Almost two full years after the series finale of Lost, former showrunner Damon Lindelof is still fanning the flames of fan discontent, lest Lost ever fall too far off anyone’s pop radar. We kid! Those flames have died down enough to render fanning ineffectual. Anyway, Lindelof takes on the ignoble charge of defending The Killing in The Hollywood Reporter, and he does so by comparing it — of course — to Lost. “Were we misled?” he writes. “Yes. And yet, it turned out that misleads were sorta the point of the show.”
…the messaging behind The Killingcontinually reinforced that it was not going to be the cop formula we were familiar with, but something else entirely. There would be profound meditations on grief. Red herrings. Investigative dead ends. These are the things that drew us to it in the first place … so in some way, shouldn’t we have expected a lack of resolution? More importantly, it was either incredibly stupid or incredibly bold not to give us what we were demanding. I am inclined to believe it was the latter, and here’s why:
The minute we start vilifying writers for taking risks, we become complicit in an effort to make television boring. I am not interested in the dive where the guy just jumps off the board and flawlessly splishes into the water. I want to watch the one where there is a high probability he will belly flop so devastatingly that even the traditionally emotionless German judge cringes in empathy. And friends, I have had my fair share of belly flops.
Well, that is very generous. First, The Killing is in fact the regular cop formula we are familiar with, except more turgid, and the cops are inexplicably terrible at their jobs. Dick Wolf has explored every one of The Killing’s “plot twists” to their natural conclusions, oftentimes more than once. (Teenage girls: The Internet turns them into prostitutes!) The Killing’s major offense isn’t just that we didn’t find out who killed Rosie — although, blargh, that is indeed an affront. The big “risks” that The Killing took had nothing to do with solving or not solving the show’s central crime: It’s a far bigger risk to make thirteen episodes of a show that tell viewers next to nothing about the show’s characters, to have said characters behave incomprehensibly, and to disregard completely the concept of narrative pacing. As a spin on Hanlon’s razor, let’s not attribute to risk-taking what can be adequately explained by incompetence.
Lindelof says he wants difficult shows, shows prone to belly flopping, shows fraught with potential for failure. He sure made one! But that’s what’s admirable about Lost: To continue Lindelof’s diving metaphor, his show had a really high degree of difficulty, and its performance can be judged accordingly. Was Lost perfect and unimpeachable and narratively nourishing in every way? No, although the first season was close. But Lost was unable to satisfactorily wrap up an adventure mystery about a magnetically charged island that had a dozen central characters whose backstories often explored industrialized society’s futile fight against entropy, as seen through the lens of daddy issues. That is a high, high dive, with plenty of flips or whatever. The Killing didn’t belly flop because its dive was too hard; it flopped because partway through it decided it didn’t want to do a dive after all and was way more interested in “a holistic journey,” and who says dives can’t end in belly flops, and just because the promos said “want to see diving?” doesn’t mean you’re entitled to actually see some. That is the whole point, and that is called creative vision — ever heard of it? — splash splash splash.