who used to manage Richmond’s campaign — if you know what we mean. Meg, like the audience, is convinced Darren is innocent and says so in a totally normal, just-a-woman-chatting-in-a-playground sort of way: “Whatever it is you thought Darren’s done, you’re wrong … He has a deep sadness in him since his wife died. That’s when he and I became lovers.” Gross. The more serious detective work involves going to gas stations and asking the attendants if they remember refueling a black sedan. In the middle of the night. Two weeks ago. It’s just like that famous saying “Gas Station attendants never forget.” Oh wait — that’s elephants. Anyway, they do find one old coot who remembers not only the tinted car but also the “screaming girl.” Linden wanders off and finds the hole in the fence through which Rosie — the screaming girl! Detection! — escaped into the woods. With the help of a lot more cops, our heroes again canvas, ahem, “Discovery Park” and they discover a torn-up sneaker. To be honest, we’re not really sure what this was all about — shouldn’t they have figured out Rosie’s movements weeks ago? — but it sure does get Linden all riled up as she realizes that Rosie was running and almost escaped her fate way back in the pilot. (If only we had done the same!)

So, while they wait for some tollbooth security camera footage to turn up (Again we ask: Are there any secret cameras in the greater Seattle metroplex that didn’t capture Rosie Larsen at some point? That girl wanders into more lenses than Bai Ling.), Linden does the very professional police thing and shows up at Richmond’s office. Again. Alone. To confront a suspected murderer. Not only that, she yells a lot: “You fooled everybody. The integrity candidate? Bullshit! That’s why Orpheus the enchanter … ” Exsqueeze me? Are we debating Joseph Campbell here or trying to solve a case? And, to top it off, Richmond never actually says “I didn’t do it” or “you know, I wasn’t completely honest with you but I’m not a murderer” or even “have I mentioned the secret house I spent our entire savings on?” Instead, he bellows, “You have no right.” And “look at me, you know I’m telling you the truth.” Remember the reality rails we were once traveling on? Good-bye, rails! Look, policing doesn’t work like this and neither do politics. Linden is harassing a high-profile government official and Richmond, if he really wanted to be mayor (and if he really didn’t do it — which, of course he didn’t because this is The Killing) would fight back with something slightly stronger than platitudes.

But it works out for Linden, apparently, because after breaking down in her car she spies Gwen doing the same thing. The two chat. Gwen blows Richmond’s alibi for the night of Rosie’s death — he apparently got out of bed at one point and returned before dawn, soaking wet. (This is not a clue. Have they forgotten where they live? Seattle is like the capital of Atlantis! In monsoon season! He’d be drenched if he just went to the stoop to pick up the paper.) Gwen also passes Linden the CD-ROM of King’s Quest II Rosie meeting Richmond at a campaign event. Which proves nothing but, y’know, had to reappear at some point. Thankfully, Chief Oakes is still being a major hardass and thinks they don’t have enough evidence. But then Holder comes through with remarkably clear photos of Richmond making the ferry crossing to the casino. And so, with great fanfare, the cops arrest the presumptive next mayor of Seattle at his big rally. And you thought Dominique Strauss-Kahn had a bone to pick about optics!

While all this is happening, The Killing makes a few feints in the direction of the Larsens themselves, a toxic family we were thrilled not to have to care about any more. Stan, after being bailed out by Terry (all that hooking finally paid off!), spends the night at the cemetery in his truck. He then pays a touching visit to the artist formerly known as Bennet Ahmed, who lies, ventilated and unconscious, in what appears to be one of the scruffier rooms at the Oregon State Mental Hospital. Rather than share memories of the good times, Stan retreats and then meets cute with Mrs. Ahmed by the vending machine. In a scene that could charitably be described as “total bullshit,” the impossibly pregnant Mrs. Ahmed doesn’t recognize her husband’s almost killer and instead assures him that he’s a “good father.” (Indeed! And a lousy murderer.) Stan continues his magical memory tour by visiting the secret house he still owns and gazing at the backyard swing set that his dead 17-year-old daughter never really would have appreciated. Then he goes home.

Ah, the Larsen home! Where Terry tries to rehire Belko, and we discover — thanks to a remarkably well-labelled scrapbook called (wait for it) MY DREAMS — that Mitch was once just like Rosie: an empty cipher who liked ponies and planned on traveling to England and writing about it in purple marker. This discovery finally makes it clear to Mitch: She doesn’t want to fly kites with her traumatized sons or pick up the slack for her soon-to-be-incarcerated husband. She wants to be free! So she leaves. Seriously. She abandons her family and goes. And Stan reports on this fact with a smile. (Did he explain the secret house to her at least? Maybe that’s where she went!) One of the things The Killing seemed to be proud of is the way it “allowed” real grief to be represented except, you know, no it didn’t. In the two weeks since their daughter died, the Larsens spun from mourning to vengeance to terrible faster than the barrel on Belko’s handgun. Are we supposed to be rooting for these people? Those poor, bed-wetting boys.

Right, so Belko’s handgun. Once Linden gets Richmond — again, no lawyer! no explanations! — into custody she immediately chunks up the deuces and heads for that fabled midnight flight to Sonoma. Jack Linden is bummed because he was enjoying all the quality time with his father that Linden forbade him to have yesterday but is suddenly cool with today. (You know who’s going to be psyched about this surprise arrival? Rick! Dude thought he broke up with these crazy people days ago!) They strap into their seats and Linden looks around, happy because she’s literally never made it to the inside of an airplane before. Then, of course, her phone rings. It’s the tollbooth company (?) — there were no security cameras. Holder faked them to set up Richmond, a “reveal” hammered home when he hops into a car with some unseen person and says “the photo worked.” It encapsulates the show’s failings to say we’re not sure if Holder means the immensely stupid thing (“the photo worked, Darren Richmond is going to jail for a long time, even though this evidence would not hold up in any court of law, since it is entirely fabricated and someone better at their job than Linden will figure that out very quickly”) or the less stupid thing (“The photo worked, Darren Richmond will not be mayor, because by the time this entirely fabricated evidence is proved to be entirely fabricated, he won’t have enough time to rescue his reputation”) since it’s possible the show would pursue the option that makes no sense. And then in a dramatic twist that no one wanted, Belko Jack Ruby’s Richmond as he’s perp walked out of the station. Scene.

Seriously: scene! What tripe! What gall! The Killing began with atmospheric promise then frittered that promise away like so many tendrils of (fake) weed smoke out of Holder’s betraying mouth. The murder victim was an empty cipher. Every suspect was a red herring. The characters were obnoxious, shrill, hammy, and — this is key — terrible at their jobs. (The only protagonist who experienced any sort of growth — and thus the only one to develop any sort of rapport with viewers — was Holder. And for the sake of a cheap twist, all that development was squandered last night. It was, as the man himself would put it, wiggedy wack.) And all of this led to a finale that spat in the face of convention, logic, and the audience. There was tone of condescension about this entire project from the start — all the talk of defying audience expectations, of how the writers would sort of “figure out” the killer’s identity as they went along. All of this reeked of poorly thought out elitism, like a college freshman clutching a half-read copy of Siddartha and explaining to everyone how they just “don’t get it, man.”

What Veena Sud — and, by extension, her corporate enablers at AMC — doesn’t seem to get is that you don’t make good TV by reinventing the wheel. You make good TV by making good TV: you know, old saws like character development, plot consideration, compelling story. The Killing tried to skate by on atmospherics (read: rain), histrionics (see: the Larsens), and a high-class game of gotcha (it was Jasper! Wait, no, it was Bennet! No, there are terrorists! Not really but there are high-class hookers! Except not!). You can fool some of the people some of the time but not for thirteen hours.

None of this bellyaching matters much, of course. The Killing was inexplicably renewed by AMC — possibly to save face and possibly to prove that, unlike with Twin Peaks, a show’s singular mystery can be stretched into a second season without sinking the ship. But let’s be frank: Other than the identity of the murderer, what is there to tune in for next year? Mitch’s European vacation of self-discovery? (We’re imagining Eat Pray Love directed by Werner Herzog.) Stan’s continuing adventures in his secret house? (In this room there’s a fort! And in this room a totally normal collection of little girls’ bikes!) Perhaps a half-season of Linden barrel-tasting Zinfandels and being inappropriately surprised by her fiancé? At the very least we demand a Behind the Bash–like examination of Tom Drexler and his decadent, preprandial basketball orgies.

No. In reality, the only crime we’re concerned with is the one just perpetrated by AMC. Back in April, when the show was launching, the rain was falling, and hopes — including ours! — were as high as the space needle, Veena Sud gave an interview in which she mused, “As writers, we’re not writing to the end, we’re along on this journey.” Unfortunately, the journey they took us on was in the campaign car and it ended up in the bottom of a lake: water-logged and completely sunk. A good television show should be about the journey, not the destination. So it shouldn’t take even Detective Linden very long to connect the dots and arrive at the truth: The Killing was not a good television show.

Related: Nine Things That Are Wrong With The Killing — and How to Fix Them For Next Season [Vulture]


The Killing Season Finale Recap: Unsolved Mysteries