Would the hunt for Rosie Larsen's killer actually come to an end? How would the dead girl's family find peace? What does councilman Richmond and his campaign have to do with the murder? And, most importantly: Would we find out the answers to any of these questions by the time the end credits rolled on the finale, or would we be left dangling until season 2?
After having seen the season 1 finale of The Killing, I'm about as conflicted as I'm sure many others out there are. The finale pulled a bold move for serialized TV: sold us the illusion of closure for 59 minutes, before pulling the rug out from under us in the last sixty seconds.
I'm honestly not sure how fans are reacting by now. It'll be really interesting to see what shape our comment thread takes on this one.
The finale episode, titled "Orpheus Descending" picked up with the (somewhat) startling reveal at the end of the penultimate episode: that councilman Richmond knew Rosie Larsen all along, and was seemingly involved in some kind of sexual affair with the underage girl, via an online escort dating service.
Linden is literally standing in the belly of the beast when councilman Richmond's dark secret is revealed, and the finale began with a wonderfully creepy scene, in which a quietly-panicking Linden is forced to exchange words with Richmond (his face obscured in shadow), before literally having to push past him and escape. Billy Campbell has done a great job with keeping Richmond shaded in so many colors that we're never quite sure what to make of the guy. He can be noble or (as we found out in this episode) totally scary.
After the big reveal, detectives Linden and Holder work tirelessly to acquire the necessary clues to bring Richmond down. With a new lead, they go back over all the details of the case and Holder uses some surprising mathematical prowess to trace the path the killer drove before executing Rosie, ultimately discovering the woodland trail we saw the doomed girl fleeing down in the opening moments of the season. A few key clues later - the "coffin nail" being a toll booth photo of Richmond that Holder supplies - the councilman looks all but set for the gallows.
Meanwhile, Stan Larsen got out of jail for his misguided assault on Rosie's teacher, Bennett Ahmed, but things at home are still on the rocks, so Stan heads off to do some soul-searching. He visits the still-unconscious Ahmed in the hospital, and while there has an exchange about parenthood with a pregnant woman he doesn't realize is the wife of the man he's nearly beaten to death. At home, Stan's wife Mitch is continuing to have a total meltdown - that is until her own father brings her a scrapbook containing all her former hopes and dreams of a life of travel and experience. Grandpa Larsen reminds Mitch that she and Rosie are very much alike, and this seems to settle the troubled mother's soul a bit (great scene). Stan returns home after his Odyssey is done, and tries to profess his continued love for his wife and their life together...only Mitch can't live with all the ghosts around her, and decides to leave and find herself (or something like that). Stan lets her go, with serenity and understanding.
Finally, at the Richmond mayoral campaign, we learn that even though the councilman is gaining significant political ground, skeletons are beginning to tumble out of his closet. A series of affairs come to light, including one with a former aid, which may or may not still be going on (I wasn't clear on that). Richmond's current aid/lover, Gwen Eaton, has her heart quietly broken by the realization that she is just another in a long line of Darren Richmond conquests, and that she'll never really reach his heart, which is seemingly still buried with his dead wife. Her feelings of loyalty shattered, Gwen hands evidence against Richmond over to the police.
The episode ended with a climatic scene of Linden (now half-crazed in her obsession to find Rosie's killer) confronting Richmond at his mayoral victory rally and slapping the cuffs on him. With justice seemingly done, Linden finally boarded that long-delayed plane for California to be with her fiancee, the conflict between her, her son Jack and his estranged father seemingly settled into a compromise.
Oh, but wait, there was one more twist! Just before her plane takes off, Linden gets a call saying no photos from the aforementioned toll booth could be recovered - meaning the big piece of evidence Holder supplied was a fake. We see Holder confirm as much in a secret rendezvous with a mysterious figure. It might not matter, though: just as Darren Richmond is being walked into a police station, the Larsen's family friend (and secret stalker) Royce storms through the crowd with a big gun pointed right at Richmond. Fade to black.
As I've said: I'm not sure how I feel about this finale. It kept me on the edge of my seat for most of the hour, wondering if they were going to truly be able to wrap everything up, or would Richmond wriggle through the cops' fingers, thereby setting up season 2. As the episode entered the final minutes, I figured I was at the end of the season-long journey (just where I wanted to be). When another layer of misdirection and mystery was dropped on the pile, I was left wondering if I am watching a show that is only getting more brilliant, or one that has just jumped the shark for the sake of stretching out good ratings.
The original Danish version of The Killing wrapped in one season, telling a nice succinct story. This American version threatens to go so deep into mystery and revelation gimmicks that it will potentially eradicate the original structure, which was more of a nuanced slow-burn character drama.
While I can see how the Larsen murder mystery could get more twisted and surprising, I'm not sure that these characters have a lot more to offer. The Larsens' story arch seems pretty much cooked to perfection; we had a whole episode that probed the depths of Linden and Holder's respective inner workings (fans were polarized by that hour of the show); and if Richmond is the killer, then his character has been wonderfully complex and multi-faceted.
For me, the season 1 finale of The Killing has basically doubled-down on its bets: by the end of the season 2 premiere, I think I'll know for certain if I'm still invested in this show, or if it has only managed to kill itself off of my DVR.
What about you, how did you feel about the The Killing ending the season with a whole new string of questions? Would you have preferred that the mystery of Rosie Larsen's murder got solved?