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The Killing: "Orpheus Descending"

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So, I guess we know why The Killing got a second season.

I confess: earlier this week, when AMC  announced that the series had been renewed, I was a bit surprised. As we all know, The Killing started out strong but took a creative nose-dive somewhere around episode 4. For a network where prestige matters more than ratings (see: Mad Men), this is a problem. I figured the network was giving the series the benefit of the doubt and, hey, why not? Despite its uneven writing, the show still had its virtues: a solid cast, high production value, an unrelentingly dark, misanthropic mood. The foundation for a good show is there but the problem, all along, has been the writing.  A second season would provide an opportunity for The Killing to wipe the slate clean. All the problems of the first season—the plot holes, the red herrings, the annoyingly oblique characters—could be corrected the second time around.  Of course, this was all predicated on the assumption that “Orpheus Descending" would finally reveal the identity of Rosie's killer, and therefore season 2 would focus on a different crime.


That's not what happened.

Instead, after 13 episodes, a dozen or so red herrings, and at least 4 different suspects, the first season of The Killing ends with a ludicrous cliffhanger. Richmond is arrested for murder after surveillance footage shows him in the campaign car on the night of Rosie's murder, only it turns out the footage—well, actually, the screengrab of the footage—has been faked; Holder, along with some mysterious partner, has framed Richmond for the killing. Linden figures this all out just after boarding her long-awaited flight to Sonoma, and is thus powerless to do anything about it for at least another 90 minutes or so. Meanwhile, Belko  decides to pull a “Jack Ruby” on Richmond. He shows up at police station, walks up to Richmond and whips out a gun. There's a flash—maybe from a camera, maybe a gun—and it's all over. (The season, I mean; not Richmond.)


This double-whammy cliffhanger suggests two things to me: first, that the writing staff at The Killing is a pretty self-assured bunch; second, that AMC might have given the show a second season just to avoid audience outrage. Creating a silly show riddled with plot holes is one thing, but canceling it before the killer’s identity is even revealed? That’s just bad form.
But let’s talk about those plot holes, shall we? Something I’ve been trying to figure out for a while now is why the implausibility of The Killing bothers me so much; in other words, why am I willing to suspend my disbelief in certain contexts, but not this one?

To get to the bottom of this, I decided to make a list (I was inspired by Holder, I guess) of all the far-fetched occurrences and unlikely coincidences that have taken place across the course of the season and—guess what?—it’s pretty damn long. If I have missed (or misrepresented) any, please weigh in, but here’s what I came up with. Brace yourselves:

  • Rosie’s best friend borrows her wig, then has sex with her boyfriend in the school’s dank basement, while bleeding profusely from her nose, while another guy wearing a devil mask records it on his phone.
  • Also, a pervy janitor named after the late Lyndon Johnson is watching the whole thing happen.
  • Said janitor turns out to be pedophile, jumps out of window, ends up in hospital.
  • Rosie's parents don’t call their daughter all weekend, detectives never find out why.
  • Other seemingly basic things Holder and Linden don’t do until well after Bennet is cleared: scour Rosie’s computer (as in, not just take a quick look at her internet history); check the fuel levels and mileage of the car in which her dead body was found; call cab companies to see if anyone picked up a girl fitting Rosie’s description.
  • Stan buys house without telling his wife.
  • A teacher with a track record of dating his students also has an unusually close relationship with Rosie, but there’s nothing untoward going on between them.
  • Bennet helps a young Somali girl procure a fake passport so she can flee to Canada to avoid ritual circumcision.
  • Somali girl hides out in a meat locker that has been converted into a bedroom, which Linden and Holder happen to discover at the exact same moment as an FBI raid.
  • Somali girl also just so happens to have the exact same T-shirt as Rosie.
    Mitch waits a week to do laundry, so doesn’t find Rosie’s T-shirt until after Stan has beat the shit out of Bennet.
  • FBI agent leaves truck containing evidence unattended, door wide open.
  • Despite the fact that he’s facing murder charges, Bennet is unwilling to tell police what he was really doing the night of Rosie’s murder.
  • Mitch leaves her two surviving children in garage while car is running, forgets about them.
  • Between the school dance and her shift at the casino, Rosie felt the need to schlep out to Bennet’s house to return a book, even though she would have seen him Monday morning at school.
  • Bennet’s wife does not recognize the man who has already confessed to beating her husband into a coma, a man who is also the father of the girl Bennet was accused of killing.
  • Everything Holder has been doing all along has been part of an elaborate effort to frame Richmond.
  • Not 1 but 2 suspects in Rosie’s killing fall victim to acts of vigilante justice.
  • Creepy stalker Belko basically lives with Larsens and is infatuated with Rosie, but has nothing to do with her’s murder.
  • Neither does her sadistic ex-boyfriend.
  • Neither does Richmond, who is hung up on his dead wife, fixated with brunettes, and often says creepy, threatening things to escorts.

Call me crazy, but that's a whole lot of disbelief for one person to suspend. And that's not even counting the jaw-dropping (or is it knee-slapping?) last-minute plot twist in this finale: the “nail” in Richmond’s coffin turns out to be a doctored photo that Holder whipped up in Photoshop (or the like). This is patently absurd. It's not as if a wrinkled color copy from Kinko’s—and not, you know, actual footage—would hold up before a grand jury. It's also highly unlikely that no one would ever notice that the surveillance camera from which the screengrab was supposedly taken hasn’t been working in three months. When it comes to framing people for murder, Holder is apparently just as sloppy as he is at investigating them.

So, just why do all these implausible turns rankle me so much? I’ve thought about it a lot, and to be honest, I’m still not totally sure. Quantity is certainly a factor; one over-the-top twist is OK, but several dozen of them? Not so much. Genre is also an issue: this is a crime drama, not a surrealist fantasy, so believability is part of the implicit bargain. The Killing also strains hard for realism. Sometimes it tries too hard to be gritty (All that rain! All that gum-chewing! All that stringy hair!), but at least it’s trying.  So you’d think that the same attention to detail and authenticity would have gone into the writing. But no; I can’t help but feel like the writers went into this season without a long-term vision for the season. It’s unlikely this is the case, but it does feel as if they just made up the scripts as they went along, without knowing all along how the investigation would be resolved. The Killing feels improvised, and on a serial murder mystery, that’s a bad thing.


Stray observations (or “other things that don’t add up”):

  • Holder claims that he hasn’t heard back about the surveillance footage from the toll booth, so Linden tells him to submit a request using her badge number. On board the plane, she gets a phone call (in the middle of the night?) from highway patrol regarding the footage, which means that Holder, despite trying to frame Richmond, must have submitted the request, using Linden's badge number and contact information, all but guaranteeing that his cover would be blown.
  • The gas station owner is totally unperturbed by the screams of a teenage girl.
  • The scene between Gwen and Linden, which actually had potential, was a dud. (“He was wet, soaking wet.” “What do you mean?” “Like he'd been in water.”)
  • Related: Gwen is either in on the conspiracy, or a complete idiot.
  • Not every last thing about this episode was terrible. I did like how it visually referred back to the pilot, as Holder and Linden return the area around Discovery Park.
  • Holder's Rain Man-ish math skills were sort of hilarious, too, although maybe that was just a front, too.
  • This episode once again invited (negative) comparisons to Twin Peaks which, like The Killing, ended its first episode without revealing the identity of Laura Palmer’s killer. Frustrated viewers abandoned the show in its second season, then ran for the hills once the mystery was solved. What I’m wondering is, will anyone watch The Killing next season? This is strictly anecdotal, but most of the people I know who stuck it out this season did so just to  find out whodunit. Will that curiosity last over the show’s lengthy hiatus?
  • What do you guys think: will Rosie's murder investigation drag on way into season 2? Or will it be resolved in the season premiere?
  • Does anyone think I am dead wrong, and that this finale totally kicked ass? If so, I’d genuinely be interested in your take.
  • Just to end on a lighter note, since Richmond appears to be innocent, I thought you all might like to see Billy Campbell playing a real killer. Enjoy: