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The Killing Season Finale Recap: Use Your Words

As the season closed in on its final moments last night, Skinner insisted to Linden that she had loved him. “Because I didn’t know you,” she whispers back. Watching that, it struck me that maybe this is ultimately The Killing’s biggest weakness. Not that the viewers who love it don’t really know it … but that the show doesn’t know itself.

The Killing has always tried to be two types of shows at the same time. On the one hand, it wants to be the kind of show that’s taken seriously; a moody, nuanced exploration of the lives of two damaged detectives who can’t feel anything outside of their work. The problem, though, is that it also insists on being the show that comes with  “surprising” twists. It is these twists that drag it down instead of anchoring it. Last night’s episode could’ve been a grounded exploration of the aftermath of Linden dealing with her guilt over Seward. We could’ve seen her try and find happiness with Skinner, a character we barely knew but who, even in the brief amount of time we had left, could’ve still been developed in a serious way. Instead we were essentially given a TNT Sunday afternoon movie. I’ve seen enough of them to understand that when Skinner told Holder and Linden to “keep this quiet between the three of us” what he was really saying was that, “I’m actually the killer and you just tipped me off without realizing it.” And, hey, I enjoy those movies as much as the next girl. There is absolutely nothing better when it comes to couch watching on a rainy day or background noise while cleaning your house. But TNT Sunday afternoon movies are not groundbreaking.

It turns out the stuff with Carl, the band-aid and what not, was planted to throw us off the trail. Most of you didn’t fall for it. I did. Either way, it’s the kind of thinking ahead that I’m not always convinced the show does and I liked that it happened. Plus, Carl’s always been my favorite grumbler and I didn’t want to have to turn against him. Bye for now, Carl. If this were the eighties, a decade that knew how to appreciate a brisk softy like yourself, the sitcom offers for starring roles would’ve been flying in like crazy. Since it’s boring old 2013, I’m going to have to settle for seeing you grumble your way through two scenes tops in whatever procedural you end up on next.

Getting back to this show, though, if only the Skinner reveal had trumped the Carl plant. Skinner had been a frontrunner for the killer since the beginning, not because it made any real sense but because, well, who else was there. It was either him, Carl or one of the guards. In retrospect, Skinner should’ve been obvious (and maybe he was to some of you) the minute Linden made it clear that she couldn’t barely contain herself from running her fingers through his thinning hair right there in his office. The show had her push away every other man who wanted to be with her; of course the one she wanted had to be the one she could never have. At the time it seemed the barrier between their living unhappily (and thus happily) ever after was his marriage. This episode left me feeling all creepy and weirded out but not for the right reasons. I was disturbed listening to Skinner detail his crimes because the idea of a man killing a bunch of women is horrible. At the same time, though, I didn’t buy any of it. As he spoke, I pictured one of those old fashioned switchboards, the kind with the operators that connects the callers to the right number by plugging in the jacks. Every time he gave another answer that tied up a loose end, it felt like the show’s way of plugging a jack into the right hole. It felt perfunctory, systematic.

When Linden kept saying she didn’t understand, how could anyone understand, she was right. Nothing about Skinner adds up to his being a killer … other than the blunt fact that he was a killer. Up until this episode, we knew him mostly as the yelling boss man. Within this episode, we saw him as a loving father, with a teenage daughter, as Linden points out, that was the same age as many of the girls he killed. He claimed he didn’t think of them as the same because the dead girls were trash; but to me, that explanation felt weak, improvised by the writers to make it all click. It would’ve helped if over the course of the season if, instead of bringing him on whenever it was convenient and presenting him to us in broad strokes, the show had attempted to make him into an actual, cohesive character. Maybe then the discovery that he was a mass murderer would’ve felt surprising instead of just a process of elimination thing.

Despite the attempt to answer all our questions, I still have a few. Some I have been able to figure out on my own. For instance, clearly that one section of woods has a force field around it that prevents people from seeing highly visible things like tree houses and multiple water-dumped bodies wrapped in brightly colored plastic until they are absolutely ready. (Sure guys, the lake got shallow all of a sudden — in a place where it rains incessantly.) I learned all about those on a Discovery Channel show called Lost. What I don’t understand is if Adrian didn’t ever see Skinner’s face, why did Skinner have to kill his mom? Like, did he show up at their apartment that night and, while talking to her, see that she had eyes (his prime motivation for murdering the other girls) and become suddenly unable to resist reaching over and breaking her finger? And he did this without Adrian seeing him or ever connecting him with the man he’d seen by the lake? Skinner said he knew after that night that he was safe, that Adrian knew nothing. If that’s the case, why did Adrian then proceed to spend the next three years drawing pictures of those woods, without ever explaining to anyone what those pictures meant? If he wasn’t afraid that the same man he’d seen had also killed his mother, wouldn’t he have just been like, “Hey, foster mom, do you like this drawing? It’s supposed to be a lake filled with dead bodies but I ran out of the color red and also drawing people isn’t my strong suit. I feel really safe telling you all about this because it has nothing to do with my mom’s murder. I wish I could do something to save my dad. Bummer.” Also, why is Lyric still turning tricks if she has a job now (low-paying as it is; I read the newspaper)? Because once a street kid, always a street kid … unless they are able to secure an apartment overnight? That’s a saying sort of, right?

The ending where Linden shot Skinner seemed like it lifted a page from the ending of Seven (spoiler alert? Has anyone not seen Seven at this point?) There are worse models to emulate. I can see why Skinner would feel exhausted from leading his triple life and that once he realized Linden was on to him, his plan would be for her to put him out of his misery. I always thought Linden was attracted to him because of father issue stuff but maybe it was his dark side that she sensed. I mean, for all the plot holes in this show, nothing adds up less than her choosing him over Holder and so there had to be a psychological component to it. Linden looked pretty wrecked in that last shot and so if there’s a fourth season, she’s either going to throw herself even more obsessively into her work, lose her mind again or, like, become a serial killer too. That last option would be insane but since this show doesn’t seem all that interested in reality anymore and it does love its twists, I could half see it trying to go there. Now that the Killing has been true to its word about solving its mystery in a single season, if it does come back again, I hope that it keeps in mind that its appeal lies far more in its characters than in its twists.  And the truer connections between the characters are, the more satisfying it is to watch. Honestly, if the show wanted to pull a My Dinner With Andre next season and just have Linden and Holder shooting the breeze in their squad car for sixteen episodes, I would probably tune in. “Use your words” is the lesson, basically. That and keep those Crayola’s out of the hands of children.

Photo: Carole Segal/AMC