TV ANALYSIS: Why ‘The Killing’ fascinates, frustrates us

Mireille Enos and Joel Kinnaman in The Killing — Photo courtesy of AMC

Tonight, June 17, AMC is set to air the season finale of The Killing, the murder mystery series that has asked one simple question for more than 25 episodes: Who killed Rosie Larsen?

The answer to that fateful question has been staring us in the face for some time. The series may point toward Jamie Wright (Eric Ladin) or Gwen Eaton (Kristin Lehman) or Chief Nicole Jackson (Claudia Ferri), but the truth goes beyond the actual content of the show.

The sad, sad reality is that American audiences were given arguably the best mystery series in years, and what did we do with it? At first, we were transfixed, tuning in every week, enjoying every red herring and turn of fate. After the controversial season one finale, many viewers left, while the case to find Rosie’s killer continued. Now, we gear up for the season two finale, and it becomes clear who was the killer from the beginning: It was us.

In our childishness and short attention spans, we refused to fully commit to The Killing. Many times we were invited onto the bandwagon, but refused to hop aboard. Instead, we turned off AMC and watched another rerun of CSI, Criminal Minds or NCIS — you know, those paint-by-numbers, murder-of-the-week series that play directly into our collective ineptitude as a TV-watching public. The Killing was too different, too new, too sophisticated to garner our attention for too long. As the murder case continued for hours and hours, we inevitably checked our watches and cringed at the thought of another dead end.

Truth be told, the show took one too many liberties. By keeping Rosie’s killer out of the spotlight for so long, the guessing game grew tiresome. If a lead developed too early in the season, we knew it would pitter out. And in the 25 days since the case began, a lot has happened, perhaps too much. There has been organized crime activity, an Indian reservation that feels like a Wild West town, corrupt politicians, struggling detectives and a temporary pause in a mental health facility. There’s been a lot of evolution throughout the series, and even though the characters have only grown by 25 days, we have grown by more than 365 days.

Kristin Lehman, Billy Campbell and Eric Ladin in season one of “The Killing” — Photo courtesy of AMC

Disconnect was bound to happen.

But The Killing is that rare gem, and it thankfully has the support of a great television network like AMC (here’s hoping the executives still see the value of the show for a third season). It played with our emotions and our trust, but that’s precisely why it’s a cut above the rest. The show’s out-of-box thinking has made for some great television, and because ratings dwindled in the second season, we may never see the continued progression of detectives Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) and Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman).

Audience members are ready to say goodbye to Rosie, once and for all. With her storyline ending, the inevitable must happen. Not only will the case be solved, but her family, including Mitch (Michelle Forbes), Stan (Brent Sexton) and Terry (Jamie Anne Allman), will likely not return for another set of episodes. It’s time for their characters to properly grieve and move on with their lives. The series, if it continues, will likely focus on Holder and Linden, and a new murder case. Darren Richmond (Billy Campbell) may become mayor of Seattle, or he may remain a councilman. I can still see a role for him in the series, because the political arena has given The Killing a wonderful break from the police world. No matter what happens, things will change drastically if a third season is ordered.

But if some audience members couldn’t stick through one murder case, will they be expected to stick through another? Some will, and some won’t. The reality is that The Killing demands dedication, and that’s in short supply for most TV viewers. The most popular shows are the ones that can jump around from adventure to adventure (these are the series that work best in syndication). The few shows with overarching plots (Game of Thrones, True Blood, etc.) are generally based on previous material or tap into a particular genre, like horror or fantasy. Add a supernatural element to The Killing and HBO would probably give it a prime spot on Sunday night.

Audiences need to think long and hard about what they want from a TV show. If it’s all about story, then go the way of CSI: Insert City Name Here. If characterization and subtlety are able to be appreciated, then there’s nothing better than The Killing. Linden and Holder are two of the finest characters in television history (a bold statement, to be sure), and the fact that showrunner Veena Sud has been able to carve them out in only two dozen episodes is a triumph. Along the way, she and the show took the plot in too many different directions, but that’s only because they knew their central characters were solidly interesting and engaging. As long as Linden and Holder were involved, it really didn’t matter how the case transformed.

I’ll be watching The Killing‘s season two finale, hoping it’s not a series finale. They’ll tell us who killed Rosie Larsen, but remember this: If the plug is pulled on this fine, fine series, we killed The Killing a long time ago.

There have been a few series that have focused on one crime. But the one that immediately jumps out is Twin Peaks, which features a quirky detective in the Pacific Northwest and a teenage girl taken from this world at too young an age. Although David Lynch’s show was a mystery-comedy, there are many parallels with The Killing.

Now, it seems The Killing and Twin Peaks may have another connection. The early 1990s show was a big hit in its first season, but its audience dwindled by the end of the second set of episodes. It died a quiet death before its third season.

If you want The Killing to last longer than two seasons, leave your thoughts and pleas in the comment field below. Let AMC executives and audience members know how you feel. Take a stand for thoughtful, original TV programming.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

11 thoughts on “TV ANALYSIS: Why ‘The Killing’ fascinates, frustrates us

  • June 17, 2012 at 7:00 pm
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    Sorry, the audience didn’t kill Rosie Larsen, it was more likely self inflicted suicide by the writing staff. They had a perfect opportunity early in season 2 to wrap this up by episode 4 or 5 and then move on to another case but instead we, the audience, were treated to a number of bait and switch moves. It’s almost as if the writers weren’t even watching previous episodes.

    I loved this show in season 1, even the season finale I thought was well done…but come on, stretching that death out over another whole season?

    The Danish version did it right by wrapping it up in one season, albeit it was a longer season for them.

    I’m truly disappointed because the two lead detectives played so well off of each other……now I’m just happy for it to end.

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    • June 18, 2012 at 1:27 am
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      The Danish series didn’t wrap up in one season. It was two seasons, 20 episodes. The Killing USA was 26 episodes.

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  • June 17, 2012 at 10:33 pm
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    I’m on board for another season. Maybe the case could have been solved in one season, but I saw what I thought were quite a few possible future story lines developing. Life is complex. I like that a show is taking the time to reveal the complexities of life. Stan and Midge and the whole Larson family could continue in the show, or they can continue living the lives that were developed through the two seasons. Because they feel ike living breathing people, I believe that whatever Holder and Linden are working on, the Larsons are still out there, dealing with their lives. I could even see them coming back after a season break. Keep the show AMC. I’d like to see Sarah free that father who was wrongly convicted. This show is even better than The Shield, which was my favorite crime show until The Killing. and that show just kept spinning tales that all wound around one plot line. This show is better because it works more off character. Great creation!

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  • June 17, 2012 at 10:34 pm
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    I’m on board for another season! Maybe the case could have been solved in one season, but I saw what I thought were quite a few possible future story lines developing. Life is complex. I like that a show is taking the time to reveal the complexities of life. Stan and Midge and the whole Larson family could continue in the show, or they can continue living the lives that were developed through the two seasons. Because they feel ike living breathing people, I believe that whatever Holder and Linden are working on, the Larsons are still out there, dealing with their lives. I could even see them coming back after a season break. Keep the show AMC. I’d like to see Sarah free that father who was wrongly convicted. This show is even better than The Shield, which was my favorite crime show until The Killing. and that show just kept spinning tales that all wound around one plot line. This show is better because it works more off character. Great creation!

    Reply
  • June 17, 2012 at 11:12 pm
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    Great two seasons! Great actors, I really hope we get Sarah and Holder back for a third season and more, AMC has tried before with great tv series please keep it up!

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  • June 17, 2012 at 11:50 pm
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    Linden/ Holder for president!! Season 3 PLEASE

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  • June 17, 2012 at 11:56 pm
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    Dude, The Killing was certainly not “too sophisticated.” It was ham-fisted and contrived. I (hate-) watched both seasons, and while many claimed to be irate after the Season 1 finale, I knew where this show was heading after the fourth episode or so.

    The Killing’s plotting, pacing and writing were all TERRIBLE. (The one-day-per-episode format really hurt the writers ability to properly pace the story.) There were a couple of good characters (Holder!) and a few good performances. The cinematography was also excellent, for the most part.

    Ultimatley, The Killing was done in by Veena Sud’s hubris and self-aggrandization. This show wasn’t The Wire or The Sopranos or Breaking Bad. It wasn’t some groundbreaking work or art or a “holistic journey” (Sud’s words). It was more like a long episode of Cold Case, Sud’s former show. And for vast (“slow-burning”) stretches, it royally sucked.

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  • June 18, 2012 at 12:40 am
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    The murder of Rosie may have set the plot in motion, but The Killing was never a murder mystery in a conventional sense, and if many turned away from it- well that is their loss. What the show excels at is in showing how one terrible, tragic death- one which was largely a series of accidents, of multiple people in the wrong place at the wrong time- spins and turns and changes the lives of so many others. This is character driven drama, not a police procedural, closer to Dickens than to CSI. I hope it will be back next season- this collection of plot lines and great acting is too good to waste. And the final segment with Rosie’s home movie was beautifully done. Sign me up for another year.

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  • June 18, 2012 at 10:22 am
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    DB – If you hated the show as much as you claim why did you watch it for 26 episodes stretched over 2 seasons?

    One more thing – Spellcheck – ‘Ultimately’, not ‘ultimatley’

    Personally I thought it was terrific.

    One problem – The Killing was said to have occurred on Friday October 5, 2010. October 5, 2010 was a Tuesday.

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  • June 18, 2012 at 12:02 pm
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    I always hated those people who over-reacted to the series not wrapping up in one season. This was a fantastic show, but it probably won’t get another season. It’s a shame, really.

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  • June 19, 2012 at 1:43 pm
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    I was hooked from the first episode and certainly not undone by the first season’s finale. It only added to the suspense. I loved the show and hope the series can continue. Holder and Linden are an interesting and complex team.

    Reply

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