Tuned In

The Killing Season Finale: A Semi-Semi-Defense

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Carole Segal/AMC

I cannot say that I hate-watched The Killing‘s second season. My connection with it was not passionate enough, the feelings it prompted not strong enough, for that. Let’s say that I sad-watched it. I was disappointed like a lot of people with the first season, which began with a kind of mopey, rainy grandeur, but turned into a kind of marathon rug-pulling-out contest, with fakeout after fakeout giving the lie to the show’s claim to be more than just another formula, procedural whodunit. (It was more: like, 20-some hours more.)

And yet I watched the second season, not every hour, but enough to keep up, to hope, to appreciate the elements of the show that I enjoyed all through season one. The Killing wasn’t a show that satisfied me in the end, but it was able—after I would have just forgotten about most shows—to make me want it to be better, and that was something.

Did last night’s season two finale, in which Rosie Larsen’s killer (killers, in a way) was finally identified, redeem the series? It did not. But I have to give it some credit: after one psych-out after another, the final reveal was, if not gaspingly stunning, emotionally effective in a way I didn’t expect. That Jamie did it, or started the process of doing it, would not have surprised many of us in the show’s very first hour. Weaselly, whiny, self-justifying Jamie, killing for ambition, getting his hands dirty for Darren—in the process, ironically, of planting bones—was a likely suspect from the get-go.

But to have the final coup de grace delivered, unknowingly, by Rosie’s aunt Terry—that was powerful for reasons having nothing to do with whether or not you ever could have seen it coming. Frankly, the way it played out was a little far-fetched—that she would have stalked off in her heels and dispatched a car with a girl in the trunk like she were changing a flat, all to keep things going with her lover. Nor was it the gut-punch of her later realizing that she’d killed a girl she loved. It was the sad, tawdry banality of it all.

It wasn’t in the end a crime of passion, or sickness, or premeditation. It was just a thing, an ugly, amoral act by a woman who was caught in a certain circumstance and didn’t have the imagination or moral bearings to do anything else. As Holder said, it was a case of “wrong place, wrong time,” and not just for Rosie. For Terry too. That she would kill an innocent stranger in her own interest, of course, is heinous enough. (The fact that she didn’t know it was Rosie made it no better, though I can see why she’d cling to that.)

But she wasn’t bloodthirsty, she wasn’t violent, she wasn’t a predator or an instigator. She was just, in the end, not good enough not to do it. She could easily have gone her whole life without killing anyone—like, probably, many Terrys out there who never end up having to learn that about themselves. But she was in a place, and she did a thing, and—like happens when some people face a moral challenge—found that confluence of circumstances in which she could be evil.

All that made her capture a brief glimpse of the kind of anti-cop-whodunit that The Killing promised to be. She was caught, and she’ll be punished, but there was no real satisfaction in it, no catharsis, no sense that evil was vanquished, just sad exhaustion. And sad exhaustion—though it is understandably not everyone’s thing—is what The Killing does well. I am probably in the minority, for instance, but even as the cop side of the story lost me, one part of The Killing that always affected me was the Larsens’ wrestling with the loss of their sister and daughter, playing out a process that maybe gets a few choice seconds in most cop shows.

Now, did the wrap-up to the Larsen case redeem the series overall? No, it did not. The Killing wanted to be a show that broke the mold of TV cop procedurals—the red herrings and gotcha moments—but if anything, it was more enslaved to them than most police shows. It wanted to be a real-time look at longform police work, like a season of The Wire, but in the end, it didn’t trust us to stay interested in that without having Linden and Holder end up chasing down dozens of false suspects—in the end turning out far more unbelievable and alienating than any single hour of CSI could ever be. What was good in it—the Larsens’ heartbreak, Mireille Enos’ and Joel Kinnaman’s performances—was swamped by its constant attention to what it was bad at: the procedural stuff, and an insanely overwrought political intrigue.

(Note: I never saw the Danish original, Forbrydelsen., on which The Killing was based, and it’s possible that some of these problems came out of the attempt to remake it. But in the end, that’s no excuse—sticking to a source story when it’s not working out is no excuse in the eyes of the law of storytelling.)

In the end, I’m not very interested to see what happens in a third season of The Killing, if we get one. But that final, bathetic capture of Terry was at least a hint of the show’s promise. The case, it turned out, did not end flashily in a stroke of lightning. Just rain, rain, rain.