There is a lot of white hot rage floating around the internet right now all thanks to Veena Sud's season finale for The Killing. It's not surprising that such a methodical, thought-provoking performance piece would evoke such a response, but what is a bit surprising is from whom the majority of the criticism is coming. The audience for The Killing was never the youth, and because the demographic was more mature, it was assumed the attention would be on detail and nuance and story-telling, which the show successfully delivered week after week, and not any less so in its final episode, final hour. But instead the reactionary focus of the last forty-some-odd minutes was greatly placed solely on the fact that there was no real resolution to who hunted young Rosie Larsen down and stuffed her in a trunk to ultimately drown in a lake when she should have been partying the weekend away with her high school friends.
Yes, that's right, season one is over and we still don't know definitively who killed Rosie Larsen. But isn't that just life?
The investigation that Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) has been heading into who killed Rosie Larsen has only been going on for two weeks. You have to put that into perspective. Thirteen episodes, thirteen days. For any police precinct, let alone a small town one, that is barely any time at all. Results on DNA or fiber testing often takes two weeks; running reports on credit cards or phone calls may come back a bit more instantaneously but someone still has to actually sit down and pour over the paperwork. We've been trained to expect answers; we've been trained to expect twists around every corner; but more importantly, we've been trained to expect eleventh hour confessions from the bad guys. That is a formula best served in a network police procedural, though; that is not reflected in our daily society. Life is not cut into neat, forty-five minute chunks, and neither is The Killing. Sud is better than that; AMC is better than that.
If you were watching The Killing all season long simply to find out who killed Rosie, well, you were most likely disappointed with the pacing and probably couldn't actually stick around until the season finale anyway. Yes, the WhoDunIt? factor was a part of the show, but it was never the main part. Instead, The Killing focused its weight and drew its emotions from the layers of each character-- people who were unraveling before our eyes but on a real life time table, not a reel life one. In that regard, it's almost impossible not to have expected the way the first season finale ended. Not only do cops finger the wrong guy all of the time simply because it looks right-- the surface evidence looks to point to one person, and it takes time, real time to dig down underneath or step back for a moment to see the case with fresh eyes-- but also there were still way too many loose ends to effectively tie up with a last minute reveal.
The Killing was never about flash or gimmicks or summing everything up neatly in six acts each week. Every episode that proceeded the season finale answered a few questions while ultimately raising at least a few more. Each week a new suspect seemed to be cleared while at least one new one emerged. In that regard, the season finale kept the pattern going perfectly. The upset comes from the fact that there is no new episode next week to satisfy our craving. And for that, it is okay to be disappointed. I was, and I have been one of its biggest supporters from the beginning, even going so far as to give the pilot one of my first ever five-star reviews. It means you, as a viewer, have become invested enough in these characters' lives to want to know where they go next, where the investigation goes next, and ultimately who did it. Whether you just want to satisfy your own suspicions or want to see justice for this grieving family, or some combination of the two, you are engaged, and that is a lot more than can be said for a procedural that wraps something up neatly one week so that when you tune in the next you (along with the characters) have pretty much forgotten what happened last...and you never speak of it again anyway.
In all honesty, I was a little disappointed that a few more questions weren't answered in the season finale of The Killing since the writers certainly knew it was the last episode for a while. I wanted a little more to grab onto; I wanted to be a step ahead of Sarah going into this hiatus. But maybe that was never a realistic expectation anyway. The entire season, we've been right alongside Sarah, so to suddenly get the jump on her would seem unfair. And let's face it, the exposition involved when a character has to play catch up to the audience is like death anyway. For those who already criticize The Killing for being too slow, well, they'd finally have a reason if that was the case!
For me personally The Killing ends almost exactly where it began in terms of who I believe actually killed Rosie Larsen. That means when season two starts I'll be watching with a bias that may allow me to see certain things-- to read into certain things-- just as I have all throughout season one. Maybe because I am so willing to put something into watching I get more out of it than most, and maybe that is why I feel an eerie sense of calm after completing the first season. You can say it's because it's on a cable network; you can say it's because its not a formulaic drama but instead a true character piece; you can say it's because of the pacing and the quietness of its characters, but since day one The Killing has asked its audience to pay attention. And if you really have been this whole time, then I believe Sud did not lie when she said the true killer would be revealed by the end of the season. I believe we did see the person express their guilt in at least one moment and we did get a glimpse at how the murderous actions have informed the behavior in the aftermath and investigation; we just had to know what signs to look for. And I hope that next season the show will be able to more fully explore that, but it is still a thin line to tow because it may be instincts that tell the audience (and Sarah) that someone is guilty or innocent, but it is the evidence that is going to inform the way in which the investigation heads. And sometimes the guilty are really, really good at covering their tracks.
This season of The Killing certainly followed a twisty road map leading to various suspects not to throw us off but because that is how a criminal investigation works. Light is shed on certain parties, and it is in the police's duty to check out any and all leads. More often than not they don't pan out. And I hate to say it, but just as often these types of murders go unsolved, turning into cold cases. Due to Sud's television history, I doubt she'd pull that one on us, though it would be quite a poetic turn of events when all is said and done...
Would I have been happier walking away tonight when the end credits rolled knowing who killed Rosie Larsen? Yes, a part of me would have, but then again I was the kind of kid who would skip to the end of the book when I thought I had figured the story out just to see if I was right because for me it was always all about the destination. But The Killing is truly all about the journey. And honestly, that is what strong television, and strong storytelling, really should be.