If we’re going to talk about the fourth (and, presumably, final) season of The Killing, which is available now on Netflix (and that’s what I’ve got on the docket to do here today), than we need to talk about a couple of different things.
First up, we need to talk about the ever-evolving state of streaming content and how it might not be as great for television as we all originally thought. Then, we need to talk about the pros and cons of writing a procedural and treating it as though it is event television. Then, finally and most importantly, we need to talk about what happens when a show and its writers betrays their audience in the biggest way possible: By letting them down.
Although, before I do any of that, I should be appropriately service-y and say a couple of business type things. If you’re looking for a quick “should I binge the new season of The Killing on Netflix this weekend,” I would say yes, sure, why not? The entire six episode season is available as of today (August 1), and watching six hours of entertaining T.V. is what will happen if you decide to make this your Friday night or Saturday afternoon.
I will also say that my thoughts on the current season are based on the first four episodes were made available early to the press. To that end, I promise not to spill any major beans story-wise, if you promise to promptly contact me should the entire series have been a dream that Joel Kinnaman had while taking a nap on the set of the Robocop reboot. Cool? Cool.
The Killing is not the first show to have existed since its second season under the weighty blade of the sword of Damocles. After season one’s cliffhanger was followed by a lackluster second season, the fans were restless. That said, and I count myself among their number, fans were also willing to stay with the show. That was due in large part to the moody atmosphere creator Veena Sud is such a master of conjuring. It was also due in part to the brilliance of actor Mireille Enos as Detective Linden.
Enos is just generally excellent. You maybe have an argument against this fact, to which I politely respond by linking you here. True story: When she was a character on Big Love playing a set of identical twins, it did not occur to me that it was the same actress. Her work was that distinct. One could make the argument that I am also just that thick, but that wouldn’t be very nice of one, now would it?
Joel Kinnaman starring opposite Enos as the louche and lanky quip-dropping Detective Holder is equally superlative throughout. Does anyone else still have a hard time grappling with the fact that he is from Sweden? That perpetually slays me. That said, though he’s had his moments throughout the series, his character is never mined for maximum pathos by the writers the way it is for Linden, who is pathos on two legs with a limp red ponytail. Holder’s power in the series has always been his ability to travel between the flagrantly seedy underbelly of his community and the other half of his community, which is just as seedy but pretends not to be. Kinnaman also excels at making even the lamest jokes that maybe your uncle would tell at dinner seem funny. That’s no mean feat.
In another age, even the skill of this duo and the crowd-baiting cliffhangers at the end of each season wouldn’t have been enough to keep this show alive. But with the advent of Netflix and the binge-watch, shows that might not ordinarily pass muster are immediately upgraded because they keep nothing from us. It’s like being given a not-very-good chocolate cake and told we can eat the whole thing because it has no calories. Will we eat it? Sure. Will we enjoy it? Absolutely. Can our judgement when it comes to honestly responding as to the cake’s excellence be fully trusted? No. No it can’t. Now I say something incendiary: Shows like The Killing and Orange Is The New Black are being held to less of a higher standard because its human nature to go for immediate gratification over any sort of delayed excellence.
This takes us to the whole “confused procedural” aspect of The Killing that has always made the show so problematic. A procedural drama’s strength comes from an awareness that it is a show about a show, not about the people in it. We get our monster of the week, we get out unsolvable case, we get our law and our order and we leave sated, having been presented with what we expected. When a procedural tries to become Mad Men, that’s when problems arise. That, to me, has always been The Killing’s problem, and in its fourth season, that becomes even more clear.
The central mystery—Linden and Holder attempting to get to the bottom of a family found slaughtered—seems arbitrary and inconsequential. Of course it does. That’s because at the end of last season, Linden killed her child-lovin’ boyfriend thus announcing to the fanbase that next season would be about THAT! The show, to give it some credit, attempts to do that, too, finding Linden and Holder some closure if not peace, exactly. But the two central storylines are clawing for our attention to such a degree that it feels distracted, protracted, and totally unsatisfying.
I kind of didn’t think it was possible for the show to get any bleaker, considering the end of season three. By the same token, the darkness of the show has never been a turn off for me before (I heart the darkness, I am in a Hannibal-themed supper club, after all) because whatever other faults the show may have (and I think we’ve established that they are legion) that darkness was always earned.
You could track the evolution of each character’s actions — they made sense. Sadly that does not seem to be the case for season four. It’s doubly a let down because I thought season three was a return to form!
That said, I have yet to watch episodes five and six, but the skeptic in me has got to admit that it would take a lot to sway me from my feelings of disappointment. Did the show shift gears? Yes, it did. If it had committed to that tonal shift, we would have been fine, but season four is a sloppy, indecisive step backwards.