Some shows start off great, but end up sticking around too long. Whether they jump the shark, or just otherwise overstay their welcome, this is the theme of 25YL’s Cancelled Too Late series. This week, Andrew Grevas explores how The Killing failed as it moved beyond the mystery that originally defined it.
I enjoyed The Killing. I want to make that clear before we go any further here. The first two seasons of the American version of Danish series Forbrydelsen were without any doubt top notch television. Season 3 was good. I’ll even go as far as to say that I somewhat enjoyed the clunky fourth season. That being said, the show overstayed its welcome without a doubt. It should’ve ended after Season 2 or taken a different path which I will outline in this edition of Cancelled Too Late.
I’m working under the assumption that anyone reading this article has at least seen the first two seasons of The Killing. If you haven’t, stop reading this article now and watch the series. We have episode by episode coverage of the first season that you can follow along with, starting with a non spoiler preview of the pilot. It’s worth your time and is truly captivating television.
Now, lets get into it.
Murder mysteries are hard to pull off. The audience wants to know who the killer is but also instinctively knows that along with the reveal comes the end of something they’ve enjoyed. Being an at home detective really is half the fun and The Killing gave us that for two full seasons. We got all the twists, turns, drama and emotionally exhausting material we could handle. The most important part of writing a murder mystery for television is knowing when to end it and where to go once the mystery is solved. For as brilliantly as The Killing handled the “Who Killed Rosie Larson?” mystery, the follow through is what killed The Killing.
Two seasons of one crime was a risky decision. That’s two years of an audience’s life devoted to one setting, with one cast of characters, and by that point, the audience is ready to stay in that world, with those people. The Killing left behind all of their series regulars besides our two main detectives, Linden and Holder, when Season 3 began. The only real connection to the previous two years was that the crime had been referenced before, but not in a prominent enough fashion to make the link feel strong. Now the alternatives to how The Killing handled this aren’t incredibly enticing either. The Rosie Larson case was too strong to wrap up in one season. The material was there for two seasons and I do believe they made the right call there in terms of the length of the case. Where they failed was the follow through.
The Killing was always and will always be compared to Twin Peaks for many obvious reasons but each show’s failure to have any kind of meaningful follow up to the core mystery will forever haunt both. The Killing almost seemed like the show should’ve ended with the reveal of Rosie’s killer. Season 2 very much ended in a “case closed, show over” fashion, which is fitting considering the show was briefly cancelled after Season 2 before being brought back by popular demand. Since it didn’t seem to be the intention of showrunner Veena Sud to end after Season 2, it has to be considered a failure on her part to not introduce any hint of what could be the next mystery or establish a meaningful link so Season 3 didn’t come off as a reboot with two familiar faces.
As I previously stated, I enjoyed Season 3. It wasn’t as strong as the first two seasons, started off slow, and a lot of viewers weren’t as forgiving of the slow start and reboot-like feeling. The new mystery didn’t have the instant hook of “Who Killed Rosie Larson?” and was much more of a slow build before ultimately providing a satisfying payoff. I think what really irks me about Season 3 is not so much the case but rather the fact that Sud took advantage of the goodwill she had with viewers and discarded an entire world to, in essence, give us a new show. An anthology series like True Detective can get away with that because that’s what is expected: a one season commitment to one story and then onto the next. With The Killing, two seasons was too much to leave everything behind and start fresh.
In hindsight, Season 3 of The Killing would’ve played much better if something from that story would’ve been introduced in Season 2—some kind of bridge building to prepare the audience for what was to come. That kind of foresight and long term planning buys a show a level of trust when a story starts off slow, as Season 3 did. As tightly packed as Season 2 of The Killing was, there was time to plant seeds. The other alternative would’ve been finding ways to bring back some of the people from Seasons 1 and 2 to reduce the shock of change and make the show feel slightly more like what we had watched before.
Season 4, however, was an unnecessary Netflix revival designed to give a happy ending to a show that never called for one. The case was not captivating in the way that previous years were and giving Linden and Holder a romantic sendoff made me wonder what show I was watching—fan service for those who shipped them over the years at its worst. The shortened final season had its moments and Joan Allen was great in her guest role, but if Season 3 had alienated some fans, Season 4 finished the job. Yes, it was marketed as the final season but it had none of the grit or intrigue of the first two seasons, or even the third season, and was a final chapter that never should’ve been written. The show had simply gone on too long and tarnished its legacy by this point, sacrificing quality for a kiss goodbye.
Ask anyone who watched The Killing what the case was about in the first two seasons and without hesitation, they’ll tell you. Ask them about Season 3 and they might stumble a bit, but they’ll get there. Ask them about Season 4 and it’s anyone’s guess how much they’ll remember. That’s the definition of a show that’s cancelled too late and that’s a shame because The Killing started off great and then crafted its own demise.