Jeremy Likes TV

I like TV. Probably more than any human should.

The Killing Doesn’t Respect You

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Quick Reaction: The Killing‘s season finale was the biggest middle finger given to an audience in years (maybe ever) and it could potentially ruin both its relationship with its viewers and damage AMC’s carefully built reputation.

(Read on for a much more in-depth analysis of the finale. Spoilers abound and it is lengthy, but I feel well worth the discussion.)

Knowing what I knew about each show heading into their respective finales this past Sunday night, I had intended for this piece to be a comparison between the expected successful capper to the debut season of HBO’s Game Of Thrones [1] and the finale of AMC’s much less successful The Killing. However, after seeing what showrunner/executive producer Veena Sud attempted to shove down her audience’s throats with Sunday night’s “Orpheus Descending,” I felt compelled to add my voice to the chorus expressing their displeasure [2] and, in some cases, disgust with how the first season of the show concluded. My words immediately following the screen fading to black were something to the effect of, “Fucking stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid. Goddamn it. That was fucking HORRIBLE.” Visceral, I believe would be an accurate description [3]. To understand my anger you must first understand how AMC marketed the series. As the series’ main focus was on the murder investigation of a teenage girl, the tagline that accompanied almost every advertisement (including the image above) asked, “Who killed Rosie Larsen?” The Killing, you see, was an adaptation of a Danish series called Forbrydelsen which focused on a single murder investigation over the course of the entire season. With that premise, it was more than fair for the audience to assume that after The Killing’s 13 episodes had concluded they would know the killer’s identity. It was implied through the advertising and through how the genre works that, if you invest 13 hours of your time over the next three months, you’ll be given some kind of resolution. Sud and everyone associated with The Killing essentially said, “Fuck you. We don’t respect you enough to do that.” I watch a lot of television – I’m not naïve enough to think that cliffhangers aren’t a necessary (and often entertaining) device used to capture an audience’s attention/loyalty and after The Killing had been renewed for a second season, it was well within the writing staff’s rights to end their season with some manner of cliffhanger [4]. But, the direction that Sud and company chose to steer the story was tantamount to spitting in viewers’ faces. Instead of revealing the killer, Sud chose to make it appear that the series’ most obvious suspect was the guilty party (Billy Campbell’s Darren Richmond, a mayoral candidate whose storyline seemed completely tangential, meaning that he was clearly the culprit) until she the point that she didn’t. The last five minutes of “Orpheus Descending” piled ridiculous twist upon ridiculous twist and served as one of the biggest insults to a collective audience that I can ever remember seeing on television. Just as she boarded a plane, Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos), the lead detective on the Larsen case, received a phone call telling her that traffic footage (footage that was key to placing Richmond at the murder scene) from the night of the murder was not available, which ran in total contradiction to the final piece of evidence that lead the police to arrest Richmond. The next scene cuts to Linden’s seemingly principled partner Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman), the investigator who supplied said tainted evidence, getting into a car with an unidentified figure and saying, “They bought it.” Finally, as Richmond himself is being transported into a police car amidst a throng of reporters and bystanders, Belko Royce (Brendan Sexton III), a mentally unstable Larsen family friend, approaches Richmond with a revolver and pulls the trigger just as the screen goes black. Just thinking of this insult of an ending raises my ire. Really, these “twists” were as effectively and skillfully executed as the end of your average M. Night Shyamalan film. Which is to say, not very and, more damningly, were indicative of a showrunner/writer (Sud) who really has no idea what she’s doing [5]. A large measure of my frustration with the ending comes from the fact that, even prior to the ridiculous finale, The Killing stood as one of the biggest television disappointments of 2011. What could have been a tightly engrossing and atmospheric murder mystery became a show all too willing to settle in to a formulaic pattern of raising one character as a suspect early in an episode, only to clear that person by the end of that same episode while at the same time bringing someone else into focus as the potential culprit. And it was because of that adherence to formula that I never trusted anything the show was doing. Even in this final episode of the season, when Richmond was seemingly identified as the killer I didn’t buy it. The show had cried wolf one too many times to gain any benefit of my doubt. It was also paced deathly slowly, to the point where many critics were finding it difficult to find any positives in the show and many audience members (myself included) were just hanging in until the end to satisfy their own curiosities about who the killer could be, not out of any loyalty that the show had earned. Due to its audacious ending, “Orpheus Rising” also raises micro and macro issues. The micro issue: Have Sud and her writers done irreparable harm to their audience with their choices? 2.3 million people watched the episode and, judging from the majority of the reactions online [6], a large chunk of that 2.3 million are incredibly unhappy with the ending. An admittedly unscientific poll by ESPN’s Bill Simmons on Facebook asked, will you watch season two of The Killing after how season one wrapped up? Currently, the poll stands at 55% saying that they will not watch. The macro issue: Perhaps more concerning than where the show’s audience stands is, what (if any) damage has been done to AMC’s brand as a result of The Killing’s failings? AMC has developed a reputation as cable’s home to prestige drama (Mad Men, Breaking Bad, the cancelled Rubicon, and to a lesser degree The Walking Dead) over the past five years. Their viewers have come to expect challenging yet intelligent dramas that are well worth the time invested in them. The Killing was none of those and Sud effectively displaying contempt for her viewers has to serve as a gigantic caution flag for the network. Sud claimed, in this interview with critic Alan Sepinwall, that she doesn’t listen to any audience reaction for her shows. Since AMC has renewed The Killing for a second season with Sud at the helm, perhaps she should start listening, otherwise (unlike Rosie Larsen’s killer) the murderer of The Killing‘s audience and AMC’s reputation will be clear — it will be Veena Sud.

[1] For the record, the Game Of Thrones finale was excellent.

[2] There are much more eloquent takes than mine on this subject by people who actually do this for a living and you can find them here (Alan Sepinwall), here (Myles McNutt), and here (Mo Ryan).

[3] I’m blogging about TV. Clearly, I’m more invested than most. Or sicker. Probably both.

[4] By comparison, 24 (for as ridiculous as it often was) always managed to resolve that season’s story arc in a satisfactory manner while still giving its fans a reason to come back the following year.

[5] Although, since the last series that Sud created was the laughably bad Cold Case, maybe we should have expected this. You remember Cold Case, don’t you? The Jerry Bruckheimer-produced procedural an entire division of the Philadelphia police department was devoted to solving long-since abandoned cases that, shockingly, were ALWAYS SOLVED by the end of each episode? No? Lucky you.

[6] Other than Michael Ausiello. Of course Ausiello, he of the Glee and True Blood fanboy-dom would find this show to be good television. Of course he would.

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Written by jeremylikestv

June 21, 2011 at 8:42 pm

2 Responses

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  1. A thing I found absolutely crazy in an interview was her saying: “Well, the Danish season was 20 episodes long and ours was 13, so that’s a big reason why we won’t be revealing the killer until Season 2.

    IT’S NOT A SHOT-BY-SHOT REMAKE LIKE PSYCHO WAS, YOU NITWIT. It’s an adaptation! You said yourself you didn’t even have the same killer, so why on earth feel the need to wait exactly the same length of time?

    Lasair

    June 22, 2011 at 9:33 am

    • That’s a great point. Sud’s explanation of the 13 episodes vs. 20 episodes difference is less explanation than it is excuse. It was also particularly galling that, in an interview with TVLine, Mireille Enos called the finale “smart storytelling” and said, “I think there was too much story to wrap up. To solve the murder in one episode, it would have felt rushed.” Uh… all due respect, Ms. Enos, but you didn’t have to solve it in one episode — your season was 13 EPISODES LONG. Maybe if they hadn’t wasted so much time on things that proved inconsequential to the story arc, it wouldn’t have felt “rushed” to her.

      jeremylikestv

      June 22, 2011 at 12:33 pm


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