This week’s news that AMC did not renew The Killing came as a shock to no one, but I’m really disappointed. Good shows are hard to come by; particularly ones that draw such emotional responses from their viewers as this one did.
If you’ve never watched the show, here’s the one thing you need to know about it: it was destined to be cancelled from day one. Not because it is a bad show (it wasn’t) but because its concept brought with it a catch-22. The show, about a murder, the victim’s family, its ties to a mayoral campaign, and the homicide detectives trying to solve the case, was stuck with a familiar problem. The second the mystery is revealed to the audience, its purpose disappears, and the audience vanishes. But if you take too long to reveal it, the audience vanishes, anyway. It was bound to lose, no matter what they did.
For me, the irony is that the show tried to learn from Twin Peaks, which famously revealed the killer of Laura Palmer early in the second season upon the insistence of the studio heads. The reveal famously led to a drop-off in viewership and a short-notice cancellation, which led to a chilling series finale. We were supposed to have learned a lesson from that: any show about a single case needs to keep going and be about that case.
From the beginning, the similarities with Twin Peaks were obvious for The Killing, but the critics’ and fans’ insistence that the show reveal the killer quickly ran counter to what makes these shows exciting. It’s that they make us impatient and desperate. We want to see the next one the second the episode ends.
The anticipation is the sweetest part.
I was 7 when I started reading comic books. By 9 I was collecting them. I would have to walk to a store that sold magazines to buy them. Whenever we would be in a store with a comic rack, I’d peruse it. I didn’t want to miss an issue. Alpena didn’t have a comic shop so there was no one to pull our titles for us. I’d make regular trips to Waldenbooks in the mall and The Country Cupboard downtown. My two very favorite moments of my pre-pubescent life revolved around comics.
First was the sight, the recognition of a new issue of Uncanny X-Men in front of me. I’d rip it from the rack (and as I got older, I learned to gently remove it and even then) I would scour every inch of that cover, soaking in all of its features: the art/artist, the number and month so as to double-check that I hadn’t missed an issue. I’d even look at the box in the corner to see how it compared with last month’s or this month’s ongoing Marvel crossover.
The second moment, almost as sweet, came at home, when I was turning that last page and seeing how the issue ends–more often than not in some type of cliffhanger–with the question of what would come next twisting my mind for the rest of the evening.
I would never claim The Killing was a perfect show. But its critics were almost always wrong about it. What made it compelling. Why many of us looked forward to Sunday nights. Why choosing an earlier reveal would likely have done nothing to prevent its eventual cancellation. It’s concept was so bound to the single case.
The tragedy, however, is that no lessons will be learned. The impatient people get to I-told-you-so and the nitpickers will pick at the carcass and make claims to why its demise was based on its weaknesses, not the fickle trap set by the critics themselves; the death sentence they gave it before they had even seen it.
I’m just thankful it received a full second season. I’m glad it finished better than I thought it would, slightly fulfilling, slightly open-ended. And I’m glad it made feel like an antsy kid, watching, waiting, wondering.