The Killing: Orpheus Descending

Posted on June 20, 2011

Well, we’ll give AMC credit for one thing: when they said the last 5 minutes of the show would have us all slack-jawed and wide-eyed in response, they were exactly right. What they left out, however, is that we’d all be screaming “What? What? Are you fucking kidding me? WHAT?!”

Or maybe that was just us. Wait, nope. Twitter says otherwise, as do plenty of television critics. The collective response to the last-second reveal that – surprise! There IS no reveal! – seems to be, well, a whole bunch of people giving AMC the finger. Mo Ryan, whose write-up of the finale is so dead-on we almost felt that THIS writeup should have been simply a link to hers entitled “Ditto,” emailed us before the episode started and said she couldn’t wait to hear our thoughts. We’re no fools. When a TV critic, who more than likely has seen the episode already, says something like “I can’t wait to hear your thoughts,” you best prepare yourself for an extremely unsatisfying hour of television, because “I can’t wait to hear your thoughts” is TV-criticspeak for “I can’t wait to see how many creative ways you say ‘Fuck you’ to a cable network tomorrow.”

Well, here’s one way: Not that AMC should be quaking in their booties at the thought of it, but this is the last episode of the show we’re blogging because that was the last episode of the show we’ll watch. We have never encountered such a blatant disregard for the audience than last night’s sloppy, unsatisfying wrapup to this sloppy, unsatisfying show.

And that’s the thing: had the previous 12 hours of The Killing been gripping television with intricate plotting and tight characterizations, then the creators of the show could have done practically anything they wanted for the season finale because they’d hooked the audience and could take as much time as they needed reeling them in. Unfortunately, both for the audience and the creators of the show, they failed to do that and every single review of the show that crossed in front of our eyes for the last 2 months has stated or implied that the writer of the review is really only in it to the end in order to find out the killer. Whatever early good will the show generated dissipated rapidly once it became clear that the one episode=one day format of the show practically required that we spend a lot of time with characters paralyzed with grief and a lot of time watching cops chase down blatant red herrings with rather clumsy “ripped from the headlines” stories stapled on to them in an attempt to keep them interesting.

In retrospect, we should have seen this ending coming, since the show has been in steady decline since about episode 3 and since that decline can be directly attributable to ill-advised attempts to pad the story. Well, what better way to pad it than to avoid answering the very question the show phrased: Who killed Rosie Larsen? Come back for season 2 to find out! No. Fuck you. As Mo said in her review, the ONLY thing keeping a seeming majority of the viewership engaged with the show even when it brought in anti-Muslim hysteria, female genital mutilation, Native American tribal rights, terrorism, and the dumbest fucking political campaign in the history of American politics, was the promise – implied, to be sure – that the show would answer the only question it posed. For us, and for apparently a lot of people watching, we were still watching despite our disappointment for one reason only: to find out whodunnit. And they couldn’t even give us that.

It’s a rather stunning example of the divide between the people who create a show and the people who watch it. There is an implied contract there, especially with shows of a serialized nature. That contract states that if you watch my show week in and week out, I will pay it off for you at some point and you will be satisfied with the result. Those last 5 minutes weren’t some sort of shocking twist; it was a rug-pull; a doorslam; a, yes, we’ll type it, slap in the face to the audience. “Thanks for watching, suckers!” Alan Sepinwall, who also wrote a review that deserves a ditto, interviewed show runner Veena Sud and we have to say, we can’t remember reading a more frustrating and tone deaf Q&A. There’s an obnoxious high regard for the show underlying all her responses. Sure, showrunners are supposed to think their show is the bestest, but considering the rather brutal growing negative critical response over the last couple of months, her responses seemed to be coming from a fantasy world where her show is a big hit and she just pulled off a cunning and daring switch, rather than the truth: her show has been sliding in quality and critical response from Day One and she just pulled a fast one on the viewers. Read the whole thing; it’s an amazing exercize in self-flattery and delusion – and it reveals an astonishing low regard for the audience.

At some point, someone involved with the planning of this show must have raised the question: Is this going to fly with the viewers? Can we really ask them to stick it out only to not give them an answer? Is that fair to them? Most importantly, Will this be satisfying for them? We suppose the people responsible for this decision convinced themselves they were doing something daring and the payoff would be a lot of buzz and chatter.  But in order to believe that you have to believe the show you’re producing is so engrossing and well-done that you can have a little leeway to shock the viewer at the end. Little problem there: the show has been a boring, formulaic slog for weeks on end. For us, and we’ll go out on a limb and say that for the majority of the viewership, the only thing that would have made us interested in watching Season 2 would be a satisfying and clean wrapup to Season 1. That the people involved with creating this show convinced themselves that what viewers really wanted was more Larsen family misery porn and more red herrings, but NO answers is an amazing insight into how far the divide is between those who create entertainment and those who consume it. Somewhere, at some point, a bunch of people sat around a table and convinced themselves that teasing your audience for weeks and then skipping out on them at the last second with no satisfaction was a recipe for success. You’d have to have virtually no understanding of what an audience wants and expects to convince yourself of that and we can’t bring ourselves to come back next year and give any more attention to creators with no respect for the audience. We’re done.

And please, don’t try the “It’s subtle and sophisticated! You just don’t get it! Maybe you should go watch COPS!” response. Save it. The first two hours of this season were subtle and sophisticated. Everything since then has gotten increasingly clumsy and nonsensical. We could point out the various plot contrivances that continued right up to the last second but frankly, we don’t care and we don’t think the show deserves another second of consideration. Put this one in the TV trash heap where it belongs. We predict AMC’s in for quite the disappointment when Season 2 starts and to be perfectly frank, they’ll deserve it for being so dismissive of its audience.

[Photo credit: AMC TV]

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