I don’t like to brag, but I have to say that I absolutely nailed it with last week’s recap of ‘The Killing’. I predicted the season’s final plot twist, and as the reveal happened this week, I kept thinking to myself, “Boy, I wish I wouldn’t have been so right.”
Handicapped by its own formula, ‘The Killing’ really pigeonholed itself this season. The inherent problem with a storyline like this season’s (serial killer of young prostitutes stalks the Pacific Northwest) is that eventually the show has to reveal the killer’s identity. The reason why this is a problem is that the writers are working with an impossibly narrow scope of possible suspects. As each of them gets ticked off one-by-one and red herrings fall by the wayside, we’re left with only a few characters who could end up being the killer. The writers certainly couldn’t pull out some obscure person we’d never seen and say, “Hey, look, this guy’s the killer. We know we’ve never shown him in any other episodes, but it was him. Promise.”
There’s a double-edged sword here. If you were to reveal the killer as a character we’d never met until the very last episode, you’d run a great risk of not satisfying your audience, but you’d at least keep the surprise factor alive. On the other hand, if you reveal the killer as someone we’ve already spent a lot of time with, the surprise is gone, but people are left somewhat satisfied because we’ve been conditioned into accepting certain types of endings depending on the genre. The serial killer genre is a particularly difficult one to pull off because of its seemingly inescapable clichés.
So, last week, I think I saw the writing on the wall. As the two-hour finale approached, I knew that the show had to go one of two ways. Either we’d get a surprise revelation that one of the prison guards was the killer mastermind, or it had to be Linden’s boss/ex-lover, Lt. Skinner (Elias Koteas). The show went with the latter – which, by the way, sort of negated just about every single scene involving the prison guards. I mean, what was the point of that storyline? Talk about filler.
The first hour of the premiere tried to hook us one last time by setting up a too-good-to-be-true coincidence that linked one of the victims directly to Holder’s now-disgruntled ex-partner. Of course, the link turned out to be false, because the show was really leading up to revealing Lt. Skinner as the killer. I don’t know about you, but this was a less-than-satisfying ending for me, partly because I realized it was coming and partly because I realized that the show had nowhere else to go.
What irked me so much was listening to the villainous monologue (which I also predicted, thank you very much) during the last part of the finale, as Skinner drove Linden to the middle of the woods so they could do a darker, more foresty version of the “What’s in the box!” scene in ‘Se7en’. It felt like this finale deflated whatever steam the last two episodes had built up. ‘The Killing’ had finally got back to dealing with the intimate intricacies of its eccentric characters, and then suddenly we’re thrust back into the cliché-ridden rut of serial killer storytelling.
It’s not that I hated the finale. I just feel indifferent about it. The two episodes have their moments. Seeing Linden and Holder smile more times than the past 28 episodes combined was a joyful sight. However, once we learned that the show would focus on a serial killer, its destination was already preordained. The subject matter ended up giving the plot tunnel vision that the writers couldn’t escape. In the end, the crime drama that tried so hard to distance itself from the rest of the pack ended up placing itself smack-dab, firmly in the middle of it. That’s kind of a shame, really.