“It is only when I get to the end that I feel my old crime-story depression descending upon me again—because here again, as is so often the case, the explanation of the mysteries, when it comes, is neither interesting nor plausible enough. It fails to justify the excitement produced by the picturesque and sinister happenings, and I cannot help feeling cheated.” That’s Edmund “Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?” Wilson on Raymond Chandler. I don’t feel cheated by the conclusion of The Killing. The series, which in its first two seasons was widely accused of jerking viewers around by planting obvious red herrings on the way to delivering an illogical and unlikely solution, clearly put a lot of thought into the identity of the Pied Piper. The pieces fit, and the revelation that Skinner, the cop who put the wrongly convicted Ray Seward away, was actually covering up his own crimes, alters the story in a way that, if anything, makes more sense, not less.
From the beginning, Skinner has seemed to be representative of a system that can live with letting innocent people die in the name of C.Y.A. When Linden discovers the truth about him—hours after they’d rekindled their affair—he stands revealed as a predator who understands that system and works it to his advantage. Skinner, who flatters himself that the world he works in has driven him insane, is a classic unreliable narrator, and much of what he says during that long drive with Linden is meant to provoke her into pulling the trigger, so he won’t have to endure the public shaming that will follow his arrest. (I don’t believe him, for instance, when he says there are countless bodies out there with his prints on them, murders no one will ever know about.)
But when he calls his victims “human garbage” and says he “saved them from the inevitability of their lives,” that what he did to them was a mercy to their parents, something ugly and honest comes through. “Nobody sees them,” he says of the homeless baby addicts and child prostitutes he butchered, “and nobody cares.” Having realized this is the case, how much easier it must be to proceed to that next step and conclude that, since nobody sees or cares about these kids, their lives must not matter—unlike the life of a solid family man like Skinner, who recalls that the last thought that went through his head before he got violent with his first victim was, “I’m missing my kid’s softball game, for Christ’s sake, and this little crackhead could give a damn.” Even as he’s angling to commit suicide by cop, is there some part of Skinner that still wants his ex-lover’s understanding, if not her approval? “These girls, they weren’t innocent, Sarah. You should have seen what they did to me.”
The wrap-up works better conceptually than it does in the details, as the unfolding of a police procedural. There’s a lot of implausibility to be glossed over, starting with Holder and Linden being called in to investigate what just happens to be Skinner’s last murder, finally exploding with Linden’s seeing that the wily Skinner has inexplicably been giving his daughter highly identifiable pieces of jewelry taken from the dead girls. (It doesn’t make sense even on a psychological level. Would this guy really taint his precious girls with tacky ornaments torn from the corpses of “human garbage”?) It doesn’t help that the show postpones the big reveal by trying, ineffectually, to shift the viewer’s suspicion toward Reddick. As for the scene where Adrian, playing with a ball in the street, looks up and sees the face of the killer who’s been stalking him—that shot of the ball dropping to the ground may be the single hoariest image in the history of the show.
So the general framework was all right, while many of the details of how the show got to where it wanted to go were rickety and flimsy. I can forgive that, partly because, as Edmund Wilson wrote, desperation finishes in mysteries have a long and distinguished pedigree, but also because in its third season, The Killing went beyond “picturesque and sinister happenings” into a depiction of a sad, scary, subterranean world that was so deeply felt and richly drawn it provided its own justification. It hasn’t been announced whether there’ll be a fourth season, and Linden’s final act, which might be a cliffhanger, could just as easily bring this story, and these characters, to a full stop. Mireille Enos and Joel Kinnaman may become a lot less available; she’s co-starring in movies with Brad Pitt these days (if “co-starring” isn't too grand a term for watching after the kids and waiting to see if the phone will ring), and he’s about to be RoboCop. But right now, I can’t help thinking that if these movies give them a chance to do anything half as memorable as their work on this show, I’ll eat Reddick’s underwear.
- It was a smart move to use the threat to Adrian to give the audience a stake in how things turned out beyond the desire to see justice done, and I’m glad the show gave Reddick the chance to be the hero who found the boy, thus delivering on all those hints from earlier in the season that this jaded vulgarian might actually be a good cop deep down.
- I was also grateful that Jewel Staite got to take a final bow, expressing surprise Holder might think she wouldn’t want to see him again after he blew up at her in his car. After she makes his day, he tells her he knows he’s probably a big drop down from the guys she usually dates, and she corrects him. She usually dates other lawyers.
- I would be interested in seeing any record of seismic activity caused by viewers’ raucous reaction to Linden telling Holder, “You look nice.” (The reaction from the other end of my couch was along the lines of, “No fucking duh!”)
- I feel like the close-up showing that Ray Seward had been reading Lonesome Dove was supposed to mean something, but I’m still working on my thesis explaining the significance of The Third Policeman and Lost.
- Late-entry finalist for the title of greatest Holder line ever: “I don’t got to be my sleuth par excellence to see the cat’s got his hand in the jelly jar.” I would translate that into English, but it’s like a hundred times less charming if you know what he’s referring to.