Sunday's season finale for AMC's The Killing: masterful mystery or muddled mess?
Is it fair to create a cop drama where the central crime seems solved until the last few minutes of the season finale?
That's the question at the heart of the intense debate ranging online about the final episode of AMC's The Killing -- a moody, introspective cop drama centered on a murder which seemed to be solved in Sunday's 13th episode. Until it maybe wasn't.
The problem: Ace detective Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) had arrested smoothie mayoral candidate Darren Richmond (Billy Campbell) for the show's central crime -- the murder of a young girl who may have met him while working for an escort service. But Linden discovered the key evidence which led to the arrest, a photo of the politician driving a car through a toll booth, was forged.
Worse yet, the forgery was foisted on the police department by her partner, former narcotics officer Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman). And Linden learns of this as a friend of the murdered girls' family appears ready to shoot the politician as he's transported to another jail, convinced of his guilt.
The end result: Killing fans spent 13 weeks closely following a slowly unfolding murder case only to be told at the last minute that everything they thought they knew might not be as it seemed.
Did Holder just fabricate evidence to ensure the arrest of a guilty man? Or was the entire case against Richmond a frame job fingering an innocent? Who is Holder working for (or with)? When Linden saw Holder meeting with a mystery man, followed him, and saw that he went to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting with his sponsor, was that true? Or was it a show for her? If the politician is killed, will any of these questions matter?
Most importantly, since AMC has ordered a second season of The Killing, are these mysteries enough to entice viewers into sitting through another season?
Small wonder AMC picked up another cycle of the story. If the channel had left the story hanging as it ended Sunday, with a dismayed Linden on a plane to join her fiancee in California and no one sure if Richmond was dead, angry crowds might have hung an executive or two in effigy.
As it is, fans are hotly debating whether the end was a masterful cliffhanger or a derivative cop-out. As a professional fan, I'll split the difference: It's both.
From the outset, I feared there might be more sizzle than steak in The Killing, which seemed to get lost in its own downbeat atmospherics and gloomy grief far too often. Linden and Holder were two hangdog detectives with too much personal baggage pursuing clues to a murder in a drizzly Seattle setting which seemed more an artful cliche than compelling environment.
The idea was admirable. Rather than provide the instant gratification of a crime solved in an hour, The Killing would try to approximate the feel of a more realistic murder investigation, where results could take much longer. But instead of using the unique set up to really draw out the investigation, The Killing concludes its story in just 13 days -- capping the unveiling of Councilman Richmond as the killer with a rug-yanking finale that basically says, "Maybe not."
I have written this before, when The Sopranos and Six Feet Under offered underwhelming season or series finales. But even producers of high-quality, challenging TV shows must acknowledge their responsiblity to reward fans for their close attention.
Viewers who gobble up episodes, watching every detail for clues, shouldn't get jerked around or handed an unpredictable result which leaves their devotion unrewarded. Because the next time this series offers new episodes, fans may decide they have better ways to spend their time and energy.
I'm hoping that's something The Killing producers consider as they cobble together next season's storylines.
What do you think?