The first season finale of The Killing has come and gone, and it reminds us of where it all started in some ways, while in other ways shows us just how much potential was squandered.
Last Monday, the AMC network announced that The Killing was renewed for a second season. It's probably a good thing that the show's coming back, otherwise this episode would only bother people more. Why the creators thought ending on a cliffhanger, especially this particular cliffhanger, would be a good idea is the latest in a line of frustratingly mysterious decisions that really keep the show from achieving all it can.
In watching The Killing, the prevailing thought tends to be about what the show isn't, rather that what it is. It's difficult not to think of the ways these thirteen episodes could have come together to form a taut mystery thriller, especially when watching a bunch of diversions that waste time and don't do much to heighten the mood of the piece. This unintended effect is particularly potent in "Orpheus Descending," an episode that recalls the potential the series once had by bringing us back to the first episode in some respects. The episode starts off with plenty of tension and eventually takes us back to the park where Rosie Larsen's body was discovered. That, along with the lovely helicopter shots of the city really make the viewer remember the pilot episode, which was so full of potential and still carried some excitement with it.
"Orpheus Descending" isn't as dire as all that. Much like the season as a whole, when it was good it was great. To whit: Stan Larsen. Brent Sexton III really is the best actor on this show, and he shows exactly why here. He's the type of actor who does so much by doing so little. All of his intensity is roiling somewhere under the surface, and everything he does is written on his face. All he needs to do is narrow his eyes a bit, or start to hunch over more, or enact some other subtle form of body language to tell his story. He spends most of "Orpheus" taking a contemplative, Bill Sykes-esque tour of his life. He visits the still-comatose Bennet Ahmed in the hospital and ends up having a nice little moment with Mrs. Ahmed (insisting "I have three kids"). He also visits the house he bought as a surprise his family (which is never a good idea) as he takes stock of his life and where he will go next.
But that's not all that The Killing does well. The show is shot beautifully. For all of its narrative faults, it's brilliant on a technical level. The establishing shots, the composition - this really is a gorgeous looking television show. The use of close-ups in the explosive confrontation between Linden and Richmond, for example, is very effective, and the oppressive greys and shadows throughout the run of the season were probably the best storytelling element used by the show.
All the same, the faults in the plot breakdown really weigh down the proceedings. There are so many flourishes that feel unearned to the point that they come off as gimmicky. In the last five minutes of "Orpheus Descending," Darren Richmond is arrested for the murder of Rosie Larsen, and pretty much all of the evidence throughout the episode points right to him. That would have been fine (well, maybe not fine, but it would have sufficed), but The Killing couldn't just leave well enough alone. It turns out the photos from the traffic cameras that served as the incontrovertible proof that Richmond is the killer were faked by Holder and some mysterious partner. Also, the episode ends with Belko pointing a gun at Richmond, and the episode cuts to black before we see him shoot. So now we have new questions to think about in the offseason. Who's car did Holder get into? Does Belko shoot Richmond? The answer to both is, unfortunately, "Who cares?" It feels like the writers just wanted to throw in more and more narrative "tricks" without thinking about building up to them or maximizing their impact. So it seems the case of Rosie Larsen continues into a second season, whether it needed to or not.
Written or Contributed by: Royal Nonesuch