The Killing Finale: “From Up Here” and “The Road to Hamelin”
Final episodes can be controversial. An audience spends weeks enthralled with a series and eagerly awaits the grand finale. Some shows develop such high expectations that it is virtually impossible to meet them. The Sopranos and Lost are prime examples. However, to the credit of the creative team behind the scenes on The Killing, there are no high expectations for mediocre shows. The compliment is tucked inside the criticism if the finale of a show fails to deliver.
The first hour of the finale did a nice job completing the stories of our minor characters. Becker hands in his resignation at to the Department of Corrections. He warns Henderson not to let the place take his soul. “You’re as much a prisoner in here as they are,” he says. Lyric finds a job working fast food, but can’t seem to the leave the streets behind her. As Twitch is throwing away his last stash of drugs and preparing for a new future, Lyric climbs in the car of another anonymous john and returns to the life of a street hustler.
Danette sits with Holder at Bullet’s funeral. She tells him about playing hide-and-seek with Kallie. She’d count to five and when she opened her eyes, Kallie would be standing there in front of her, giggling over the fact she hadn’t bothered to hide. In one of the most heart-breaking scenes of the season, Danette stands on the bridge frequented by Kallie and Bullet. She closes her eyes and counts to five. When she opens her eyes, she’s still alone. The look on her face tells the audience that she knows she’ll never see her little girl again.
Now, on to the main event. Going into the final two hours of this season, we all knew the Pied Piper was either Holder’s former partner, Reddick, or Linden’s former partner and love interest and current boss, James Skinner. No one else is still a viable candidate. You may have suspected Becker or Henderson in the early going, but at this point, neither prison guard would make sense as the killer. For a show that prides itself on avoiding coincidences and convenient plot twists, there was simply no way that Trisha Seward’s killer was going to be guarding her falsely-accused husband. To its credit, the final two episodes did a nice job of toggling back and forth between Reddick and Skinner until it was revealed at the 90-minute mark that Skinner was our killer.
After interviewing the family of the first victim, Linden spies a tree house in the family’s yard. She recalls Seward mentioning that he built a tree house for his son, Adrian. Upon reflection, Linden is bothered by this because the Sewards lived in an apartment building. So, where do you build a tree house at an apartment complex? Looking at a map, the detective determines that the nearest wooded area to erect a tree house would be right on top of the burial site where the seventeen victims were found. She and Holder race to the site and find a tree house overgrown with vegetation that provides a bird’s eye view of the spot where the bodies were dumped.
This single revelation brings everything into focus. Why did Adrian have multiple drawings of the body dump site? Because he was simply drawing the view from his tree house. Why would the Pied Piper kill Trisha Seward? He wouldn’t. He was afraid Adrian had seen him from his perch in the tree. He was attempting to silence Adrian, and Trisha Seward simply got in the way. It’s a simple, elegant solution to so many questions that have arisen during the season. It’s what The Killing does better than any show on television: plausible answers that could easily have been overlooked in an investigation.
Linden goes to Skinner’s home to discuss the newly-discovered evidence. She finds her lover and boss packing for a trip to his lake place. As they descend the stairs from the master bedroom, Skinner’s wife and daughter come home, and a very awkward pause ensues. Skinner tries to explain things to his daughter, and as they embrace, Linden notices a ring on the daughter’s finger – it’s Kallie’s ring that has been on the evidence board in the task force headquarters for weeks. Linden walks out the front door, swooning inwardly. Her senses are overwhelmed. Her world is spinning. She and Skinner lock eyes, and he knows that she knows.
And the audience has to ask why in God’s name Skinner would give his daughter a ring from the most recent Pied Piper victim. He walks through the murder room every day and looks at a giant blow-up of that ring, but thinks it’s a good idea for his daughter to walk around in public wearing it? If nothing else, wouldn’t he simply steal it from her jewelry box and pretend that it was lost? It was a big gasp-inducing twist until you realize just how stupid it is. And The Killing is never stupid. (I guess now I have to say it is “rarely” stupid.)
Unfortunately, it gets worse. Skinner claims that he has Adrian and tells Linden to get in his car, or she’ll never see him again. Gun drawn, the detective gets in Skinner’s car, and they begin the drive to his lake place. And then The Killing indulges in the single worst crime show tactic there is: the killer’s confession monologue. Knowing he is caught, the lieutenant spends ten minutes of screen time describing the murders and why he killed Trisha Seward and generally filling in any plot holes he can. He might as well have said, “We needed two more episodes to do this right, but in the interest of time, I’ll just tell you everything myself.” He wraps the entire season up in a neat, implausible bow. It was like watching the end of some cheesy Agatha Christie movie: Murder in the City of Rain.
Following Linden and Skinner to the lake house, Holder arrives on the scene and hears Linden shoot Skinner. In a scene straight out of the motion picture Seven, Linden asks if Adrian is in Skinner’s trunk. Linden doesn’t want the answer anymore than Brad Pitt really wants to know what’s in the box. Holder arrives and tells Linden that Reddick found Adrian. He’s not in Skinner’s trunk. He’s safe. Skinner goads Linden into shooting him a second, fatal time. Holder stares in wide-eyed amazement at what his partner has done, and the season ends.
My enjoyment of the journey is never diminished by a disappointing ending. Season Three of The Killing was a remarkable television experience even if I think they fumbled the ball at the goal line. It wasn’t what happened in the season finale that was disappointing. It was HOW the conclusion was reached that failed to live up to the show’s very high standards.
The finale leaves us with an interesting launching point for a fourth season if AMC agrees to give us one. What effect will this terrible secret have on the two detectives? Can Linden survive this latest blow to her psyche? Now that we’ve gone the serial killer route, what type of mystery can they offer us next year? Despite the letdown in these final two episodes, I hope we get a chance to find out.
Final Two Episodes: 8 out of 10
The Entire Third Season: 9 out of 10