Good lord, AMC, the season finale of The Killing was even more of a train wreck than I could have dreamed.
Unless Amber Ahmed gives birth to three baby dragons, don’t expect me back for season 2.

Good lord, AMC, the season finale of The Killing was even more of a train wreck than I could have dreamed.

Unless Amber Ahmed gives birth to three baby dragons, don’t expect me back for season 2.



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"Killing" Time

The first season of AMC’s hit series, The Killing, concludes this Sunday. There’s a mystery embedded in the show that has kept me glued to the screen every week, but it sure ain’t “who killed Rosie Larsen.” The real mystery is “who killed The Killing?” Who turned a promising young series from brilliant to laughable in under 11 weeks?

Grab your umbrella, kids, because I’m about to crack this case wide open. (Spoilers ahead from the first 12 of 13 episodes.)

Things start exceptionally well. The first two hours are among the strongest series openers I’ve seen in years. The acting is good to great - especially Michelle Forbes and Brent Sexton, grieving parents trapped in a waking nightmare, barely able to go through the motions of daily life.

The format - one-mystery-per-season, one-day-per-episode - offers a respite from the 44-minute mysteries that dominate TV’s alphabet soup of procedurals (CSI, SVU, NCIS, etc.). For once, we can spend time getting to know not just police and suspects but friends, family and the extended network of people whose lives are changed by this senseless crime. 

Done right, you get 13 rich hours of context and character development. Done wrong, you get a slow, rainy version of 24 where the stakes are low and everyone is bad at their jobs. 

(Speaking of done right, by all means track down Karen Moncrieff’s exceptional 2006 indie, The Dead Girl, which depicts the separate stories of 5 women connected by a single murder. Here’s a trailer.

Amazing cast, too. Why is it almost no one has seen this movie?)

Where were we? Oh, right, collective incompetence. Everyone is bad at what they do. I started to write a list but it was so long it was painful. Nearly every episode is a case study of how not to do stuff: parenting, police work, teaching, being engaged, smuggling a minor, campaigning for mayor, running an FBI operation (“I think you’re trying to tamper with evidence…so let me leave you alone with that evidence”), buying your wife a house, communicating with your spouse while in jail, keeping minors out of your casino, being a billionaire douche bag, beating someone to death…and on and on. If there’s a wrong way to do something, you can count on The Killing to show it to you. Frankly, I’m shocked we haven’t seen Stan and Belko drop a box off the back of their moving truck.

I’m a Bad, Bad Teacher

Benett Ahmed, Rosie’s teacher, knows he’s the lead suspect in Rosie’s murder and knows Stan Larsen is ready to beat him to death. Yet he still carries out his plans to commit another crime, all the while acting weird around his wife and having cryptic conversations on the phone with his friend from the mosque. Is this how a sane, educated man would act?

There’s a whole character, the Lieutenant, who seems to exist solely to be terrible at his job, routinely standing between Linden and whatever it is she wants to do. He’s not much more than a plot device— the human speed bump.

In short, the key technique showrunner Veena Sud and her writers have used to stretch out the story is to make sure nobody does anything well. Leave no blind alley unvisited. Take whole episodes to muddle through misunderstandings that could have been cleared up in a two-minute conversation. It’s all pointless filler to carry us from one commercial break to the next. 

So that’s half the mystery solved. But universal incompetence isn’t our only show killer. There’s an accomplice: bad planning.

Sud is on record acknowledging that she and her staff essentially made up the show as they went. Here’s a quote (courtesy of Alan Sepinwall’s excellent blog at Hitfix.com):

I had notions of scenes and moments in the final thing that would come at me in bits and pieces.  As notions and thoughts and maybes.  But those were maybe ways to hang ideas off of when we first started to really dive in and make it as a series.  But there was a lot of surprising twists and turns.  So I came in with ideas and thoughts and things - and mostly it was actually characters.  So it was like, “I know 1,2,3,4,5,6,7 could all be potential murderer for all these 7 different reasons, but you know…” And the other writers too.  All of us came in saying, “Let’s just follow these characters around.  Let’s follow the logical progression, the story, the emotional progression and not come to a conclusion… 

No. No no no no no. This is the wrong way to write a mystery. A well-crafted whodunnit starts with a great idea for a murder and works backwards from there, laying the foundation, dropping clues and red herrings along the way, challenging the reader to figure out which is which.

This is why I drink.

Instead, Sud and company made it up as they went along. Boy does it show. Every week brings an out-of-the-blue revelation about a character, without foundation or foreshadowing. Literally anyone could have killed Rosie Larsen because the writers haven’t bothered to give anyone cause, motive or opportunity through 12 episodes.

Look, spending a season on a single story may be unconventional on American television, but it’s hardly a new idea. The Wire has been rightly called “a novel for television” for the way it builds each season’s story like a great book. HBO’s Game of Thrones, which is also airing its season finale this Sunday, is literally a filmed novel and has used every minute of its screen time building a fantasy world that seems far more real than The Killing's arbitrary cast of incompetents.

The 13-episode format is perfect for this kind of storytelling, assuming you’ve got a story worth telling. So few serious, intelligent television dramas ever get made, it’s downright criminal to waste an opportunity like this. 

So what killed The Killing? Writers without a road map creating characters without a clue. But there’s hope for redemption; AMC has greenlit a second season. With any luck, the producers will learn from their mistake and not return to the scene of this crime against quality television. 

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"you’re not saying you bought evan rachel wood as the vampire queen of new orleans? i wouldn’t even buy her as the dairy queen of new orleans."

– me, about an hour ago, on twitter, re: the penultimate episode of season 2 of true blood.

yeah, right

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so say we all

at long last, i am finally caught up with battlestar galactica.  

i lost the thread of season three in the midst of my most recent coast-to-coast move, and then never found it again.

thank you, sci fi, for marathon-ing episodes leading up to the season premiere - though damn you for skipping one and making completist-minded me have to scramble to track it down. 

now that i’m up to speed, i have only one question:

what is a tory foster and why do i have to care?  

my pick for the last of the final five?  boomer.  no, not that one.  that one.

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