At the end of the show's first season, the big question remains unanswered
In matters of emotional investment, The Killing has rarely lost its audience in its inaugural season. Technical details, the pacing of character development, and the coherence of the narrative may be off. But the visceral pull of the show was its first drawing card, and in its heart-pounding, bewildering season finale, the show demonstrates it can still stir its watchers as much as ever. Suspense rippled through what were apparently the final moments of the Rosie Larsen murder case. Linden and Holder demonstrated expert police skills in tracking the miles of the murderer's voyage, the Larsens and Ahmeds both received appropriate and nuanced attention, and authentic mystery drove the episode on till handcuffs clasped and after. The crime procedural's taut lyricism was fiercely engaging.
But most intriguing and frustrating may be what the audience realizes in the last few minutes: We still don't know for sure who killed Rosie Larsen and won't for another year. AMC leaves its audience with more questions than ever. Yet the stylish and sudden turns feel entirely natural this week and make the final twists more thrilling than maddening.
As the final moments of last week's episode revealed, Councilman Darren Richmond (Billy Campbell) secretly acted out his restless affairs online via the online persona of Orpheus, named after the mythical god obsessed with his dead wife, as Richmond himself always has been. The politician has typically appeared to be a model of decency, elevated into someone the audience has rooted for all season and contrasted against the incumbent mayor's corruption. But Richmond exudes primal creepiness in the season's opening scene with Detective Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos), as unmatched in intensity as the anger he demonstrates later when she confronted him in his elegant, shadowy apartment overlooking downtown Seattle. All signs point to Orpheus—and by extension, Richmond—as the killer of Rosie Larsen.
"I was just curious, when the car was going into the lake and she was begging for her life, how did that feel?" Linden asks.
"Get out!" the politician barks in response as he gestures to the door.
"Maybe you felt nothing at all," Linden says with acid heat to her voice. "The integrity candidate? Bullshit. That's why Orpheus the enchanter, a man incapable of loving anyone since his wife died, and he looked for her everywhere, in other women, in other bodies, but none of them were Lily—"
The rage firing through the mayoral candidate is unlike anything seen in the season so far, other than that one brief moment when he shattered a bathroom mirror in grief. His posture distorts, his face quivers, one hand on his hip with the other outstretched pointing at Linden. "Stop it, you stop it—you have no right! For two weeks you've been trying to burn me. Burn this campaign."
The man towers over Linden, seeming as eerily like a sociopath as ever. The brutal battles of the campaign have already shown his chilly capacity to lie, as in the penultimate episode when he told The Record reporters that his campaign hadn't leaked the mayor's affair when it had.
The evidence builds, and ultimately Holder and Linden move to arrest Richmond once they receive enough. They trace the killer's route, find Rosie's shoe in the fields, the photo of Rosie meeting Richmond months ago, Gwen's story debunking his excuse from the night, and what appears to be a photo of Richmond driving a campaign car that night from a tollbooth. "I got the nail," Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman) says as he presents the photo that will ostensibly nail Richmond's coffin shut, "if you got the hammer... We got him, boss."
The twin moments haunting the close to the season come shortly after the arrest in the final five minutes of the episode. Linden and her son Jack board a plane, presumably (and finally) heading to Sonoma to reconcile with her one-time fiancé, when she receives a call informing her that no tollbooth cameras had been working in months. The show cuts to Holder hopping in a car, saying to an unidentified man, "Photo worked. He's going down." On the plane, Linden tears up as she realizes the critical photo evidence of Richmond was fake, and that the case—and her peace of mind—is far from settled. Simultaneous to all this is how the news of Richmond's alleged guilt hits Belko, the family friend and employee of the Larsens. Damaged, confused, and angry, the small man grabs a gun and in the final moments, fires on Richmond.
What do these final twists mean? Holder has evolved into the most original and likeable character the AMC show has presented, and his complicity in what may be a much deeper and insidious campaign against Richmond will be a compelling turn that requires explanation. Then again, could the falsification simply have been an altruistic turn done in order to finish off the case? Possible but hardly likely. For all we know, the mayor might be involved. The arrest and possible death of Richmond open up the doors widely for a second season, and the dramatic catalyst of this week's finale push aside much of the foibles of inertia, uneven pacing, and right-out, heavy-handed flaws of the mid-season episodes that turned off so many critics.
The Killing's greatest virtue may be the depth to which the events of Rosie's murder have affected the show's characters, its range resembling the panoramic scope of HBO's The Wire at its best moments. The details of the case tear Linden apart. She practically ceases to function when she realizes, out in the fields, that Rosie would have still lived had she only known to turn a different direction when running, out toward suburbia and safety rather than drowning in a car's trunk. Or consider the delicacy of when Stan Larsen (Brent Sexton) spots pregnant Amber Ahmed struggling with a hospital vending machine. Such tender weight accompanies her unknowing question about how many children he has. He pauses, almost chokes up, but keeps staring her straight in the eye as he includes Rosie in the answer: "Three. I've got three children." That same spirit accompanies the subtle quirks of Holder, the unpleasant yet sympathetic characters of Aunt Terry and Gwen Eaton, and when Mitch considered her own passions at Rosie's age, her own past ambitions. And for its occasional inconsistencies, The Killing has also managed brilliant tracking of certain details that seem deft upon their revelation, such as Regi's identity as Linden's own social worker. Or consider when Richmond referred early in the season to his awakening to social justice as stepping on a bus and never getting off—the line's power only becomes apparent in the penultimate episode when we find out his dead wife was the daughter of a Seattle city bus driver.
AMC botches a few of the small details with The Killing, but the smart moments and the overall psychological complexity still make the flawed crime drama one worth watching as it closes its first season and looks, with even more mystery and the possibility of a second dramatic killing of Richmond, toward a second. Plenty of loose ends float, but the show's new momentum makes them less of a problem. Who killed Rosie Larsen? The finale has reignited my curiosity to find out more.
Questions of the Season: What happened after Belko fired the gun at Richmond? What intentions led Holder to falsely implicate Richmond and to what extent have those been guiding his police work all season? Despite her reservations about her capabilities, how can Mitch leave her other two children so soon after the death of her daughter and when will she return? Will season two pick up immediately where season one ended?