The Killing Season 3 Finale Review: And Nobody Gets to Be Happy

The Killing S0311 / S0312: "From Up Here" / "The Road to Hamelin"

It's rather stunning, The Killing's turnaround, not only within this season but as a whole series. Season 3—once you put its early and minor missteps and contrivances aside—was probably what The Killing wanted to be from the start: tight procedural fare with strong, character-driven moments.

In its first half, the season struggled to give the Pied Piper case much of a human element. Yes, Ray Seward's guilt or innocence provided some stakes for Linden (though at times it never felt like enough), and the search for Kallie served Danette and Bullet (oh, I hope Bex Taylor-Klaus has herself a juicy part lined up soon) wonderfully, but it sometimes just never hung very well. But then the three episodes leading up to the two-hour finale—"Try," "Reckoning," and "Six Minutes"—happened, and suddenly the stories all had weight.

Everyone, it turned out, was attempting to escape from something or someone, from Pastor Mike on up the line, and in any way that they could. Linden was trying to escape being a cop and the pain that came with it; Seward was trying to escape his inner demons; the homeless youths were trying to escape all sorts of things, from uncaring parents to, ultimately, new lives and new possibilities; even Holder was trying to escape his past self with Caroline, in his attempt to hide it from her. Whereas Rosie Larsen's death sent the characters into a tailspin of grief-stricken lies and truths and political revelations that ended up feeling disconnected from one another, Kallie Leeds' disappearance (and death) fixed all of Season 3's threads to a single conceit, and the series was all the stronger for it.

That is, until the the second hour of the finale sort of tugged at the season's loose thread and sort of unraveled things just a bit. The result wasn't enough to demolish my enjoyment and appreciation of the season, but "The Road to Hamelin" was unnecessarily clichéd and tidy.

We've discussed The Killing's love of red herrings and fake-outs, and while such things are part and parcel of the mystery, detective, and police genres, this show has abused them in the past. Season 3 was better about it, discarding the scarlet fish before they started to stink up the place. Sure, for me, Reddick in particular stuck out for a long while—it was so very convenient that he was the one who found the rings in Joe Mills's storage unit—but as soon as "From Up Here" started pointing us toward him, it was obviously going to be Skinner.

So, fine, The Killing wanted to revel in the reveal, and that's fine; it'd earned as much. Season 3 was very strong overall, and there was plenty of goodwill to spend. Indeed, watching Linden and Holder in "From Up Here" was a delight. They were joking with one another, relieved that the Pied Piper case was solved, and they were prepared to deal with another body. Then there was the thrill of watching them figure out what we'd all known since, at the very latest, Bullet's death: that the real killer was a cop. The mad chase and connecting of dots was great, and the ambiguity of whether it was Skinner or Reddick—who called Internal Affairs? What about the timeline for grabbing Adrian?—was played up to perfectly suspenseful levels.

That's why the reveal, which came in the early going of "The Road to Hamelin," was just so damn effective. Even if it weren't for the gradual realization, complete with the tinny sounds of an ice cream truck, the sprinkler, and all the other auditory trappings of suburbia mixed with the slowed-down score (and providing a nice juxtaposition to all the nature effects from the start of "From Up Here"), it still would've been a beautifully executed moment as Linden put it all together, triggered by the ring on Skinner's daughter's finger.

Nothing was going to be as good as that, though, and so the rest of the episode wasn't nearly as compelling as it probably should've been. During the first half of the season, I was frustrated by how impersonal the case was seeming for Linden, how much it didn't seem to be getting to her. Not only did the three episodes preceding the finale fix that, but the finale doubled down with Skinner being the killer; he was the man she viewed as a way to be happy, and she was the woman he saw as a way to stop killing all that "human garbage."

Part of the problem was that the show had already done the long drive-and-talk—and more successfully—with Linden and Pastor Mike. The use of the backseat, the confessional aspect, the mirrors... we'd already seen it, so we were left with Linden pointing a gun at Skinner while he drove. It was appropriate, perhaps, given the much closer emotional connection between the two, but it was far less visually interesting.

And because it was less visually interesting, the fact that much of the rest of the episode was basically the tail end of Se7en felt even more apparent, with the audience at home likely thinking, "What's in the trunk?!" and Skinner doing his best to rile Linden enough to make her kill him. I want to say that his mind games, and her reactions, tore me up, but they left me unmoved beyond a very basic, "I like and care for Linden, and I want her to be happy." Perhaps I just wasn't invested enough in the idea of Skinner making that happen for Linden, so I wasn't as devastated when it was snatched away from her. Perhaps I'd determined it was probably a cop early enough that I unconsciously vowed not to get attached to that development.

I suppose I should close out the season with a discussion of catharsis, since some of the best discussions we had in the comments centered on the topic. The Killing, as I've said, excels at delaying—or outright denying—that feeling. The past few episodes, and the first half (and change) of the finale, excelled at providing it. They were emotionally charged and expressive; if you didn't let out a small sob as Seward saw Adrian from the window or when Danette closed her eyes and counted to five on the bridge, you need to get help. Just absolutely riveting to watch on all sorts of levels. The shooting of Skinner, however, felt like a misguided attempt to give us a feeling of relief—"Whew, the case is finally over!"—while still leaving some lingering questions, should AMC order a fourth season (Season 3's ratings were about on par with Season 2's). Namely, what would happen with Linden following all this?

However, it also felt like something of a "Fuck you!" to the people who were frustrated, angry, and hypercritical of the Season 1 finale. "Not only did we provided a resolution to the case," the show said, "but we also killed an innocent man for it and killed the the guy who actually did it. How do you like them apples?" Which seems like a petty and unnecessary way to respond to jaded viewers, especially after the surprising renaissance The Killing has experienced, both creatively and critically. It was as if the show had been harboring pent-up rage about its reception and finally let it all out, giving itself a catharsis that the rest of us probably weren't looking for.

It isn't enough to make me write off the season entirely, not by a long shot. Yes, it was an annoying way to end things, but it doesn't diminish the season's overall accomplishment of finding—and keeping—the balance between character and plot that The Killing had been striving for since its very first episode. And the show produced in "Six Minutes" probably of the best hours of television this season. That's nothing to scoff at. 


– So I guess Henderson was just an audience surrogate for our death row story? At least there's some nice ambiguity as to what we, and he, was supposed to draw from that plot, beyond Seward's struggles. Would love to hear your thoughts about it in the comments.

– I would also love to hear your thoughts about the Lyric and Twitch. Obviously Lyric's not able to get comfortable in a new, clean life. But what do we make of Twitch?

– I liked Holder's heather gray hoodie much more than the normal gray one.

– "How many solves you think I’m going to get with a guy who looks like Fat Hitler?"

– "The cat’s got its hand in the jelly jar." Why would a cat have its paw... oh, never mind. 

– "Do your thing, 1-900."

– I appreciated how Skinner's daughter described Linden as "The woman from work. With the hair." instead of "The woman from work. With the sweaters."

– Holder's bomb scare cracked me up, as did Reddick's response. He may be a jerk, and a bit lazy, but he did turn out to be decent police.

– I will say that this finale made me appreciate The Fall that much more. You should check it out, if Emily hasn't already convinced you. It's really superb.

– Best episodes of the season: "The Jungle," "Hope Kills," "Try," "Reckoning," and "Six Minutes"

What'd you think of The Killing's Season 3 finale and the season as a whole?

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