When it first premiered with online ads and television teasers hooking us with the prospect of a new Swedish noir-esque, radically different type of TV murder mystery, critics, fans, and everyone in-between were hooked. It was heralded as combining the premise of Twin Peaks with the real-time element of 24 and the awkward buddy teaming of The X-Files.
But these strong recommendations eventually gave way to skepticism, disdain, and ultimately disgust from critics and some fans about the meandering plot lines and the lack of resolution in the first season. The top critics turned on the series, the pop culture discussion on Twitter died down, and those of us who still watched the show (even if it was in 6-episode marathons on DVR) kept quiet and didn’t mention it as much any more.
Regular weekly recaps became the exception and not the norm. The Killing became a sign that the second golden age of television is waning as Breaking Bad and Mad Men begin the last quarter of their runs and the more popular shows on cable TV (True Blood, The Walking Dead) just don’t have quite the same quality as their predecessors.
Now, let me be fair. The Killing is no where close to the tier of television where The Sopranos, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and The Wire reside. And it’s also not in the same category with Downton Abbey, Sherlock, The West Wing, Boardwalk Empire, 24, Game of Thrones, and Lost. But as critics panned the shortcomings and as viewers stopped watching and/or stopped talking, I kept watching, thinking, and pondering about two questions…
1) Who killed Rosie Larsen?
2) Where did The Killing go wrong?
I’ll discuss the former last and the latter now (try to keep up!)… The Killing was no where near perfect television, but can we really stop judging all television shows by the standards of the elite. Yes, the top tier of TV shows is better than pretty much any other show ever and any film ever. But let’s not get carried away comparing apples to filet mignon. And let’s not be too elitist to not enjoy experimental (or silly… or escapist…) television as well. But compared to our favored top four shows of the last decade, how does I Love Lucy, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Cheers, and Seinfeld stack up? You simply can’t compare them. Yes, The Killing is dramatic and, yes, it’s in this era. And no, it’s not as good… BUT… for what it is/was, I’ll defend it to anyone and everyone.
What made The Killing so intriguing to so many in the beginning is what ultimately detracted so many – it dared to be different.
It dared to create deep, dynamic, complex characters in its detectives and police officers striving to solve the murder mystery.
It dared to focus on the emotional impact upon the characters (family, friends, teachers) affected by the victim’s death.
It dared to not answer whodunit in 42 or 84 minutes.
It dared to give more than 2 minutes to red herrings and false leads that exist and dominate murder investigations in real life.
It dared to tell a more complete and accurate story concerning who killed Rosie Larsen… or any other murder victim.
Now, to be very clear, it failed in some of its endeavors. It’s tough to argue realism as a defense for scattershot storytelling when a main character is shot, paralyzed from the waist down, and is living a completely regular lifestyle within four days. That’s no where close to realistic. And other very legitimate arguments can be made about shortcomings of The Killing.
But it tried. It was bold enough to tell a legitimate, long-term murder mystery that wasn’t cookie-cutter or procedural. It expanded the universe. It deepened its characters. It kept many of us watching and even more viewers at least interested in the season two finale to find out who did kill Rosie Larsen.
But you can’t complain about a series when its very premise requires you to go down distracting rabbit holes in search of clues and solutions to the puzzle. You can’t ask for a non-procedural murder mystery and be excited at the prospect of discovering the real, gritty impact of a murder upon the victim’s family and get angry when the result isn’t that compelling because the mother of the victim just sits and cries for days, then wanders off on a solo journey to escape the pain.
These are what imperfect people do. And this was an imperfect show to be sure. But I do believe that TV is better off because it was on the air, if only to make some of us appreciate procedurals more and others to see the challenge of pursuing such goals.
Ultimately, for me, the resolution to WHO KILLED ROSIE LARSEN was satisfying. Most viewers I’ve spoken with were satisfied. The ultimate conclusion made most of the varying story lines matter, provided some predictable answers with some unforeseen twists, and the expected result for the detectives who gave their entire lives for the case. Was the result a season later than we expected? Yes. But isn’t it a bit insincere to want television to surprise, shock, and twist us, but then be angry when a series doesn’t give us exactly what we want, when we wanted it.
The Killing provided some unforgettable performances from Mirielle Enos and Joel Kinnaman. It provided us with one of the more memorable (for good and/or bad reasons) murder mysteries in the history of the small screen. And it dared to do an old storytelling trope in a new way. For that, I’m thankful for the journey, and I’m really hoping that we’ll get a season three with Holder and Linden take on Linden’s old haunting case involving the dead prostitute and the child in the apartment.