Can 'The Killing' Season Finale Save the Series?

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The AMC show has all sorts of problems, but a stand-out last episode could make us forget all about them

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The Killing is about to reach the payoff to the suspense that's been building all season. The show will wrap up its first season with this Sunday and presumably reveal, once and for all, who killed the beautiful teenager Rosie Larsen, the girl who died before the show's timeline began. The possible identity of the killer has shifted every week, and the rush to add ominous undertones to various characters has proved to be one of the show's greatest weaknesses. Critics lashed out hard against The Killing in the middle of the season, due to this tendency to fake out viewers.

Yet The Killing, just renewed for its second season and pulling in strong ratings, perhaps can still make good on its initial promising episodes. As the Robert McKee character in 2002's Adaptation declared, "Wow them in the end, and you got a hit. You can have flaws, problems, but wow them in the end, and you've got a hit."

I've defended the show for its gripping lead detectives and a magnetic panoramic approach to the murder. But there are a host of "flaws, problems" with the show that make a wow-worthy season finale essential. Here they are—and let's hope Sunday's show makes us forget all about them:

Forgotten characters

Remember characters like Jasper and Sterling? At the start, the show built up these teenagers as another narrative arc. Little scenes conjured sympathy for Sterling's isolation or outrage over Jasper's obnoxious preening. But where have they been for the second half of the season? They're no longer needed, and while it's fair to drop characters, their earlier development now feels lost.

These loose ends become more serious when the dropped elements have been focal points of the show. Bennet is apparently still out cold in a coma, I suppose, but we've heard nothing for multiple episodes now about either him or his wife. I still miss Ruth Yitanes.

The abuse of red herrings

The show exudes far too much hysteria over faux dilemmas. Consider the question of Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) leaving for a California wedding or the revolving door of suspects or taking cheap advantage of audience trust (as in the way Bennet survived the brutal beating despite all appearances, for instance, or to give an earlier example, the revelation that it was Sterling and not Rosie in that video). It's as if the writers are playing a game of "gotcha," and little is clever about the way the rug is pulled out from under the audience's feet.

Forgotten or half-baked plot arcs

The Richmond campaign once showed signs of internal chaos: leaks, Jamie's fake defection to the mayor, the mistrust of Gwen. These concerns dominated the political arc for the first third of the season, but their importance ultimately seems to add nothing to the second two-thirds. Who cares about those machinations now? Did it teach audiences anything substantial? Jamie's good for little more than a one-liner and Gwen for looking doubtfully at Richmond.

Other plot elements are flirted with but rarely flushed out, which partly explains the frustration some fans felt at the recent episode devoted solely to Linden and Holder—it gave character details in a jumble. The implications of Holder's crucifix tattoo? Linden's parenting issues? The reasons behind them should have been revealed slowly, not dumped at once.

Most frustrating was probably all the plot architecture surrounding the idea that Bennet Ahmed killed Rosie. Those suspicions surrounding Bennet caused the show to dive into a local mosque, into the FBI, into big chases in a market, the psychology of the teacher's pregnant wife, and the case of smuggling a Somali girl out of the country to escape female circumcision. His innocence makes that path feel like a waste now, the one lasting consequence being Stan Larsen's imprisonment.

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John Hendel is a writer based in Washington, DC, and a former producer at The Atlantic.

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