The Killing's Season 2 Finale: A Dream Deferred

The Killing S02E13: "What I Know"

I’m having a hard time reconciling two thoughts. The first is that I wasted my time watching all of Season 2 of The Killing, especially after a season premiere that was so lifeless I swore I’d never tune in again. The second is that Sunday’s season finale—series finale, I would guess—was more satisfying than I could ever have imagined. Is it just me, or was that a solid conclusion?

I suppose it’s not so hard to understand—I wanted badly to like The Killing, but the show dragged on too long. It let itself get mired in side stories, red herrings, and way too much Seattle politics. And yet, by the end of Season 2, I found myself invested again, mostly because I knew we were finally closing in on solving Rosie Larsen’s murder. Not to mention the fact that detectives Linden and Holder were sharper and more engaging than ever.

By the end of last week’s episode, it seemed clear that Jamie was at least largely responsible for Rosie’s death—to the extent that I worried the finale would just be the denouement from the big reveal. And it did seem that way for a while. But the way Jamie finally came clean, and everything that followed, made the finale one of The Killing’s most compelling episodes yet. "What I Know" didn’t make up for a meandering season—far from it—but it did remind me of how good this show could have been, and how good it briefly was.

As the episode began, and it became more and more clear what Jamie’s role was, I felt some disappointment. But his confrontation with Richmond, his pleas of “It was an accident!” took everything to a new level. It was also some of Eric Ladin’s best work: It would have been easy to simply transform Jamie into a villain, but he really conveyed that behind it all, there was this weird sense of morality, a desire to see Richmond succeed at any cost. It made Jamie’s death feel unexpectedly tragic.

The finale slowed after Holder shot Jamie—it was more of the Larsen family moving on (or not), more of Linden feeling unsatisfied, more of the audience (if you all are anything like me) wondering if we’d really reached the end of this saga.

We hadn’t. The actual big reveal floored me: Terry inadvertently killed her niece, pushing the car with Rosie in the trunk into the lake. She didn’t know Rosie was the girl trapped inside—all she knew was that her future with Ames was in jeopardy. She panicked; she made a hasty decision. It wasn’t until after it was too late that she realized what she’d done.

The scene in the bedroom was unbelievable, and I mean that in two ways. On the one hand, it was narratively implausible—so much of this reveal relied on coincidence and our suspension of disbelief. But dramatically, it was the rawest The Killing has been since the heights of its first season. Terry’s heart-wrenching confession, Stan’s rage, Mitch’s stunned silence—it felt like the culmination of the creeping horror that this series’ brilliant pilot established. In those bleak, brutal moments, The Killing finally lived up to its promise.

But cliché as it may sound, the finale truly was too little, too late. I won’t deny that the emotional impact of the mystery was heightened by how long it was drawn out. At the same time, there’s no excuse for the stalling and the fake-outs the series frequently employed. There were too many diversions, perhaps an unavoidable consequence of a murder mystery stretched out to two seasons. How frustrating—I get why The Killing needed to take its time, but I was bored out of my mind for so much of the journey.

There’s something else irksome about the ultimate reveal: Having Terry be responsible, almost entirely be accident, was a smart (and very depressing) choice. But as Holder said, it basically amounted to being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It speaks to the randomness of life, and the way mistakes both big and small can have far-reaching effects. But if that’s the case, what was the point of such a lengthy investigation? Linden’s dawning comprehension hinged on a broken taillight, something she easily could have missed and almost did.

I don’t mind that there are loose ends—the corruption that led to Rosie’s murder went unchecked, with Chief Jackson and Ames getting off scot-free. That felt realistic, albeit distressing. But as much as I appreciated the finale, I still can’t justify The Killing as a whole. What an arduous journey just to prove the point that life and death rely heavily on accidents, coincidences, and mistakes. In many ways, our patience paid off with a great season finale. But what we ended up learning is something we’ve known from the beginning, and that makes the tedious missteps all the more bothersome.

I don’t think The Killing will be fondly remembered, if it’s remembered much at all. Most critics would agree that this show, despite a strong start, was a failure overall. But when I do think of the show, I will focus on its emotional resonance. In particular, I’ll remember the Larsen family watching Rosie’s goodbye film and her parting words: “I don’t know where I’m going, but I’ll let you know when I get there.”

What did you think of The Killing's Season 2 (and probably series) finale? And what about show overall? Are you satisfied with how things played out?

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