June 21, 2011
In Defense of "The Killing"by David Bushman
My Lord, if Veena Sud (pictured left) lived in the Seven Kingdoms she'd have her head on a pike by now. What exactly did the poor woman do? As showrunner of AMC's The Killing, she helped craft a season finale that many of our most esteemed TV critics despised. And why exactly did they hate it? As best I can tell, because it didn't explicitly solve the central mystery of the series—Who killed Rosie Larsen?—and thus, it is argued, constituted an affront to the intelligence of the audience. Here's what I have to say about that: Get over it.
The only thing Sud and her team owed viewers who CHOSE to invest their time in the series was a thoughtful, well-crafted episode—not just this past week for the season finale, but every week. Now you can argue all you want that Sud did or did not deliver on that count, but please, no more righteous indignation over the big reveal (or lack thereof) in the final minutes of the finale:
Maureen Ryan (AOL) was so incensed that she opened her review thusly: "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...)." Ryan goes on to say that she "hated the season finale of 'The Killing' with the burning intensity of 10,000 white-hot suns," and calls it "the worst season finale of all time, because it was a terrible execution of a set of colossally stupid, misguided and condescending ideas."
James Poniewozik (Time)—one of my favorite critics—dubbed the conclusion of the final episode (titled "Orpheus Descending") "a stunningly contemptuous psych-out of its audience," and gave viewers permission to "unlock the toolshed and get the pitchforks!"
Alan Sepinwall (Hitfix) judged the episode: "a mess, and an insult to the audience who have stuck around for the last three months," adding: "So this will be the last review I write of The Killing, because this will be the last time I watch The Killing [even though it has been renewed for a second season]. Because I have no interest in going forward with a show that treats its audience this way."
Jeez, I'm almost sheepish to admit I actually LIKED the ending, in which—SPOILER ALERT here—it is revealed that Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman), one of the two Seattle cops leading the investigation into Larsen's murder, was something other than what he seemed, and that he apparently was complicit in a scheme to frame Councilman Darren Richmond (Bill Campbell) for the crime. Assuming this interpretation is correct, numerous mysteries remain unanswered: What was Holder's motivation? Whom is he working with? And, most importantly, who really did kill Rosie Larsen? (I use the word "apparently" here because I have yet to completely rule out the possibility, however remote, that Richmond was in fact guilty, and that Holder manufactured evidence simply because he was unable to make the case any other way, which is the argument that Ginia Bellafante of The New York Times is advancing. Bellafante's original review was so out of touch with how other critics interpreted the episode that she took the highly unusual step of writing a follow-up piece titled "The 'Killing' Finale: Clearer Than You Thought," defending her position.
In my very humble opinion, this last-minute switcheroo involving Holder was not only NOT insulting to my intelligence (such as it is), but rather supremely provocative and bold, advancing the very noir-like notion that no one—not even Holder, whom we had come to appreciate as a hip, charismatic, and empathetic law-enforcement figure—can be trusted. This to me was thoroughly consistent with the prevailing ambience of the series, in which the rain never relented; politicians were ruthless, corrupt, and self-serving; and almost everyone—from troubled high-school kids to sensitive English teachers to seemingly solid family men and women—had something to hide. I'm not saying The Killing was perfect—like most critics I was troubled by the contrivances, the cluelessness of the cops, and the lapses into melodrama (especially from poor Michelle Forbes, in the role of Rosie's mom) - but there was a lot to like about it, and for me that included the final revelation.
This pitiless wrath being pitched at Sud for refusing to unequivocally identify Rosie's killer of course evokes Twin Peaks, and all the grief David Lynch took for similarly refusing to out Laura Palmer's killer when critics demanded it (never mind that those same critics complained that the show was never the same after, and that it crashed and burned in no time). Why shouldn't Sud—or Lynch, for that matter—be permitted to solve the mystery at his/her own pace? Isn't that what the creative process is about? In today's instant-access culture, must artists cater to the consumers' expectations and agendas? One argument going around is that Sud and AMC marketed The Killing with the implied promise that the perpetrator would be exposed by season's end, which Sud refutes. Another is that unlike Twin Peaks, The Killing was based on a Danish show that did in fact expose the murderer during the first season, thus creating the expectation that the American series would as well.
I have just one response to that: Don't insult my intelligence.
Join The Conversation
Before joining the Paley Center in 1992, David Bushman was senior television editor of Daily Variety in Los Angeles and weekly Variety in New York. He also served as director of programming at TV Land from 1997 to 1998. He has taught and lectured on TV at numerous institutions, but on only one continent. He may be the only person in the world pining for an E-Z Streets reunion.Interests:
Noir, Fantasy Baseball, The Pogues, Soccer, Running
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