June 21, 2011

THE SKED @ CABLE REPLAY; “Killing” Us Softly

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Written by: Mitch Salem
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If you haven’t heard (and if you haven’t–and you care–consider this a SPOILER ALERT), the 13th episode of AMC’s series THE KILLING, its season finale, concluded on Sunday night without answering the question of just who killed Rosie Larsen.  Since this was what the series purportedly set out to do, it’s provoked the kind of stunned, sustained outrage that, most recently, Anthony Weiner might be able to appreciate–take a look, for example,  HERE.  And HERE.  And HERE. (It also provoked a puzzling, and somewhat hilarious, series of articles HERE and HERE suggesting that a NY Times critic may simply be incapable of following an ordinary American television series.  Maybe Manohla Dargis just couldn’t understand Hangover 2?)

Now, I’m no stranger to the desire to heave something in the direction of my TV set.  (I’m still pissed at the ending of Lost.  No, seriously–don’t get me started.)  And I appreciate the fact that AMC didn’t renew The Killing for a second season until just a couple of weeks ago, which had it not happened, could have made for perhaps the single most unsatisfying series in the history of television. (Executive Producer Veena Sud swears that the Larson killing will be definitively solved next season.)  But if you were watching the series from the start, you had to know there was going to be some kind of giant reversal in the last 10 minutes–having established at the end of the previous episode that politician Darren Richmond (Billy Campbell) was the likely killer, a show whose pattern was to reverse itself over and over again wasn’t going to leave things settled a full episode in advance.  And cliffhanger season finales are hardly new to television:  right now, we supposedly don’t know what happened to Cuddy on House, Beckett on Castle, or Pete on Private Practice, or who the new boss will be on The Office.  For that matter, the original murder in the first season of Homicide was never solved; the squad just went on to other cases.
So why the fury?  Especially when, that same night, Game of Thrones aired a Season 1 finale that resolved absolutely nothing, raised new mysteries (dragons!), and managed to be thrillingly satisfying to just about everyone?  One reason was the nature of The Killing.  Unlike Thrones, which from the start has presented a massive, epic canvas of storylines, The Killing really just had one thing to do, which was to solve the Rosie Larsen killing.  To the extent it tried to do anything else in its 13 hours (develop interesting characters, provide a rich picture of the politics and mores of its setting), it mostly failed miserably.  When you read the screeds posted about the finale, you see as much self-directed anger as disappointment in the show itself–why did we stick with this thing, enduring its slow pace, illogical storytelling, and meaningless reveals?  And, in the end, for nothing!  What’s wrong with us?
Also, the specific twist that occurred at the end of The Killing‘s finale was infuriating, because it took the one and only character who had seemed to deepen and become more sympathetic as the series went on–Detective Holder, played by Joel Kinnaman–and said that he had falsified critical evidence, in league at least with some scheming enemy of Richmond, and possibly with the killer him/herself.  Veena Sud would probably say that this was exactly the effect she wanted, something to tell us that we couldn’t count on anyone in the show being who they seemed.  (Similarly, the penultimate episode of Game of Thrones had shockingly killed off the one character we non-readers of the novels thought could never be killed.)  But the effect here wasn’t to teach us, as Thrones did, that we’d all been looking at the show from the wrong angle; instead it trivialized whatever we thought we understood about the series; it made every plot twist feel even more arbitrary and pointless than it already had.  
The Killing follows Rubicon at AMC, a show with a marvelous premise that self-destructed about as badly as any series ever had.  (It wasn’t renewed.)  Rubicon seemed to change its vision every two weeks until it simply imploded; The Killing, if anything, appears so doggedly tied into its mission of drearily subverting every expectation of mystery fans that it’s practically a deconstruction of the genre.  (They’ll love it in France.)  But what the network and producer seem to have forgotten is that pulling the rug out from under your viewers leaves the audience on its collective ass.  And that’s not where you want your fans to be when they still control the remotes.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."