AMC’s The Killing: Fooled Me Once

I was like a lot of people last year when The Killing debuted.  I watched the first episode and went online to talk about it.

“Good show. Kind of slow but it’s slow with atmosphere, not boredom.”

My main nitpick: “I have friends in Seattle who want everyone to know it doesn’t rain nearly that much.”

I loved the writing and the acting. The lead detectives were unusual and fascinating, with an offbeat developing relationship. The writers didn’t flinch from showing the grief of murder victim Rosie Larsen’s family, the true aftereffects of a murder. I defended the show against charges that it moved too slow.

This season? Yeah, I recorded the first episode. It’s sitting in my DVR, unwatched. I’ve read a few reviews, tried to get myself back in the mood. But I think it’s all over between me and AMC’s dampest detective show.

What happened? The finale, that’s what.

After numerous red-herrings and devastatingly wrong leads, the intrepid detectives didn’t solve the murder. And the show featured a ‘gotcha’ moment where we were supposed to mistrust the wonderful relationship that had built all season between the two lead detectives.

Spokespeople for the show went on about how it was based on a Danish television show and gosh, they do things differently in Daneland, don’tcha know.

But the part that really griped my cookies was those people, and they’re always there when someone writes a story that ticks me off, who blathered on about innovation in writing and how you’re brilliant if you buck the conventions and do something different. Here’s the huge problem with their logic.

If you spend hours setting something up and then don’t pay it off, it’s like showing the preparation of a gourmet meal and then not letting anyone eat. This frustration is not because we’ve all been programmed by Hollywood conventions or TV show orthodoxy. It goes back to Aristotle and his idea of catharsis being a key component of drama. If you cause emotions to pent up, you had better well let them be released.

A murder mystery that plays out over a dozen episodes definitely causes some penting up. And then when the writers go, “Gotcha’! No solution for you!” it’s not innovative or daring or creative. It’s just achingly disappointing. It makes the audience feel as though it’s more important for the show’s creators to fool you than to tell you a good story.

The other major fail is one of character. Linden is shown as being a dedicated cop to the point of abandoning her family just to solve this murder. And then she doesn’t? It makes her look incompetent. It’s difficult for the audience to want to stay with her and watch her keep failing at this.

The show sacrificed character for plot, and for a bad plot at that. To paraphrase someone, good writers ask what happens next. Great writers ask what the characters do next.

The writers of AMC’s The Killing apparently asked, “How do we give the audience an ending that will tick them off as much as possible? Leave them feeling betrayed and frustrated? Make them talk about us in the press?”

If they were aiming for some other goal? EPIC FAIL.


This entry was posted in Characterization, Commentary, Plot, Reviews, TV, Writing Craft and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to AMC’s The Killing: Fooled Me Once

  1. Peg Brantley says:

    I confess that I’m still trying to catch episodes of THE KILLING. It isn’t on my must-see list this year though. AWAKE is the one I’ll go online to watch if I miss it.


    • Chris Devlin says:

      I’ve heard The Killing is still fairly engrossing, though not so much as last year. I think trust has just been broken for me. There are too many other shows that haven’t messed with my head like that. And I don’t even have time for those!

      I watched the pilot of Awake. It was good and had some great actors; Jason Isaacs, Cherry Jones, B.D.Wong. I’ll have to catch up when I get some time.

      Thanks for stopping by.


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