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The Killing: "I can't remember a single show damaging a network's brand this severely" - The Ex-Communicator

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June 21st, 2011


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09:02 pm - The Killing: "I can't remember a single show damaging a network's brand this severely"
My favourite American TV station AMC remade one of my favourite TV programs - this was The Killing, based on the Danish thriller Forbrydelsen. It was announced that the identity of the killer was different from the original show. On Sunday night the final episode in the series was shown. Despite generally positive reactions to the series, the ending has outraged critics and viewers. Below the cut are some furious reviews.

All the rest is spoilers.

Here is a metafilter discussion of the season finale, which pulls together some of the outraged comments.

Bill Simmons in Grantland: "I can't remember a single show damaging a network's brand this severely, to the point that AMC either needs to apologize, offer the entire Breaking Bad series on DVD for 85 percent off, or even publicly distance itself from the show the same way a sports team distances itself from a star player who does something horrible."

Alan Sepinwall at hitfix.com: "[the finale] is a mess, and an insult to the audience who have stuck around for the last three months.

Andy Greenwald in New York Magazine: ". . . all of this led to a finale that spat in the face of convention, logic, and the audience. There was tone of condescension about this entire project from the start — all the talk of defying audience expectations, of how the writers would sort of 'figure out' the killer’s identity as they went along. All of this reeked of poorly thought out elitism, like a college freshman clutching a half-read copy of Siddartha and explaining to everyone how they just 'don’t get it, man.'"

Todd VanDerWerff in the LA Times: ". . . one of the most frustrating season finales in TV history."

Why this outrage? This is the spoiler. We don't find out who did it. We find out that the most pleasant character in the show is probably part of some big conspiracy to frame the liberal politician. But we don't find out who did it.

Yes, this is another of those shows where the audience is denied closure.

I think the issue of closure in TV narrative is very interesting. Failure to adequately close a show incenses audiences like nothing else. They talk about 'betrayal', about not being able to forgive. This is what has gone wrong with so many SF shows: Lost, BSG, Flash Forward. These shows' makers asked for the continuing attention of the audience, implying they had the story under control, and then they couldn't bring that story home to a satisfactory conclusion. It is easier to elaborate complications than to resolve them, and so we see this happening repeatedly, with ambitious shows failing to deliver on their promises.

I don't think an open ending is always a betrayal of the audience. I think refusal to close a narrative by withholding answers to key questions can be a deliberate and controlled artistic decision. I see The Killing as possibly (possibly) exhibiting that level of artistic control. But if the writers and creators of the show have not explained 'who did it' because they don't know - if they just haven't figured out an ending in time which is compatible with the story as they have set it up, then they deserve the rage they have incurred.

(17 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


From:abigail_n
Date:June 21st, 2011 09:15 pm (UTC)
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The review venue I've been following, The AV Club, has been pretty negative about the show for most of the season, and from what I've gathered that's the general reaction. Which I think is totally justified. I didn't mind the ending or its lack of closure - since the series isn't over, this is clearly just a placeholder, a stepping off point for the next season (so I think the comparisons to Lost and BSG are off-base). What I minded was how haphazard the series's plotting was, how selectively stupid the detective characters were, how manipulative the constant red herring structure was. Greenwald is absolutely right to call the series condescending. It clearly thinks of itself as being in another league from other procedurals when really all it's got going for it is atmospherics - and half of that is the Seattle weather doing the writers' work for them.

To be honest, the one thing I truly liked about the show was Linden and Holder and their growing partnership. Now one of them is evil and other knows, so the partnership is sundered and I've only got one character to care about in the whole series, so I'm unlikely to come back for the season.
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From:communicator
Date:June 21st, 2011 09:23 pm (UTC)
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Well, I wouldn't be as harsh on it as that. But it did not have the magical feeling of the Danish version. And yet that also had a plot which did not necessarily hang together and a lot of red herrings. It's partly about charisma perhaps. I think Holder was the only character with much charisma in the US version, whereas in the original the politician and Sara were also fantastic.

I think one thing which both shows did well was to show the suffering of the family.

In any case I will be watching Seasons 2 and 3 of the Danish version. I wonder how that will develop.
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From:pinkdormouse
Date:June 21st, 2011 09:46 pm (UTC)
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I've not been following the series, but you've triggered some thoughts on open endings. Generally I like them if they've been planned from the start: ie the idea is to leave the reader or viewer thinking after the story's over. So I have two stories I'm working on with that premise in mind.

1) My protagonist investigates a mystery, and comes to realise that while she is invested in finding the truth, there will be consequences for people she cares about if the truth of what happened becomes widely known. So I want to leave the second part open because that's a moral/ethical debate rather than a hanging plot thread.

2) My protagonist grows close over the course of the story to someone whose relationship experiences are similar in some ways to her own. At the end, they can either stay as friends, or they can move into a more romantic relationship. I want to leave the ending open, because either choice is valid, and while I want to see more romances centred on people older than me, I don't want to make romance the only possible outcome for these people.

Open endings for the sake of (apparent) laziness are another matter entirely, and I think that's what bugs people about a lot of TV series these days.
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From:communicator
Date:June 21st, 2011 09:57 pm (UTC)
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Yes, I think those are good examples of how an open ending can be a legitimate artistic choice. I like that kind of thing.
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From:pinkdormouse
Date:June 22nd, 2011 05:40 am (UTC)
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I know authors who tell me that they start writing a mystery with no idea of the solution, but they always manage to wrap things up seamlessly by the end.

Maybe that style of writing is easier to pull off in novels or episodic dramas?
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From:cdybedahl
Date:June 22nd, 2011 07:09 am (UTC)
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It's definitely easier to pull off when you can go back and change what came before the ending in advance of the reader/viewer getting to see it. Which would be the case with a novel.
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From:redstarrobot
Date:June 22nd, 2011 02:01 am (UTC)
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Yeah, I think there's a place for an ending without (obvious) closure, particularly in a murder mystery, where that's moderately realistic, and might be an interesting non-resolution to reach. But then, I think, you hang closure not on the plot points, but on the emotional or character arcs; people reach a resting place where they can look back and see that where they are now is not where they started. It may be that a subset of US TV writers can't handle this sort of closure (or, perhaps more likely, their producers can't) or it may be that reviewers have a difficult time with it, and genre expectations may be part of the issue.
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From:communicator
Date:June 22nd, 2011 06:47 am (UTC)
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Yes. I am torn because I think this may not be simple failure to close, and it might be a legitimate series cliffhanger (for example), or a deliberate decision to make the audience feel some of the frustration of the characters. And I do think challenging genre expectations, and the media convention of endings, is good. If Mad Men did it I would believe it was deliberate. But this series has not quite been strong enough to convince me of that.
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From:espresso_addict
Date:June 21st, 2011 10:22 pm (UTC)
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I often like open endings, but I think confounding genre expectations for tidy endings is a difficult trick to pull off. I recall a Susan Hill murder mystery generating that sort of rage in me -- it was packaged as a detective story yet there was little or no progression towards finding the killer at the end. There has to be an inevitability to the ending, with hindsight, even it's open, I think.

That's one thing I found with State of Play (the UK version, which otherwise I love). According to the commentary material from the writers, the ending wasn't the one plotted from the start, and I found it sat uneasily with the earlier material.
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From:communicator
Date:June 21st, 2011 10:44 pm (UTC)
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There have been good shows which have improvised endings as they go. I didn't know State of Play was one of them. I think the real outrage is felt when the ending shows that the writers have taken the story less seriously than the viewers.
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From:cdybedahl
Date:June 22nd, 2011 07:16 am (UTC)
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Hm. That's a good way of putting it. A satisfying ending has to be inevitable in hindsight. The B7 ending certainly is, the way things were going for the crew it really was just a matter of time before they came to a messy end. The BSG ending is not, rather it gives a feeling of having little or nothing to do with the rest of the show.
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From:cdybedahl
Date:June 22nd, 2011 04:58 am (UTC)
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When it comes to SF shows denying the viewers closure, it's hard not to think about a certain show that killed off its entire main cast in the final episode, and how that still has some people upset thirty years later.
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From:communicator
Date:June 22nd, 2011 06:40 am (UTC)
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That's such an interesting example because although it was 'painful' viewing, and we all reacted to it with shock and a kind of distress, we didn't feel betrayed or angry. Nobody would say 'the ending of Blakes 7 ruined the whole show for me'. I don't think. In a way it was a daring and transgressive ending for the time, but it showed artistic control of the story. I didn't feel they had given up, and just chucked something at us, quite the reverse.
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From:cdybedahl
Date:June 22nd, 2011 07:06 am (UTC)
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I consider it one of the most successful series enders I know of. From a storyteller's perspective, creating something that gets that level of emotional impact is heading into wet dream territory. But it doesn't really provide closure for the viewers, does it? I believe that a large part of B7 fandom's surprising staying power is exactly because of the final episode's lack of closure. I wonder what Buffy fandom would look like today if the show had ended with "The Gift" (Buffy dies in what is arguably suicide) instead of "Chosen" (the Hellmouth is destroyed and there are lots of Slayers).

I haven't watched "The Killing" and gave up on "Lost" long before the end, but I did see all of "Battlestar Galactica". And their ending was very weak indeed. Not bad enough to ruin what came before, but almost at the level of recommending people not to watch it.

Hm. Now I have to go think about why the BSG ending is a bad ending, while the B7 ending is a fantastic ending.
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From:iainjcoleman
Date:June 22nd, 2011 12:39 pm (UTC)
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They're all dead. How much more closure do you want?
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From:del_c
Date:June 22nd, 2011 08:58 pm (UTC)
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I think that, although "Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies" is definitely an ending, it's not necessarily closure.

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