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Killing Us, Hardly
The Killing says farewell with a six-episode Netflix run that wraps up its story but magnifies a lot of its flaws.
By giving The Killing a six-episode final season, Netflix has allowed the series to properly finish the internal events begun in the Season 3 finale. (You know, where Linden killed Skinner.) The compressed season -- the new episodes are each sixteen minutes longer than their AMC predecessors -- should also have hyper-focused The Killing's tendency to drift into rumination. But it's also highlighted something a lot of earlier viewers may already have suspected: The Killing isn't a very good mystery show, and Sarah Linden isn't a very good detective. Let's sift through some facts, shall we?
Seasons 3 & 4 Were Better Than Seasons 1 & 2
Unless you love misery, I mean! For pure, hours-long stretches of people mourning someone the viewer never even knew and looking off into the greyish greyness of the greyest homes in Seattle's Greyhouse district, you just can't beat The Killing's first two seasons. For everyone else, Season 3 was a huge improvement. The rain was cut by half. The show immersed us in the world of Seattle's teenage runaways, and -- like magic! -- we actually cared about the victims. With Skinner, Linden suddenly had a huge conflict to mess with her usual monomania. And it worked, for the most part. Season 4 has a LOT of problems (I'll get to these), but as a property, it really can't be separated from S3.
Caveat: S1 & 2's casts were miles better. Michelle Forbes? Billy Campbell? Brent Sexton? Top notch. (Note: some of my S1/2 antipathy may come from the fact that The Killing wasted the great Callum Keith Rennie. You just don't do that.)
Linden Isn't A Very Good Detective
There's a long tradition in crime fiction: the detective who's both driven and damaged. This really came to the fore in the late-20th century British worlds of Prime Suspect and Cracker, and in the U.S. it's been most exemplified by House and CSI's Gil Grissom. Dese fuckin' guys are crazy, but they get the job done! Linden is a great idea for a TV detective: she's a negligent mother and former foster kid who tends to obsess on kid-related cases until her personal life falls apart. A character like that is absolute gold.
The big problem with The Killing is, it kind of knew where to go with this character from a dramatic standpoint -- Linden's obsessions with her kid-cases would necessarily come into direct conflict with her life as a mother -- but it never knew how to merge its drama and its mystery. It came pretty close in S3, but then did you ever believe the Undeniable Passion between Linden and Skinner?
Linden's incompetence isn't a problem isolated in The Killing. I mean, House just isn't a very good doctor. How many immune systems did that man destroy before finally, accidentally, hitting on the solution? (Seriously: I want a count of how many House victims came rolling out of Princeton-Plainsboro needing weekly dialysis or having to crap in a bag for the rest of their lives.)
Sarah Linden routinely storms in and accuses people to their faces, steps all over police protocol, STEALS evidence, and has people brought in for questioning on multiple occasions without very much actual cause. When she's right, in the end, it's only because she's exhausted literally every other possibility, sometimes to the point where her suspects have gone crazy themselves. Linden's a murder detective and thus barely ever has to use her gun. Yet there's inevitably a higher body count when she's finished.
What Does Holder Do, Exactly?
I don't even know what Holder brings to the table besides what we can assume is an encyclopedic knowledge of Cypress Hill's first three albums. Seriously, he's the best character on the show, but how did this guy become a homicide detective with absolutely no investigative skills? He's not even a third-rate Watson.
Season 4 Has A Great Setup
Military cadet Kyle Stansbury is the only survivor of a shooting that takes the lives of his parents and two sisters. There's no sign of forced entry, no clear motive, the gun used to shoot Kyle wasn't the same as the one used to kill the rest of the family, one of the guns is missing -- and while Kyle is alive and awake, he has no memory of what happened. Meanwhile, the head of his military academy is Suspiciously Protective of her student. This is all great, except I'm pretty sure the show has no memory, either.
The Killing Isn't A Very Good Mystery Show
After all that setup, this happens: Kyle goes back to military school, where he's teased, hazed, bullied, and gaslighted mercilessly. I'm pretty sure at even the toughest military schools, the kids give the tormenting a pass when YOUR WHOLE FAMILY'S BEEN KILLED. Doubly so -- and here's your spoiler alert -- when two of those harassers and your headmaster were actually involved in covering up yer murder scene. They kind of have a lot riding on Kyle NOT REMEMBERING, yes? Why would you want to do anything to rattle or jolt the kid whom you're trying to keep from coming unglued? It makes no goddamn sense, except that it keeps the viewer from guessing the solution halfway through Episode 1.
The best way to consider a mystery is after you know the resolution. So let's get to that: Joan Allen's Colonel Rayne is Kyle's real mom. She's protected him all his life through a long-term affair with his super-jerk of a dad. When Kyle snaps during a routine horrifying hazing and takes A.J. and Lincoln along to watch him slaughter his family, Colonel Rayne, A.J., and Lincoln help cover it up.
Putting aside the question of why A.J. and Lincoln would go off-campus with Kyle to watch him kill his family, why would Colonel Rayne allow all the mind games to go on? I called on a psychology specialist, Dr. Obvious, and she says an amnesiac murderer should really be kept in an environment as calm and banal as possible. "Military academies are usually great," she says, "because they're not actually horrific pits of sadistic monsters. Or if they are, they'd still give the kid like a two-week grace period. Unless that'd totally ruin the mystery."
When you know the resolution -- Colonel Rayne and her two psychotic flunkies have been covering for Kyle's actual murdering -- then what preceded really makes no goddamn sense. It was there just to throw the viewer off, which is an unfortunate hallmark of The Killing.
How Reddick Catches Linden For Skinner's Murder
Reddick does it because he's an actual good detective.
Hey, How Does This All End?
Linden and Holder DO IT on a picnic table made of gloom and unresolved pain, while she stares off toward the water. Afterward, Holder says, "Hey, I got you this." He hands her a little tube of ChapStick. She makes a face. He says, "Oh my god, are you hurt? Is a bug eating you from the inside?" "No, Holder," says Linden. "That's my smile. I'm smiling." Holder gulps. "Jesus Christ," he says. "Don't ever do that again."
OR we flash forward a few years and Holder is running AA meetings at his church, he's sharing custody of his daughter with Caroline, because you can't put homie in a high-rise. Now Linden has come back after roaming the Earth like some kind of Cormac McCarthy character. (I like to think that this is also the year New Blood goes public.) Linden's come to a realization: Holder IS her home. They hug, though I think we're also supposed to imagine they also end up maybe doing it on a picnic table made of gloom and unresolved pain.
This little coda is necessary, I guess, if only to assure us that The Killing is going quietly -- unlike, say, Community. But while the ending is sweet, it also comes minutes after a scene of Linden pointing a fucking gun at Holder. It's like making a party full of kids stay in the pouring rain just to finish playing Pin the Tail On the Donkey. Maybe they'll complete the game, but in the end, yay, someone finally got a tail on that wet cutout of a donkey.
So, Should You Watch The Killing, Season 4?
I watched at least season 3: Then yes. Although you may be surprised by who shows up at the eleventh hour, since it's someone we haven't seen since before Season 3. (It's not Rosie Larsen.)
I stopped watching after Season 2: Then no. You won't know what the hell's going on, and Netflix didn't even do a "previously on" intro for the start of the new season. Sure, you can just go back and watch the other episodes, but come on, Netflix.
I need my mysteries to make sense: Oh, then definitely not.