Who killed Rosie Larsen??That was the question when AMC network's "The Killing" first went on the air last season.
A better question now, as the final two episodes of this season of "The Killing" begin at 9 p.m. Sunday, is "Who cares who killed Rosie Larsen?"
I don't, and I'm still a faithful watcher and fan of the show. That's because "The Killing" has rather neatly and cleverly told us on the sly that finding Rosie Larsen's killer is only incidentally what the show is about.
What it's about are some dysfunctional people in terminally rainy Seattle who all seem to be suffering severely from Seasonal Affective Disorder. We're watching people who are all surviving a dismal, perpetual, steel-skied hard rain within. Even when their inner weather clears up, their inner streets are always wet.
And there will always be more dark skies and harder rains to come.
It's all made it a fascinating television show, even if the putative central plot question of who killed Rosie Larsen is now merely an overly populous convenience on which to peg a whole lot of hastily contrived plot.
It's not that they're not going to have to come up with a full and satisfying answer to "whodunit" this Sunday and, especially on the show's finale June 17. It's just that the show's big "reveals" (our new cynical Hollywood plot synonym for the more dramatic word "revelation") all have been about its characters: that, for instance, Linden (played by Mireille Enos), the tiny, stone-faced cop so doggedly pursuing the Larsen case is, in reality, such an obsessive personality that she's been hospitalized for it. She's so obsessive that she agreed to pack her beloved son off to live with her hated and irresponsible ex-husband so she could pursue the Larsen case.
Her partner, played by Joel Kinnaman, is a recovered druggie whose relapses always seem just around the corner and whose corruptibility Linden has learned to ignore in favor of the big-hearted virtue struggling mightily to prevail within him.
Their frequent investigation target, a reform mayoral candidate played by Billy Campbell, is another exemplar of slippery virtue and creeping despair. His alibi for the night of Rosie's murder is that he was off trying to kill himself at the time. He actually jumped off a bridge (he missed his late wife that much) but, as he now tells the story to his campaign shock troops, he recovered his equanimity in midfall and is eternally now on the side of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
This is why I still love this show, despite the fact that its basic plot question is now so bound up in Native American casinos, urban development corruption and perverted old politicians that it would involve a newly created federal task force to be able to get through it. One totally screwed-up, obsessive cop and her tall, funky, cigarette-smoking partner aren't going to be nearly enough to give these deep, dark basements a cleaning.
Let me hastily add that I'm in a minority with my loyalty to "The Killing" – not that I mind. When you write about television show, a good, sound, well-considered minority is definitely the place to be. That way, you can give a young David Letterman his props when he starts out on an NBC morning show. And you can demur happily from all those people who routinely point to "Mad Men" (which is "The Killing's" Sunday night follow-up on AMC) and call it one of the best shows on TV. Of such things are all those Emmys made.
I do understand people's love of "Mad Men," especially this season, when I caught the episode where, in one fell swoop, upwardly mobile Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) finally left Don Draper and the firm itself and red-haired sex symbol Joan, played by Christina Hendricks, became a partner in the firm by sleeping with a corpulent, chuckling client (played by Gary Basaraba, not an actor on-call for Noel Coward or new Aaron Sorkin dramas, either) in order to land the coveted Jaguar account.
When it was decided at a partner's meeting that offering up a bedroom sacrifice to the corporate coffers was the way to go, the buxom goddess had either to go along with it for personal gain or preserve her virtue and remain the firm's largely unrewarded mainstay.
You'd have to be dunderheaded indeed not to understand why "Mad Men's" real subject – abused women turning into sisters who are, as Annie Lennox immortally put it, "doing it for themselves" – is hugely attractive to female audiences. This is a take on emergent gender roles that is slyly (and badly) tied to such a specific period (the early 1960s) so that it can more cleverly point to what may or may not be happening in 21st century offices.
I've never thought "Mad Men" – whose season finale is Sunday – is the best show on television or even anywhere close. In the essence of its appeal, though, it may be the best disguised and the cleverest. It's not really about "Mad Men" at all but rather the ways their women cope with their entitlements.
The disguise and the appeal of "The Killing," on the other hand, were perhaps the most clumsily handled in TV history. Here is this brilliant TV show about depression (which some of us, oddly, find far too smart to be the slightest bit depressing) that kept claiming it was going to pursue "Who killed Rosie Larsen?"
When the television show didn't actually answer that at the end of its first season last year, what little audience loyalty it had managed to accrete was blasted to smithereens.
The result was that the show's real subjects – these deeply troubled souls blundering through a depressing universe with obsessive bravado taking the place of genuine purpose – have been left to their weekly struggles while a small cadre of watchers has been left with increasing admiration for their brave victories over themselves.
Yes, yes, yes, I know the big "reveals" are still to come, whether they're actually revelatory or not.
But what has made "The Killing" such a good television show thus far is that I don't think they're going to tell us a thing that we don't already know.