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Underworld: Orpheus Descending on the Season Finale of The Killing

I'll admit that I was completely unprepared for the level of vitriol directed at last night's season finale of The Killing ("Orpheus Descending"), written by Veena Sud and Nic Pizzolatto and directed by Brad Anderson.

It wasn't a perfect season finale (it was woefully clunky and odd at times), but I also don't think that the series ender--or the first season itself--are worthy of the amount of gasoline that is being poured on it. For some, it's one match away from becoming an incendiary, because it failed to answer the series' central question: Who killed Rosie Larsen?

Which is where I feel as though I have been watching a completely different series than other viewers. I'm not going to try to convince anybody that they were wrong to hate the finale, because this level of anger doesn't vanish thanks to some talking points. Television is a hugely subjective medium and our personal experiences with shows are just that: personal. What I will say is that what I've most enjoyed about The Killing is the nuanced character study that it's provided: the way that murder rips open everyone, a black hole that threatens to suck in the victim's family, the suspects, anyone who once crossed paths with her. And, as we see here, even the detectives attempting to solve the case.

To me, the heart of the show has been watching a family struggle at the brink of madness, of dissolution, of anguish and rage and grief. The Larsens have provided an unusual throughline for the season, attempting to cope with the death of Rosie, even as their individual lives threatened to further unravel. What set all of this in motion, was of course the murder of teenager Rosie Larsen, whose frozen-in-amber smile hid all manner of secrets, much like Laura Palmer's did on Twin Peaks. (Interestingly, I keep thinking back to showrunner Veena Sud's insistence that she had never seen Twin Peaks, when I mentioned certain similarities between the two shows. I'm not sure which is worse: that she lied about it, or that she hadn't actually ever watched it.)

Yes, in order for The Killing to function as a narrative, Rosie's killer does need to be unmasked, even if justice isn't ultimately served. But that moment needn't have come at the end of the first season, which is what many viewers were expecting and anticipating. If you had stuck with The Killing for this sole reason, then the finale may have been interminable and frustrating. But, as soon as AMC renewed The Killing for a second season, I knew that there wouldn't be any easy answers, nor potentially any answers at all.

Why? Because Rosie's murder is the plot engine that keeps the show humming along, and I would have been amazed to see Sud and AMC shut it down at the end of the first season when it can still generate a whole slew of potentially interesting developments.

Now, I will say there was one thing about the finale that did irk me, as it did many, and that was the seemingly about-face with Joel Kinnaman's Stephen Holder, who was revealed to be in league with an as-yet-unseen puppet master (Leslie Adams?) and had forged the bridge surveillance footage that linked Darren Richmond to the night of Rosie's murder. Until that point, there was a lot of circumstantial evidence (there still is, in fact) that indicated that Richmond was behind the murder: the use of the Orpheus alias, his frequenting of online prostitutes, Aleena's identification of Darren as the man who lured her to the water, Gwen's assertion that Darren came back early that morning soaking wet.

None of which conclusively point to Darren Richmond having killed Rosie Larsen. He wasn't identified by the gas station attendant (he seemed to assume it was a man driving the car) and we now know that Holder faked the photo that placed him on the bridge. Linden knows this too, even as she prepares to finally leave Seattle for her new life in Sonoma, but it's likely too late for Richmond, as Belko strides up to him, gun in his hand, ready to enact some Biblical vengeance. (Didn't he see how this turned out for Stan?)

Which means that Richmond is another red herring, a liar and a cheat who has broken Gwen's heart yet again, but who may not be the killer after all. Holder's boss--whoever that may be--wants Richmond out of the race, and he may have just gotten Richmond removed from his earthly existence as well.

But I'm troubled by Holder's villainy here. Kinnaman infused Holder with street smarts, an armor of sarcasm and hoodies attempting to deflect any insight into his messed up personal life. I'm sure there's a reason WHY Holder did what he did, one that will be revealed next season naturally. Likely Sud and Co. will find a way to make what he did less troubling in the long run, despite the glee that Holder seemed to have in that scene.

After all, he betrayed Linden outright, jeopardized the case, and broke the vows he pledged to serve the city. It's a slap in the face after their goodbye scene and her begrudging admission that he is a good cop, after all. But it also makes it a little more clear why the episode "Missing" aired when it did. Just as these two finally buried the hatchet and opened up to each other, Holder turns around two days later and stabs her in the back.

Which, on an intellectual level, makes sense, but on an emotional level, the realization that Holder is just as crooked as the other baddies in The Killing doesn't quite hit home. In a series that's overflowing with venal politicians and apathetic cops, shouldn't Linden have someone else on the side of the white hats? Or has Holder (and, consequently one imagines, Kinnaman as well) just done a really good job of pulling the wool over our eyes? After all, he has been willing to share information about the investigation from the start, but is he really just nothing more than a dirty cop?

But in an episode where we finally see crusader Darren Richmond for what he is: a serial cheater and an unrepentant john who has a thing for brunettes, shouldn't there be some male character who isn't a letch, a liar, or a pathetic failure in some way? I had grown to care about Holder in a fashion over the course of these thirteen episodes, and it makes me more concerned that his villainy is the real deal and not a red herring to be eliminated at the start of Season Two.

That will have to wait, however. Despite some of the convolution of the episode and the question marks thrown up around the action (Wait, the cops never searched that part of the park for clues? What does Rosie's shoe prove? Won't Holder get caught the second Linden picks up the phone and tells Oakes about the bridge camera outage? Why doesn't Stan tell Mitch about the other house or the stack of cash in the drawer? Why is Sarah suddenly okay with Jack spending time with his dad?), there were moments of beauty and grace here, of the small kind that The Killing has traded in throughout the season's run.

Stan's scene in the break room with Amber Ahmed being one, a tiny fragment in a larger story that saw these two--united by their sense of loss and pain--have a small moment, unaware of the identity of the other. Stan's palpable grief when he's asked how many children he has sank into my very bones; it's a real quandary of a question. How do you honestly answer that, especially when the asker is a stranger? Mitch's departure from the family and the momentos of anguish that her home represents. Michelle Forbes' performance is once again breathtaking here (Forbes didn't lie when she told me she was done with The Killing), as Mitch comes to terms with the fact that she can't stay with her family. Terry's horror when she realizes that Mitch has left her and the kids to pick up the pieces of their lives. (I had actually wondered whether Mitch would take a more permanent exit from her life.)

In a way, she escapes, which is something no other character on the show manages to do in this week's season finale. Sarah and Jack might be on that plane, but it's still parked on the tarmac, and I don't see Sarah remaining in Sonoma, if she even stays on the plane. She's connected to the dead girl and this case, she's haunted by it as much as Richmond is by Lily's death. Her rage at the councilman indicates her own anguish, her own self-anger, her own insecurities. (Why Linden would confront him in that way is beyond me, however.) As for Richmond, he might be innocent of Rosie's murder but he admits to Linden that he's done some terrible, terrible things. Things we'll likely be finding more about next season, for those of us who will continue to watch.

I count myself among that number. While "Orpheus Descending" was far from perfect, it didn't awaken any such holy anger within me. I'm still wondering who killed Rosie Larsen--and, in their own way, so are those who reacted with such hostility to the lack of resolution on that front--and I still do care about these characters enough to want to see what happens next. The original Danish series split its first season into two parts of ten episodes, and that's more or less what Sud and her writing staff attempted to do here. But I didn't for a second think that there wouldn't be another twist, another red herring, another brutal revelation in the final minutes of the season, nor that Linden would catch Rosie's killer. Season Two of the original found Linden attempting to unravel a vast conspiracy, so why shouldn't that apply here as well, as she tries to uncover the real masters who are pulling Holder's and everyone else's strings? Hmmm...

But that's just me. What did you think about the season finale of The Killing? Did it make you want to hurl your television out of your window? Were you puzzled by the levels of outrage unfolding last night on Twitter? Will you watch a second season? Head to the comments section to discuss.

Season Two of The Killing will air next year on AMC.


Danny said…
I agree with you, but only in theory. That show you talk about- where it's about so much more than "whodunit"- is the one I signed up for and wanted to watch. Unfortunately, it's not the one I got. Despite great performances, the only time I felt even remotely like the show reached interesting levels with its characters (beyond the pilot) was in "Missing," which was fairly late in the game for that sort of thing. Despite enjoying the show up to this point, to me the only thing it really gave us WAS the question of Who Killed Rosie. Had it been more successful at subplots and characterization otherwise, I don't think people would be quite so angry. (And as you mentioned, really the one developed relationship of Linden/Holder was basically thrown away by his actions in the finale, which shows a pretty strong lack of awareness about what was and wasn't working on this show.)
kusiki said…
I agree with Danny. People only care who killed Rosie because it's the only thing to cling to when the show gives us no truth (in terms of the investigation - every "fact" is somehow disproved 5 minutes later) and a plodding "story" full of uncompelling "characters", predictable "twists" and overuse of quotation marks - oh wait that's me.

If it was at all interesting I wouldn't care who killed Rosie, but I have invested 13 hours based on a promise of "something" that would make it worthwhile and I think many viewers just feel cheated and frustrated that there wasn't more of a pay-off or "wow" throughout the whole season let alone the finale. One particular critic I read was a bit extreme with their rant, I will say that.

Sorry I just don't dig "Grieving with the Larsens", "Tales of Political Non-Intrigue" or "Detectives Slipshod and Shonky Get Rained on... again". I really don't know why I have kept watching. I didn't feel this anger you speak of, I only felt the same as I have after every episode - "meh".
Anonymous said…
I realize, from what I have read here and other places, that I am in the minority, but I actually enjoyed last night's season finale, just as I have enjoyed the series as a whole. Yes, I will admit screaming "NO!" at my television when the credits rolled last night, but only because I knew I'd have to wait until next year for more episodes of this wonderful series. I was a bit disappointed that we didn't receive the payoff of learning the true identity of Rosie's killer, but you know what, it only provides that much more reason for me to tune in next season. As for Holder, I think there's more there than meets the eye. For the time being, I am refusing to believe that things with him are as cut and dry as they seem, that he's a dirty cop on the take. I think what's going on there goes much deeper than that, and again, finding out what is another reason for me to return for season two. Hands down, I think The Killing is one of the best hours on television. It has ended just in time for the start of one of my other t.v. obsessions, True Blood.
Anonymous said…
I loved the finale! Rosie Larsen's murder is no longer your standard whodunnit, but the catalyst to branch out into a much wider, deeper, and thus more interesting plot. Now even when we find out who actually murdered Rosie the implications are far reaching. I for one applaud the bold decision to take the story in this direction.
Anonymous said…
It was great finale. And I think that Holder is working undercover (like he was before)to catch a bigger dish - Adams or Drexler. He is not bad. It is not just betrayal. But if Richmond will die, it will force Holder to struggle to continue undercover investigation. It will be interesting to see. Sarah will not go anywhere. But It will be hard for her because she will think that Holder is a dirty cup
Doctor Cocktail said…
I'm old enough to remember Twin Peaks and everything that made it interesting and endearing the first season made people lose interest the second season.

That said, The Killing is first and foremost (in my mind) a whodunnit, regardless of all the "nuanced" subtleties. Afterall, if it wasn't then we wouldn't need Rosie Larsen then would we?

After Season 1 though, I am starting to believe the writers themselves don't know who killed Rosie Larsen and that that they'll finally leave that up to where the dart lands on the dartboard next season for the last episode.
David Muir said…
I am a few episodes behind, but I am glad to see Jace's take on the way the show played out not just in the finale but through all of the first season's episodes. The pacing and "payoff" of this show is very unusual for North American audiences. For those who "endured" the slower pace because they were waiting to find out whodunit... of course they were disappointed. But for me, the whole concept was so different that I was captivated and I agree with Jace: it worked.
Anonymous said…
Veena Sud is an idiot. I don't care that she was a successful producer on a show that was already up and running. That just tells me she knows how to jump on a good thing and she's good in "the room" as they say.

Twin Peaks is actually the perfect analogy for this show but she's too young and clueless to remember what happened to that show. It was also sold to viewers as a mini-series and then got picked up for a second season because of the ratings. The finale ended with the same kind of BS cliffhanger and the show never recovered from the viewer anger. It limped through a low rated second season mostly based on foreign sales and was never again the water cooler show that it was during the first short season.
Anonymous said…
Jace, my viewing experience matched yours. The series wasn't perfect, but it held my attention and I'll tune in next year. I didn't take it for granted the finale would answer all the questions--why would it when there's a second season?

The level of vitriol against Veena Sud has been amazing and disturbing to read. When critics like Sepinwall get in a huff because his criticism didn't make AMC remove Sud as showrunner, it makes you realise internet entitlement doesn't stop at fan forums.
viagra online said…
I'm a number of attacks behind, however i 'm glad to find out Jace's accept how the display enjoyed out and about not only in the ending nevertheless by way of all of the first season's assaults. The actual pacing along with "payoff" with this present is very unusual with regard to United states viewers. In case you "endured" the actual reduced rate because they have been waiting to discover whodunit... needless to say we were holding let down. However for us, the full concept was diverse i had been enthralled and I accept Jace: that worked well.
Andrew K. said…
I wish I'd found this blog a few weeks back when the finale aired because I too was confused at the amount of hate it was getting. The one thing that irked me outright was the revelation about Holder which I felt undermined the character he had seemingly grown to become. Other than that, though, I thought it was fairly good, if occasionally exasperating, closer to a fine season.

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