Last night marked the Season 3 finale of The Killing. Veena Sud and crew (the show’s creator and her team of writers and producers) delivered up two brilliant hours of TV. It was a tour de force of acting, writing, directing, and all around storytelling, a master class for anyone curious, as I am, about the things that TV can do.
Of course reasonable people might disagree. In fact, the LA Times’ Blake Hennon skewered the episode here, though for my money, Hennon commits the same era regarding The Killing that one of my TV writer friends made about the last season of Homeland, that other brilliant, emotionally-heightened serious that captures the reality of life through the fine art of exaggeration: he imagines that the far-fetched isn’t ripe narrative fodder.
True enough, a person in her right mind would not carry on an affair with terror suspect Nicholas Brody, the way Claire Dane’s Carrie does on Homeland, and she would not wander into the clutches of nefarious casino owners with something to hide — with no backup to boot — the way Mireille Enos’s Sarah Linden did in The Killing’s Season 2, but since when are characters in fiction in their right mind — and since when is creating a character, or story, that’s larger than life a narrative crime? What is fiction, after all, at least in literature and movies, if not always on TV, but a heightened, compacted, dare I say exaggerated rendering of reality, one that, by refusing to hew to the dictates of common sense, illumines the essential folly of the human condition in ways that a plodding mimicry of our lives (as the more cautious among us actually live it) cannot.
We may strive for order in our own lives, but order has its own way of being the death of us, killing off the thing that is most vibrant and fully alive. Order keeps us from the wild possibility, the thing that could crack us open to a world of wild imagining that leads us to the deeper truth and meaning of our own lives. Sometimes that path is through the bramble bush, as it was for Sarah Linden this and every season of The Killing so far. In Sunday night’s season finale, she follows that dark road into the wilderness and across a line over which she can never cross back. It was just like life that way — even the most orderly of lives — which is rife with things you can’t take back and the do-over that can never come. Linden’s is a heightened version of this reality that all of us become acquainted with by mid-life, and that’s why it cuts to the bone, and pierces our hearts, and punches our guts out, even as it fills us with an animal satisfaction at the specter of justice served, not in the civilized, Rule of Law sense, but in a buck wild, man in a state of nature sense that rights our sense of sorrow over the many ways that, in the real world, justice isn’t served — because justice isn’t the meaning of our lives and it isn’t the defining logic of this world (though we like to tell ourselves it is). The real world is messy and full of inexplicable things that cannot be reconciled. The miracle of this season’s finale of The Killing is that it captures that fleeting moment when a provisional justice is served, and also the longer moment after, when the thing you’ve set right sets in motion realities of its own.
Spolier alert: Stop reading now if you haven’t seen the episode and still plan to.
Here’s what happened. All season long, Linden and Holder (played by the remarkable Joel Kinnaman, who’s showing up everywhere these days), have been on the trail of a serial kidnapper and killer who’s been preying on female street kids. Simultaneously, Linden has been trying to prevent the execution of a man (played by a devastating Peter Skaarsgard) and convicted of killing his wife and the mother of his young son. The man is despicable, but it’s also possible he’s innocent of this crime and the case Linden and Holder are pursuing suggests that the person who killed the condemned man’s wife and the person who is killing these street kids is one and the same. In the second to the last episode of the season, Skaarsgard’s character is executed. In the finale, the question of who really killed his wife — and, yes, that long list of teenage girls, is the married father Ed Skinner (played by veteran character actor Elias Koteas), Linden’s former partner and current lover. The realization comes to her in a series of puzzle pieces and the moment when the truth clicks into place is one of the great television acting moments of all time, or maybe one of the great acting moments of all time in any medium. Watching Enos’s face is like watching the seasons change all in the span of a few moments and when Elias turns and looks at her, he knows that she knows and that their moment of reckoning has come. Using the life of a missing little boy as bait, the son of Peter Skaarsgard’s executed innocent man, he gets her to drive with him, out into the woods, where, finally, she gets out of the car, riven by the dark truth of who he is, and throws up. And then, in a final showdown, a showdown of words as well as deeds, she shoots him, non-fatally at first — and then, Holder shows up, having followed his own logic to the truth of Skinner’s guilt and to their whereabouts here in the woods, in time to witness the shooting he cannot stop, the one that will take Skinner’s life and turn the screw on Linden’s and also, one suspects, on his. Season 4, I imagine, will be about the aftermath, about who we become when the awful hidden truths of our lives are revealed and we cannot run. Perhaps its the optimist in me, or the writer who has faith in Sud and team’s talents, but I think Season 4 will bring a happy turning point, whether Holder covers for her, or whether she faces the truth and consequences of the killing she hath committed. She put Skinner down, and in so doing, she opened a door on healing for herself, a door that, if she can walk through it, might bring her out of the darkness of her disconnected foster-child of a life and into the bright light of a new and hopeful day. That’s where I would take it at least.
PHOTOGRAPHY via Unknown.
PAULA PURYEAR is a Lawyer, Film & Television writer, HuffPoster and Founder of Revel In It Mag.