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'The Killing' recap: One of the most frustrating finales in TV history

Campbel

Here's the thing. I read this interview with "Killing" show-runner Veena Sud over at Hitfix, and I mostly agree with her that telling season-long story lines is just as formulaic as telling episode-long story lines. And I can see a version of "The Killing" in which stretching out the story of who killed Rosie Larsen for multiple seasons could be a terrific way to tease out character development, plot twists and all manner of other good stuff. So I'm not inherently opposed to the idea that we don't find out who Rosie's killer is in Sunday night's episode, which, indeed, we end with a cliffhanger.

But at the same time, this is one of the most frustrating season finales in TV history. After a whole season in which Sud and her writers gave little (if any) indication that they didn't know how to properly pace a story line to maintain interest over multiple episodes (to say nothing of multiple seasons), it's infuriating to see them introduce a bunch of twists at the end of the finale, seemingly designed mainly to let whatever solid ground viewers have been able to stand on erode underneath them. Making Richmond the killer would have been completely predictable, but at least it would have been an ending and an admission that while things got a little weird in the middle there, the show's writers were willing to try harder next year. But making Richmond the object of a weird frame-up conducted by Holder for reasons that are as of yet unclear? That smacks of the writers just not caring at all what the audience thinks and trying too hard to make us second-guess ourselves.

Up until those final five minutes, the season finale was ... fine. It had that weird "Killing" thing in which it would seem like absolutely nothing was happening, even though plenty of things were happening, and it was a show about a bunch of characters that we were never given any reason to care about, but at least things were getting resolved. The Richmond reveal was predictable (and even though Holder documented the evidence, Richmond's involvement in all of this once again pushes the button of everything being connected by weird, weird coincidence), but the show was making an effort to tie things up, to let the characters have a little peace.

And then the bottom fell out and the show went right back to being one of the biggest wastes of promising elements that ever was.

A couple of weeks ago, when I was complaining that "Missing" invested in character development for Linden and Holder far too late in the game for it to be effective, at least one of you brought up the long shadow of "Rubicon" in comments. Like "The Killing," "Rubicon" was a new show AMC put on the air this season. Like "The Killing," "Rubicon" moved very slowly. And like "The Killing," "Rubicon" saw a fair amount of viewer grumbling that nothing was getting resolved. But I liked "Rubicon" a lot, and I wasn't such a big fan of "The Killing" (after a pilot that was pretty mesmerizing). And when I started trying to figure out why this was, I realized it was because "Rubicon," for whatever faults it had, was about a collection of fascinating characters trapped in a world where they were always stalked by dark conspiracies and strange shadows. The plot wasn't thrilling, but the characters were, and that bought my interest, week after week.

"The Killing," however, strung the plot along a long series of unlikely coincidences (my colleague Meredith Blake has a great list of them here), then didn't bother making the characters anything more than ciphers. It confused having them stare into the middle distance or occasionally act frustrated with character development, and that, in the end, absolutely killed the show. Sud and her writers absolutely could not figure out how to pace reveals about their characters, and we know basically nothing more about most of them than we did at the beginning. They’re all blobs who keep doing the same things over and over, outside of Linden and Holder, who had all of their character development crammed into one episode.

And that's to say nothing of the fact that the revelation that Holder would kill the Rosie investigation to scuttle Richmond's campaign utterly undercuts everything that made the character the show's best, not to mention making the moment last week when he seemed stunned to realize that Richmond was Orpheus -– while standing alone by himself near a pay phone! -– utterly ridiculous in its contempt for the audience. That might have been a nice chance to offer a little foreshadowing for Sunday night's episode, to show that Holder was in on it or wasn't surprised by the Richmond revelation or something that might have indicated his complicity. Instead, it's a ridiculous attempt to keep us faked out, an attempt that makes no sense in retrospect. (Also insulting to the audience: the idea that Bennet's wife would somehow not know who Stan Larsen-- the father of a dead girl who's been all over the local media and the man who put her husband in a coma – was.)

I've tried to keep an angry tone out of this review, even if the last few minutes of "Orpheus Descending" really struck me as the show's writers flipping off the audience. There are plenty of angry tirades about this finale out there on the Internet. (Here are two that are safe for work and don't just consist of profanity, though you can find plenty of that as well.) But at the same time, the more I write about this episode, the more I can't help but feel it's just the latest utterly wasted opportunity in a show full of them.

I agree with Sud that having Rosie's killer be discovered in the season finale would have been formulaic. But on a show in which the character development mostly failed and plot development was haphazard at best, hanging on to find out who killed Rosie was pretty much all I had left. And now that I have to wait until sometime in 2012 to find out even that, I can't imagine I'll even care. There are plenty of ways to tell engrossing, years-long narratives. "The Killing" is a pretty good example for those who want to know how NOT to do that.

Photo: In the season finale of "The Killing," Darren Richmond (Billy Campbell) is arrested for the murder of Rosie Larsen, thanks partially to evidence provided by girlfriend Gwen (Kristen Lehman). But it turns out he was -- inexplicably -- framed. Credit: AMC

RELATED:

"The Killing's" dead girl: The actress who plays Rosie Larsen talks about her murder and more

AMC orders another round of its crime drama "The Killing"

Complete Show Tracker "The Killing" coverage

-- Todd VanDerWerff
Twitter.com/@tvoti

 
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