[Part 2 – Here there be spoilers! If you have not finished season four, don’t read any further. You’ve been warned.]
So, let’s start at the end, shall we?
I’ve re-watched the final 30 minutes of The Killing three times. On my first viewing, I thought that Richmond’s reappearance wreaked of a lazy deus ex machina. Sarah Linden admits to murdering the serial killer – and police chief – James Skinner, only to have an improbable out in the form of this guy? The mayor who is in a wheelchair, partly due to some sloppy work on Linden’s watch? That’s far too convenient an out for Linden, and an ending much too clean for a show that has so often reveled in being messy.
But now, I’m not so sure. Yes, it’s convenient, but not overly so. If the first two seasons detailed Richmond’s descent from an idealistic politician into a sullied machine only concerned with power and popularity, this is the greatest payoff that Veena Sud could have penned. In that interrogation room, we see exactly the kind of man that Darren Richmond really is – concerned more with his own prospects for retaining power than revealing the painful truth. Clearing Linden and calling Skinner’s death a suicide? It’s the most expedient way to end a big scandal.
However, maybe there really is a hint of justice in this to Richmond’s eye. If the soul of the man he used to be remains in him somewhere, then he knows that Linden doesn’t deserve to be sent to jail for life. He knows this because City Hall has undoubtedly been made aware of who the Pied Piper really was (Reddick is too good a cop to leave the damning details out, despite his dislike for Linden). Justice, although perpetrated darkly, was arguably served. Revealing the full truth only reopens the wounds of the families who have been grieving the Pied Piper’s murders, while also sending the instrument of ending those murders to jail. It’s a grey ending – the sort of thing that Sarah Linden has hated – to her career in the police force, but it’s the sort of thing that she must make peace with if she’s ever going to live without torment.
And that conveniently brings us to former-Detective Stephen Holder, who we catch up with a few years after the whole ordeal. Although we find out that he’s divorced (feel for ya, homes), his life is as peaceful as we could have ever imagined. Instead of dealing with death on a daily basis, he has also left the homicide beat, and is now helping recovering addicts with their respective rebirths. We were witness to Holder’s capacity for being a mentor in his dealings with Linden’s son, Jack. We also saw how his work as a detective compromised that capacity, with the way he had to write off Rachel “Bullet” Olmstead because she was no longer a trustworthy lead in his homicide investigation. Of all of his regrets, the series’ finale demonstrated that “Bullet” was his biggest. He should have been able to save her, but didn’t. Helping to save others is a sort of penance for him.
That brings us to the scene. Linden visits Holder at his 12-Step meeting, after a few years apart, and the smile upon her face is probably the warmest we’ve ever seen her emote. Their penultimate scene together is one of the greatest pieces of acting (on both sides) that I’ve seen in a long time, skirting a precarious line on the edge of underplaying. Besides that smile, Mireille Enos shows us a Linden that has changed, but not completely. Her guard is still up.
Until she apologizes. Her voice cracks, and the appreciation and love that was always there for Holder pours out. In two words, the character is transformed.
They embrace. You can tell that they meant the world to each other, but they never would have admitted it before. But now? There’s a glimpse of their bond. This is still Linden, though, and she has one last run left in her. It doesn’t last long, however.
After a tour of her old haunts, Linden finally decides to stop running. Returning, and standing there to meet Holder, is the grand payoff for her character arc. She had already accepted that she had to confront her past, and already realized that she couldn’t catch every criminal in Seattle. Both breakthroughs required her to stop. When she finally looks at where she’s ended up, she finds her best friend is still waiting for her.
I had always scoffed at the idea of Holder and Linden ever being a couple, but that was because of their lives as detectives. Linden was too haunted, Holder too lost. They never would have found each other in the middle. If a romance had blossomed in any of the previous episodes, it would have simply been wrong (it’s why the not-quite-kiss in season three seemed so out of character). They were both broken people at all points prior to the final episode. Only in that final scene have they both healed enough to look with genuine charity at each other. After re-watching this scene for the third time, I thought it felt right. The Killing has been relentlessly dark, but this duo has been loved by both writers and fans for a reason. Linden and Holder deserved to leave on a note of optimism.
Of course, Sud wisely leaves it slightly open-ended. It’s easy to imagine these two kissing, but laughing at their lack of physical chemistry. What isn’t lacking is the bond between them. They genuinely love each other. I think that’s enough for them, at least for now.
Some final notes:
-The writers did their very best to make the Stansberry homicides less than throwaway material. It’s unfortunate that it had to go up against the meta-story of Linden and Holder trying to hide their own murder.
-Col. Raynes’ character arc felt pretty rushed over six episodes. If six more had been available, there could have been a more judiciously apportioned reveal of her secrets. But Joan Allen, as always, brought her A-game here.
-Kyle Stansberry pulling the trigger wasn’t a huge surprise. The way he pulled it was, though. Something broke inside of him, after he had been abandoned by his family, which allowed him to do a terrible thing.
-Sound familiar? It’s no wonder than Linden seems to have a certain affinity for the boy. She knows what it’s like to be abandoned, and to lose control.
-For a show about grisly homicides, it’s striking how little they really mattered to the heart of The Killing. This was the Linden and Holder show. It was about their interactions on a case (eating bad takeout, smoking cigarettes, wearing their eyes out while looking at evidence in a small office). What they were doing together was almost inconsequential; the fact that they were doing the tasks together made all the difference.
-The above is also why the show, despite a tremendous rebound in seasons three and four, probably won’t be on “greatest of all time” lists for television dramas.
-Enos and Kinnaman, though, should definitely be on every “greatest duo” list. Every time the show bogged down, their chemistry carried it.
-This show’s makeup department gave a master class in utilizing very light makeup. Seeing the lines in Linden’s forehead, and the hollow shadows under Holder’s eyes, was endearing to me. It’s an underrated facet of The Killing, and perhaps why it felt so raw. The actors were given nowhere to hide.
-If there isn’t some sort of blog devoted to Holder’s bong-hit philosophy, one should be created.
-Although the series’ direction and cinematography has always been sterling (you could go back and watch prior seasons with the sound off and still find a story worth telling), Jonathan Demme’s direction in the finale is truly remarkable. The opening dream sequence of Linden jogging, finding the pinwheel (and her broken childhood), and then having the gun shot at her? Combined with what might be the best script Sud has ever written, we’re talking Sopranos-level stuff here.
-Veena Sud very nearly made a classic here. I, and others, have been hard on The Killing for having so many pointless red herrings, but making a season-long procedural crime drama centered on one case was always a daunting task. With a little less meandering in the first two seasons, we would be having an entirely different discussion about this show.