August 4, 2013



After three seasons, THE KILLING is still hard to get a fix on.  Technically it’s a murder mystery, but efficiently and intelligently spinning out crime stories is what it’s least good at–its narrative is notoriously overextended, sloppily plotted and reliant on bad detective work and a seemingly infinite number of red herrings.  (Even though I know who the killer was, I’d still be hard-pressed to reconstruct just how Rosie Larsen came to die.)  And yet despite its longeurs (endless rain, low-tech crimesolving, slow pace) there’s something deeply serious, almost heartfelt about the drama that keeps one from dismissing it entirely.

All The Killing‘s qualities, good and bad, were on display in tonight’s 2-hour season finale (Hour 1 written by Executive Story Editor Eliza Clark and directed by Phil Abraham; Hour 2 written by Executive Producers Dawn Prestwich and Nicole Yorkin and directed by Daniel Attias), which was both compelling and infuriating.  It was to be expected that pornographer/cabdriver Joe Mills (Ryan Robbins), arrested 2 episodes ago with incriminating evidence in his storage unit and the dead body of Bullet (Bex Taylor-Klaus) in his car, would turn out to be a red herring, since the show was hardly going to wrap things up so early and it was clear that the now-executed Ray Seward (Peter Sarsgaard) had to be innocent.  But the finale spent almost a full hour pushing yet another red herring–Carl Reddick (Gregg Henry), disagreeable new partner of Holder (Joel Kinnaman)–in our faces, when it was painfully obvious that if the killer was a cop, it was going to be their sober supervisor Skinner (Elias Koteas), especially after he and Linden (Mireille Enos) slept with each other and Linden had the forty seconds of happiness she’s allotted in each season.  Other detective shows carefully plan things out so the heroes are a step or two ahead of the viewer; The Killing glories in cops as dumb as the bimbos in slasher movies who go alone into a dark basement when a serial killer is on the loose, even as the audience screams “Noooooo!”

It made no sense that Skinner, who had successfully hidden dozens of corpses for years (even more than the 21 Linden had previously uncovered), would leave the body of Angie Gower (Laine MacNeil), with its tell-tale missing ring finger–a missing finger that wouldn’t be hidden by burning the body–out where anyone could find it, and just hope that Linden and Holder wouldn’t catch the case or even hear about it.  It made no sense for Skinner to give victim Kallie’s ring to his own daughter to wear, when he’d spent the same years carefully hiding all evidence of his crimes.  It made no sense for Holder not to call for back-up as he went in pursuit of Skinner and Linden, instead driving on back roads for hours alone when he knew where they were going and could have had them intercepted.  I could go on, but why?  The Killing is like the Chinatown of the classic movie–ordinary logic doesn’t apply there.

Structurally, the episode was essentially a repeat of the season’s Episode 8, where the red herring Pastor made Linden drive around for an hour while he monologued, except this time it was Skinner behind the steering wheel.  And since the 2 hours of the finale, after a few minutes at the start, were exclusively concerned with uncovering Skinner and then his road movie with Linden, all the other characters that theoretically give The Killing its depth, including Kallie’s mother (Amy Seimetz) and the street kids Skinner had stalked, were reduced to a token scene or two.  The final beat of the season, with Linden executing Skinner essentially in cold blood, didn’t tell us all that much about Linden we didn’t already know, and seems easy enough for Holden to cover up (just put Skinner’s own gun–which Linden still had–in his hand) before it creates problems for her.

And yet despite all those flaws, Enos and Kinnaman are so superb, and their characters work so well both individually and as a team, that you can’t help rooting for The Killing.  The episode’s early scenes, as Holden teased Linden for her night with Skinner, were charming, and Enos couldn’t have been better in her moment of horrified realization when she understood that her lover was also a mass murderer–and later, when knowing that Skinner wanted her to kill him couldn’t stop her from doing it (even if he could have gotten her to shoot him hours earlier just by pulling his gun–sorry, logic again).  The Killing botches so much, and yet there are elements at its heart that it gets right.  At this point, though, it’s probably a pipe dream to think that Veena Sud, creator of the US version of the series, is the person to ever make the other parts fit.

Whether AMC will renew The Killing for a 4th season is an interesting mystery in itself.  The show is far from a hit, with ratings in the 0.6 range when it had Mad Men as a lead-in, and slumping to 0.4 without it–but it has a loyal, if smallish, audience.  AMC is about to lose both Breaking Bad and Mad Men over the course of next season, which will leave it with the blockbuster hit The Walking Dead and not much else.  Will it decide to hold onto The Killing (which has a Netflix streaming deal that cuts its costs) just to keep something familiar on the shelves?  Probably its fate depends on how well the returning Hell On Wheels and the new Low Winter Sun do in the next few weeks.  If it does come back, perhaps a new showrunning eye could figure out how to showcase what’s good about the series while improving the bad.  For now, The Killing remains tantalizing caught between the worthy and the disposable.

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."