AMC's "The Killing," which concluded its first season last Sunday, simultaneously engaged and enraged viewers and critics alike with its story of the investigation into the brutal murder of a teenage girl in rain-soaked Seattle. Some of this had to do with the subject matter: a challenging and uncommonly dark blend of murder, madness, grief and desperation. But much of the mixed reaction to the show had more to do with its execution. Was "The Killing" a well-made, meticulously plotted drama that deserved the tsunami of critical praise it received at the time of its premiere -- or was it a poorly conceived exercise in soggy storytelling?
Regardless, it was (and still is) one of the most talked-about television series of the year, and certainly one of the most ambitious. For those reasons alone it deserves as much favorable attention as possible. The fact that a brand new scripted basic cable series with no big stars in its cast could make its debut and command so much attention at the start of broadcast television's May sweeps period and continue to stand out while when dozens of high-profile scripted and unscripted shows were building to their seismic season finales was a remarkable achievement. That's a glowing testament to the writers, directors, cast and crew of the show, not to mention AMC, which has become such a distinguished television entity that the arrival of a new series on its schedule qualifies as an event in itself.
I was enormously impressed with "The Killing" from the moment I saw a few clips that had been cobbled together for a presentation at the January 2011 Television Critics Association tour. Indeed, I thought from the clips alone that Mireille Enos, the quietly intriguing young actress who plays weary homicide detective Sarah Linden, the central character in the show, was destined for the same award-worthy AMC greatness as Bryan Cranston of "Breaking Bad" and Jon Hamm of "Mad Men."
Now, at the end of its first season, my opinions of the show in general and of Enos in particular have not changed -- even if, as noted by its most vociferous critics (professional or otherwise), its story seemed to be compromised by one too many red herrings, and the Linden character appeared too easily stymied by the circumstances surrounding the murder of Rosie Larsen, a young woman as mysterious and complicated as Laura Palmer, the tragic murder victim in the now-classic "Twin Peaks."
I do wish that "The Killing" had consistently maintained the unique creepiness of its early episodes (though some of that seeped back in near the end) and that the writers hadn't waited until so late in the season to beef up Enos' character. But I still think "The Killing" is one of the year's finest new scripted series.
The critics' complaints may speak more to their deeply engrained expectations than any flaws in the program itself. I, too, found myself growing somewhat impatient with the seeming lack of progress that Linden and her new partner, former narcotics detective Stephen Holder, were making on the Larsen case. (Holder is played by another exciting television newcomer, Joel Kinnaman.)
Over time, however, I came to realize that executive producer Veena Sud was carefully and deliberately reflecting the reality of real-life crime solving, which doesn't always play out in the swift and satisfying ways of standard television crime dramas, just as she was slowly and painfully exploring the effect that profound grief can have on a murder victim's loved ones -- in this case Rosie's parents, Mitch and Stan. I do believe that Sud dedicated a bit too much time to one apparently false lead: the identification of one of Rosie's teachers, Bennet Ahmed, as a suspect in her murder. Much of Ahmed's story felt like uninteresting filler - until the grief-ravaged Stan beat him to within an inch of his life, further complicating matters for everyone involved.
In a bold and brazen move, the season ended without resolution, meaning we still don't know who killed Rosie Larsen. That's not a problem for me, but it seems to have pissed off many other people. Instead of answers, we were left with multiple tantalizing questions, observations and events to ponder during the year to come.
Is councilman and mayoral candidate Darren Richmond the killer? (He sure looks guilty, given the disturbing details that Linden discovered about his personal life, as well as the fact that Rosie's body was discovered in the trunk of a car belonging to his campaign.) Will he survive the assassination attempt by oddball Larsen family friend and employee Belko Royce? Does the distraught Mitch know more than she's letting on? (She's been totally odd right from the beginning, even before she learned that her daughter was dead.) Did Rosie's murder have anything to do with her father's past involvement with the local mob? What became of her nasty classmates? (They were some of the most interesting characters on the canvas.) And what about Holder, who was seemingly revealed at the last to be one of the bad guys?
On CBS' "The Mentalist," it took Patrick Jane three seasons to finally stake out serial killer Red John and end him (unless that wasn't the real Red John). That's after 70 episodes! At only 13 episodes in, surely we can allow "The Killing" a few more hours to continue exploring the increasingly dark details of the Larsen case before we get our answers.