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'The Killing' Season 1 Finale Recap

by Maureen Ryan, posted Jun 19th 2011 11:00PM
['The Killing' - 'Orpheus Descending']

Below are my thoughts on the Season 1 finale of 'The Killing.' You might say that I have many thoughts about it.

But don't read on unless you've seen the final episode of the season.

YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME. (I'm going to walk away now, imbibe a handful of sedatives, and come back when I am not frothing at the mouth...)

Okay. Some of the meds have kicked in. Let's start again.

Writing about television is a funny business. One day you're recommending a show's atmospheric aesthetics and measured pace, and three months later, you're wishing you could step into the Wayback Machine to take back every positive thing you ever said about the show.

Strap yourselves in, folks. Get ready for the angriest television-related screed I think I've ever written. I'm not sure how to start, except to say that I hated the season finale of 'The Killing' with the burning intensity of 10,000 white-hot suns.

It wasn't just a bad ending to a poorly constructed, sloppy, disappointing season. It was a jaw-dropping instance of a show not just squandering its promise, but betraying its viewers. The tone-deaf arrogance of the writers and executives responsible for 'The Killing' is simply astonishing. And depressing, if you're a fan of quality television.

Let me be clear, I hold the show's executive producer and head writer, Veena Sud, responsible for a season-ender that not only DID NOT tell us who killed Rosie Larsen but turned Holder into a villain and did a number of other stupidly melodramatic, preposterously manipulative things. But I blame AMC executives as much as Sud -- if not more.

At some point, perhaps even before production began on the American adaptation of the Danish show 'Forbrydelsen,' AMC executives must have known what Sud's plans for the season were. If I'd been in their shoes as I read the season's outline and scripts, I'd have told Sud and her writers that the show's pacing was way off, the characterizations were lazy or inept and the "reveals," such as they were, were usually unsatisfying and took far too long to arrive. I think many viewers of the show, even those who started out with positive assessments, would have said similar things.

But when the executives heard her idea for the show's season 1 finale, they should have leaped out of their seats and said, "NO no no, a thousand times no." And they should have explained that AMC, in the last few years, has come to an agreement with its audience, and that what she planned would do grievous bodily harm to that agreement.

The agreement between AMC and viewers, in my mind, goes something like this: We as a network will give you smart, challenging, occasionally frustrating but generally well-constructed and emotionally engaging fare. Our shows may not fit into easily the usual television formats or paradigms, and our characters may do awful things at times, but whatever it is we're trying and whatever it is our characters are doing, we'll try to challenge, engage and entertain you. In return for giving us an hour or two of your attention every week, we will do our best to ensure that your time will not be wasted.

'The Killing,' in the last two months or so, has been a waste of time. This week, it turned into a giant insult. This wasn't a swing and a miss. Those are forgivable and expected on networks that take chances with their material. This hour was, in my opinion, the worst season finale of all time, because it was a terrible execution of a set of colossally stupid, misguided and condescending ideas. And clearly, people at the network have known about what would be in the finale for some time. They should have stopped it. All of it.

AMC flagrantly wasted 13 hours of its viewers' lives, and in this era of fragmented audiences and multiple distractions, that's the worst crime a network can commit. We have plenty of other stuff to do, and if 'The Killing' is just going to yank our chain -- not for emotionally and intellectually compelling reasons, but just because it can -- I'll plan on doing that other stuff when the show returns next year.

One thing. Just one thing. The one thing the finale needed to do was tell me who killed Rosie Larsen. That's all I think many fans wanted at this point. Most of the other things I'd once liked about the show -- the performances, the atmosphere, etc -- had dissipated in a haze of boring red herrings and sludgy misdirects, so I was hanging on for that one bit of resolution.

And hey, guess what? We didn't even get that. Now, if Sud or AMC want to split hairs and say that nobody associated with the show ever said they'd tell us who killed Rosie Larsen by the end of the season, that's terrifically annoying and adds insult to injury. "Who Killed Rosie Larsen?" was the tagline of the show's marketing campaign. If you'd told me at the start of the season that the show wasn't going to bother answering that crucial question -- a question that the network itself drew attention to -- there's no way I would have bothered with any of it. Don't waste my time and insult my intelligence.

An answer to that question wasn't the only thing I wanted when the show began. Back then, I wanted the things that good or great dramas generally provide: Memorable depictions of the complex lives and and emotionally resonant dilemmas of interesting people caught up in compelling situations. All that would have been nice, but I gave up on getting that some time ago, since this show seemed hell-bent on giving the audience only tiny slivers of those things on an occasional basis. After realizing that 'The Killing' was a plain old bait-and-switch -- this hollow vessel proved it could not satisfy the basic requirements of competent drama -- I just wanted to know who murdered the girl. And the show didn't even give me that.

I watched the last few minutes of the season in slack-jawed horror. Not the good kind of horror. I was stunned that the show would double back on so many things and then leave a host of new questions unanswered.

Guess what? Richmond didn't do it. But Holder "proved" Richmond did it with evidence that could be easily discounted. If the person on the phone with Linden knew that the cameras on that bridge were out of operation, surely that bureaucrat could supply that information to anyone else who asked. So the fake picture would never hold up in court, if Richmond's case even got that far.

Was the picture produced to ruin Richmond's election chances? Don't know.

Why did Holder engineer or produce that photo? Don't know.

Who was he working for? Don't know.

What was that person's agenda? Don't know.

Did Belko (hey, remember Belko? He still exists. And apparently he's turned into a full-on psycho) actually manage to kill Richmond? Don't know.

Yes, folks, it's true. We all spent 13 hours watching a turgid murder mystery that left us, in some crucial arenas, with LESS INFORMATION than we had the day after we watched the season premiere. That's a great feeling, right?

What a mess. What an avoidable, idiotic, ill-conceived mess. It's actually quite laughable, when you think about it. If the show had managed to make us care about these people, maybe some of these turnabouts and switcheroos would have served as intriguing revelations. [Roseanne Roseannadanna John Belushi voice] "But noooooooooooooooo......" Once again 'The Killing' basically just pulled a bunch of random stuff out of its back pocket, and the most galling part is, the show apparently expects us to think all that is really cool and subversive.

No. When a good show breaks the rules, it offers good justifications for breaking those rules and offers interesting new paradigms, exciting new possibilities and/or great character development. 'The Killing' is not a good show, because it basically took all the questions we had, threw them back in our faces, added some more from left field, and said, "So long, suckers!"

The end of season 2 of 'Battlestar Galactica'? That was a great, great "What the hell" moment. This? This was just a melodramatic crapfest.

I don't get angry with shows that try interesting things but spectacularly fail to execute them well. I may be disappointed or disgruntled, but hey, that kind of thing happens. I become angry when I feel that the people responsible for a show do not realize that they've been given a precious gift -- the gift of the audience's time. Anyone who willfully squanders that gift is deluded or shockingly cavalier. Or both.

Such behavior really sets me off, as you might have noticed. Maybe it's my Irish temper talking here, or maybe it's my regret at having given this show a positive review well before I knew what a disaster it would turn into. In any event, I certainly wouldn't blame the audience for feeling a great deal of anger about how this season and this finale played out.

There was so much stupidity on display in 'Orpheus Descending,' and not all of it was in the final minutes. Why was Jack allowed to hang out with his dad again? Why did Linden change her mind about that? Don't know. Why didn't Stan tell Mitch that he's spent all their money on a house for the family? Even if she didn't particularly want the house, wouldn't that have been information that a normal person would have offered at some point? Guess not.

As for Linden's second visit to Richmond's office, I know it was meant to be a big emotional moment for the detective, but I couldn't get over the face that she was once again alone in a room with a guy she thought was a murderer. Last week, it was pretty preposterous that she was in his home when those emails arrived, but this week, her behavior was beyond preposterous. We have no idea whether she knew that Gwen was hanging around, but regardless, this time Linden was sure Richmond was a cold-blooded killer -- and she put herself to be alone in a room with him on purpose.

She put herself in danger, she yelled at him for a while, she showed her hand in a pretty decisive way -- and then she didn't arrest him. Honestly, watching this finale was like being hit in the head with a tire iron. Repeatedly.

And then there's the whole reveal about Holder. From the start, has he been gaming the case and trying to frame Richmond? Nope, we don't even get to know when his betrayal began and what Holder's personal motivations have been. As I've been saying for weeks, Joel Kinnaman's performance has been the one redeeming thing about the show. But now his character is revealed to be a massive dirtbag in the last few minutes of the season. Thanks so much.

That isn't character development, because that is confounding information that, as is its wont, the show revealed without a hint of preamble or setup. We had no indication that Holder could play these kinds of deeply vicious games, we were given to understand that he truly cared about Linden as a partner and a friend, and yet we're just supposed to swallow that he was callously betraying her, possibly all season long.

Let me be clear about the fact that I don't hold the actors responsible for this steaming pile of nonsense. I look at the work Brent Sexton did in the scene with Bennet's wife and I regret, once again, that the show didn't give these excellent actors sufficient scope for their skills on a consistent basis.

If anything, I look forward to all of them getting new gigs -- and I hope none of them return for the next season of 'The Killing,' which AMC has already commissioned (with Sud at the helm). Why would I want capable actors stranded in a show that undercuts whatever emotional investment their performances have created by randomly revealing things about their characters without proper setup or the laying of any kind of realistic groundwork?

If anything, the fact that Linden and Holder had a few good partner moments in this episode makes me more angry about the revelation of Holder's betrayal. And again, we don't even know who he's working for. We don't know if Belko assassinated Richmond. We don't know if Linden will go to Sonoma for good or return to the hunt for Rosie's killer, who, 13 hours later, is still at large. Unbelievable.

A good season finale will set up tantalizing ideas for what may go down when the show returns. This astoundingly awful, obnoxious finale just threw a bunch of crap at the wall and purposely left viewers in the dark about a vast number of things.

I do know one thing. 'The Killing' has killed off any interest I had in ever watching the show again. That is one fact I can state conclusively.

Hitfix critic Alan Sepinwall, who also didn't care for the finale, has an interview with Sud here. What can I say about Sud's responses in that interview, except that she and I completely disagree about every aspect of the season as a whole and the finale in particular?

Follow @MoRyan on Twitter.

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161 Comments

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erin.macklebee

Hey, Maureen. Remember when you did that interview with Richard Madden from Game of Thrones and asked him that horribly awful question, "Do fans come up to you and ask you how you feel knowing about the fate of your character and knowing that you won't make it past a certain point in the series?" Yeah, that sucked. A spoiler alert for all of the people who hadn't gotten to that point in the books would have been nice. I read all of your reviews of GOT as recaps after I'd watched the shows, and when you linked one review to that interview, it completely ruined the experience of reading the books up until that point as I'd just started on book one. I'm surprised you even have a job. All you do is complain and give away crucial elements of storylines. I have since moved over to James Poniewozik. He is a far more eloquent and thoughtful reviewer. Good luck with your career.

May 25 2013 at 2:34 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Farts Dumfarts

This criticism is about as relevant as someone clamoring that Lost didn't fully explain what the island was by the end of the first season. I want a drama series to carry their biggest questions over from season to season. If you like everything wrapped up nice every time, let me know and I'll send you a Blue Bloods T-shirt.

March 12 2012 at 4:22 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Sally Barry

Oh-tay. I came here to refresh my memory of how season one ended, and reading the above, am I correct in thinking you did NOT like the ending of the last episode?

I'll be interested to see if the upcoming season of The Killing gets any ratings at all. Judging by the extreme ire of most of the viewers, sounds like no one is going to watch.

March 04 2012 at 2:32 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Midget Motel 6

Maureen, I suggest that you stick with the Bachelor next season so that your sensitive mind doesn't get too boggled. I apologize for the tardiness of my comment as I was linked to this by another article but gee whiz you sound like an uptight lameass. Not to mention that I doubt the producers of this show are going to give a hoot how twisted up your panties got when you probably end up tuning in next season anyways. I can't imagine what it must like to be one of your friends or Zeus forbid the man that has to put up with your inconsequential nagging.

January 31 2012 at 8:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Midget Hotel

This reviewer flagrantly wasted 13 minutes of her readers' lives, and in this era of fragmented audiences and multiple distractions, that's the worst crime a reviewer can commit. We have plenty of other stuff to do, and if this review is just going to yank our chain -- not for emotionally and intellectually compelling reasons, but just because it can -- I'll plan on doing that other stuff when the 2nd season of the show is reviewed next year.

Also, if Holder was a mole, shouldn't that mean: 1) that Holder would be the most likeable character so as to not draw suspicion and 2) the case would get dragged off-course by a series of red herrings due to Holder's misdirections? This was a decent finale - what would've been the easy, obvious way out would've been to reveal the killer.

October 16 2011 at 12:59 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
lopsidedly

i love this show. there are so many tangents it could go a zillion different ways

July 14 2011 at 5:44 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
madsam

Wow, I do not know if we watched the same series. I was not surprised at all by Holden's character being part of it (whatever "it" is) in the end. I've thought he was a dirtbag and potential "bad" character from the first episode. I was also disappointed when we did not find out who killed Rosie--but I EXPECTED to NOT to find out--it is television! They want you to watch next season. I think networks need to start rethinking their approach to dramtic series contracts. I think they shoud say--okay--this plot is good for two seasons--we guarantee you two seasons to tell this story. (Similar to LOST--however, even with LOST they should've decided on the "end" time sooner.) I often give up dramas after season 3--they lose my interest because they seem to try to hard to stay afloat. I don't know that I disagree with your thoughts--but I am suprised by your level of disgust and passion. As someone who covers television--this ending should not be shocking at all.

July 14 2011 at 4:14 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
lala

I was a few episodes behind on the Killing and unable to watch the finale until a couple weeks ago. I successfully avoided all spoilers and discussions so I could be surprised, but it was evident from headlines etc. that there was a lot of outrage, with many people saying they couldn't believe the ending and would never watch again. I couldn't imagine what could be so horrible to cause such a reaction. The theory I came up with is that Linden was still "comatose in the hospital staring at the wall" and that the whole investigation and everyone involved was in her head. I was highly surprised when I got to the end and found out it was simply an unsolved mystery and suggestions that a "good" character was "bad". While the ending wasn't fantastic, it wasn't as horrible as everyone made it out to be. The point of a mystery is to keep tuning in to find out more, much like the six seasons viewers dedicated to Lost. Imagine the fallout if my theory had proven true. Now there's a good reason to curse out TV execs...

July 14 2011 at 2:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
blah

This is not a real review. This is overly-emotional, alarmist, sensationalized drivel. You sound like a disappointed "fan girl" with a strange sense of entitlement because you turn on your TV and sit down on your fat rump for an hour. I was also disappointed with the finale. But, as a lover of TV, am embarrassed for you as I read this review. and I have absolutely no respect for your opinions about Television. This is the first of your reviews that I have read and it will certainly be my last.

Here's a link to a real review (in case you wish to be taken to school by someone who knows how to criticize something without sounding like a child): http://watching-tv.ew.com/2011/06/20/the-killing-amc-joel-kinnaman-billy-campbell/

July 06 2011 at 9:14 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
KAY

I missed the last two shows and now I'm glad. What a terrible waste of time, I had to force myself to watch what I did watch because I was curious. O.K. maybe really nosy and did a lot of guessing. I must say that I still believe that it was Lindens boyfriend that killed Rosie. Call me crazy but he's just as good for it as any of them. I also will never watch any new show to come out of this debacle.

stuff

July 01 2011 at 6:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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