Tuesday, 21 June 2011

THE KILLING, 1.13 - "Orpheus Descending"

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

I know this show is starting on Channel 4 in the UK soon, so there's a chance people will stumble upon this review online. If so, please turn away now. This is a review of the season 1 finale, so there are consequently gigantic spoilers ahead. Only read on if you've seen this episode, or don't care knowing what happened in the finale.

There were pleasing elements of The Killing's finale, but ultimately it was just a marginally cleverer fake-out like the Bennet Ahmed storyline—only twice as exasperating in many ways. There have been whispers the show wouldn't resolve its mystery in 13 episodes (roughly half the time of the Danish original) and instead continue into a second year, and those fears have proven accurate. I hear the Rosie Larsen case won't take up the entirety of season 2, so hopefully the writers will note the animosity this decision has caused and bring the mystery to a quick, definitive end. In some ways I'm actually glad The Killing's been renewed by AMC, as it would have been far worse if "Orpheus Descending" had been the series finale. Or would they have re-cut the ending to lose its last-minute twist?

I'm not going to rake over every events that happened this week, mainly because my enthusiasm's at a low ebb. Suffice to say, after the events of episode 12, Linden (Mireille Enos) is 100% certain that Councilman Darren Richmond (Billy Campbell) killed Rosie Larsen, having paid for the schoolgirl's services as a Beau Soleil escort under the pseudonym "Orpheus", but the finale was all about having to prove his connection to Rosie's murder—as there's apparently not enough evidence, or it's too circumstantial, to arrest Richmond and interrogate him.

There followed an hour of Linden and Holder (Joel Kinnaman) trying to trace the movements of the killer on the night Rosie was abducted, focusing on the campaign car she was found drowned in and the mathematical calculations to determine the mileage it did that night—before the driver would have needed to refill. This eventually led to them requisitioning various gas station security cameras (where would they be without CCTV, eh?), in the hope one of them captured Richmond driving the campaign car. It makes you wonder why this wasn't a line of investigation from the start! If you find a dead body in a car, surely you trace the movements of that car as your number one priority? Why have they waited until the finale to do something so obvious?

Unfortunately, it's because The Killing wants to be seen as a realistic crime drama, but beyond evocative scenes of a grieving family (kudos to Brent Sexton and Michelle Forbes), the show isn't particularly logical. Suspects come and go according to the whim of the writers, the investigation goes down avenues chosen because they can devour 2-6 hours of screen time, rather than follow what the police would actually do. I understand this is foremost a TV show, so artistic license is necessary to fill time, but it's become infuriating to see how the show manipulates its audience so blatantly. Take how Richmond was portrayed throughout this episode: a creepy-sounding silhouette that screamed KILLER, until the moment the story doesn't want you to think that any more.

Thing is, The Killing could very easily make ANYONE a suspect if the writers set their mind to it. Hell, there's a way to pin the deed on Mitch Larsen and blame it on a mental breakdown! There's no sense that the killer's being hunted down over a fortnight's investigation that's teased an murky mystery apart. It just feels like the show chases down various characters they make look guilty... until such time as they prove their innocence and the game can restart.

Season 1's ending, then. This is where opinion will split, harshly. Having been given a toll-bridge camera shot of Richmond driving the campaign car Rosie was found in, together with all the other evidence collected, Richmond was arrested and Linden finally got on her plane with son Jack to start a new life in sunnier climes. But then came the twist: the toll-bridge cameras weren't operational, so the key evidence was faked by Holder, who's then seen getting into a black sedan and telling an unseen driver "photo worked—he's going down."

So has Holder been working for an enemy of Richmond's all along, paid to ensure the Councilman gets blamed for Rosie's death? That would put Mayor Adams as the most likely sedan driver, although that doesn't automatically mean Adams killed Rosie, because he could just be using events to his advantage. But is Adams the type of person to get revenge? Maybe the driver's a new character? Or millionaire playboy Drexler?

Or, to cut Holder some slack, maybe he was just so convinced Richmond killed Rosie that he falsified evidence to ensure an arrest, knowing he'd walk free otherwise? We'll have to wait until next year to find out—but if the Larsen case isn't going to last another season, as it's been suggested, then I'm not sure there's time to prove Richmond's innocence and find the real culprit within, say, 3 or 4 episodes. Or is there? And how's that going to work, exactly? Will season 2 feel like season 1.5 until the story suddenly lurches into a new case?

Overall, The Killing's finale will be seen as totally infuriating to everyone who expected the mystery to end and a fresh start next year. I'm not against the presence of red herrings and dead-ends in a murder-mystery, but too often this show feels like it's not playing fair with its audience. These aren't clever diversions and fake-outs they're dishing up, they're overly-manipulative stalling techniques. The ending of this episode was actually weirdly enjoyable, as I didn't expect the show to pull the rug in the dying moments (especially with Belko apparently about to shoot the possibly-innocent Richmond)—but given the lack of emotional impact when Richmond was arrested and how the Larsen's were informed off-camera, I maybe should guessed something wasn't right. It would have been the mother of all damp squibs if Richmond was simply jailed and Linden jetted off to California, too.

I have very mixed feelings, but ultimately this finale was too frustrating to be viewed positively. I also didn't like how every character's reaction to being told Richmond was the killer was so subdued, given his participation in the investigation and celebrity status. You wanted some catharsis after 12 weeks of patience, particularly after that unforgivable six-week cul-de-sac with Bennet Ahmed, and we just didn't get it—not even briefly.

In the beginning, the show posed a simple, compelling question: who killed Rosie Larsen? But by the end the question has become: who cares who killed Rosie Larsen?


  • Love the scene with Stan meeting Amber (Ashley Johnson) at the hospital, unaware she's the girlfriend of Bennet, the man whose life-threatening injuries he caused. A particularly nice angle in how pregnant Amber's on the cusp of delivering new life to the world, whereas Stan's dealing with the loss of life. It's a shame The Killing's skill with small human moments isn't echoed in its strength to tell a serialized story.
  • Why was Richmond soaking wet on the morning Rosie died, according to girlfriend Gwen (Kristen Lehman)? If he didn't have anything to do with Rosie's death, what happened? A particularly strong, brief downpour of rain? Did he fall or get pushed into a swimming pool—maybe the one belonging to financier Drexler?
written by Veena Sud & Nic Pizzolatto / directed by Brad Anderson / 19 June 2011 / AMC