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Did "The Killing" murder its fan base with string-along season finale?

by on June 23rd 2011 at 5:49 pm

Joel Kinnaman, Mireille Enos of "The Killing"/AMC photo

Hey, it's only a TV show -- not life and death.

Still, there's been quite a little uproar over the Season 1 finale of AMC's The Killing, which did not answer the central question of "Who Killed Rosie Larsen?"

The reaction by some television critics has been so vitriolic it's laughable. In an extended screed, one called it "the worst season finale of all time" after first stating, "I hated the season finale of The Killing with the burning intensity of 10,000 white-hot suns." And those were some of her milder comments.

Several critics who get paid to watch TV and a host of blogosphere commenters who don't have vowed to never watch another episode of this whodunit adapted from the Danish series Forbrydelsen. AMC renewed it for a second season before Sunday night's Season 1 closer raised more questions than it answered.

Others remain invested in the series and enthralled anew by its out-of-the-box cliffhanger. They may be in the minority, but I'm going to join them -- to a point.

First off, let's note that this was a season -- not a series -- finale. That's a crucial difference. Because if The Killing had said goodbye for good in this manner, it would have fully deserved all the cannon shots coming its way. You can get away with leaving an audience hanging from season to season, but you can't intentionally let a series die without closure. Or ideally full disclosure. Unless of course you're The Sopranos. Or Lost. Even so . . .

I did feel a little cheated after watching a review DVD of The Killing before it aired Sunday night. I'd been fully invested from Episode 1, even as the side trips and red herrings mounted while mis-matched detectives Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) and Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman) slowly pieced together the circumstances leading to 17-year-old Rosie's grim drowning death.

Near the end of Season 1, the evidence mounted against clean-cut, ideals-spouting mayoral candidate Darren Richmond (Billy Campbell), a widower still grappling with the relatively recent loss of his wife. At the same time, a bond seemed to be growing between Holder and Linden, who initially was supposed to be spending her last day on the Seattle police force before jetting off to California to be married.

Instead, in Season 1's closing scenes, Holder suddenly seemed to have gone to the dark side by manufacturing evidence against Richmond. He was seen getting into a car with an unknown co-conspirator before Richmond came face to face with an assassination attempt. Blackout. See ya next season.

Wow, what a jolt. And what a crappy way to treat the audience. But I watched the finale again the other day and came away without any rancor. Why should The Killing be swiss-cheesed with critical machine gun fire when AMC's Mad Men ended its latest season with ad man Don Draper's out-of-nowhere marriage proposal to his secretary? Where the hell did that come from -- particularly after he seemed to be almost madly in love with consumer researcher Faye Miller before abruptly dumping her?

In an interview during the January TV critics "press tour" in Pasadena, CA, The Killing's executive producer, Veena Sud, was asked if the murder mystery would "definitely get solved" at the end of Season 1.

"At this point we're going to organically follow the story," she said. "And whether or not it gets solved at the end of the season is a mystery."

So I guess that constitutes fair warning, even though AMC promoted the show with the tagline "Who Killed Rosie Larsen?"

It's all somewhat reminiscent of the "Who Killed Laura Palmer?" come-on affixed to the first season of ABC's Twin Peaks. That question spilled over into a completely messed-up Season 2, with executive producers David Lynch and Mark Frost later pretty much acknowledging that they never expected to get that far and really didn't know how to proceed with a show that came apart at the seams while most TV critics, myself included, fell completely out of love with it.

We'll see what happens with The Killing. But for now I'm going to trust that Sud knows what she's doing, and that she'll find a way to bring this particular murder mystery to a satisfying conclusion before firing up a new one.

After all, she didn't commit a capital crime -- although some critics see it that way -- by opting for a cliffhanger instead of an unequivocal guilty verdict. So let's just slap Sud with a misdemeanor offense for now, with the hope that she can remove it from her record with a redemptive Season 2. I'll be watching.

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