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Many words spring to mind when thinking about the season finale of The Killing; few of them are positive. “Frustrating” would likely be at the forefront, with “completely ridiculous” not far behind. There were actually a couple of brilliant scenes and performances, but unfortunately they were overshadowed by a ludicrous twist ending and an anticlimactic finale. It might have been wrong to expect much from this episode, even given how much of an improvement the last few episodes were on the series, but “Orpheus Descending” was far and away the worst episode of an already tragically misguided season.
This episode picked up right where the last one left off – with Linden staring down “Orpheus,” AKA Richmond. Keeping Richmond in the shadows for the duration of their scene was extremely hackney, and read as a fumbling attempt to make him seem menacing. Not only is he in no way intimidating, but the audience also knows that Linden has a gun, so there's no reason to fear for her safety. Now that Richmond knows they are on to him, Linden and Holder are racing to find evidence to pen him to Rosie and not just to the Beau Soleil service. There was no need to rush, though, as Richmond seems content to sit on his hands and let the detectives either frame him for a crime he knows he didn't commit or let them discover his secret while doing nothing to prevent them. Granted, he was busy dealing with the fallout from his affairs coming to light, but it still seemed silly that a man who had been so proactive before would be willing to let his life be destroyed while he shoots basketball and spends more time explaining his affairs to Gwen than he does to the press.
If there was one positive in “Orpheus Descending” it was Brent Sexton and his character Stan Larsen. Not only did he give a brilliant performance throughout the episode, but he was also part of one of the few good scenes in it. Looking in on Bennet at the hospital is the kind of thing one would expect from a man like Stan, but not something one would expect the writers to realize they needed to include. Stan running into Bennet's wife, Amber, provided some of the best emotional acting the series has done. Amber not recognizing Stan was a little farfetched, but it's easy to forgive when the scene was so well executed. Which is the main problem with the series: there's nothing positive to distract the viewer from the negative. Stan also impressed in his silent scene visiting the house he purchased. Though coming into the final minutes, even he couldn't save an outlandish storyline. Upon finally returning home, Stan finds Mitch with her bags packed, saying she can't stand to be there anymore. Again when given a perfect opportunity, Stan mentions nothing about the new house, and we are to assume Mitch went to stay with her father, who conveniently showed up earlier in the episode. Although the writing has shown before that Mitch's grief has overcome her parenting ability – though they also implied she didn't have much to begin with – it's still hard to believe a woman would abandon her two other children after losing her eldest. Or that her husband wouldn't do anything he could to get her to stay, up to and including the simple act of telling her they have somewhere else to go.
As the evidence stacks up against Richmond, and the detectives uncover more about Rosie's death, the episode seemed to be headed for one of the most anticlimactic endings ever conceived, which actually would have been preferred to the out-of-nowhere – and still anticlimactic – ending they went with instead. After uncovering plenty of circumstantial evidence against Richmond, a photo Holder attains acts as the final nail in the coffin, allowing him and Linden to make the arrest. Linden lets Holder take over the case as she is anxious to finally be on her way to Sonoma. With Richmond in custody, Linden on a plane, and Belko on his way to shoot Richmond for destroying his “family,” everything explodes in a twist ending that was such a desperate attempt at insuring a second season that Veena Sud might as well have outright called the audience idiots who will put up with any amount of terrible writing so long as the ending draws them into the next episode. Linden gets a call revealing the photo of Richmond isn't real and we see Holder get into a car with an unseen accomplice, assuring him the picture worked and Richmond is going down.
Unless the writing is so horrible that they don't realize that the photo isn't going to hold up in court, it can be assumed that framing Richmond was all about derailing his mayoral campaign. This is ridiculous since there have been a thousand opportunities to do just that in a much easier fashion, including Holder not throwing his career away. Though we can't know for sure yet if Holder was really involved in a frame or if he believes in Richmond's guilt and just wanted to see him put away for his crime, it still sullies a character that many felt was the only one in the series that had the right to call himself a character. Holder's early 90's slang and his seemly suffering from a severe case of Asperger's syndrome made him incredibly annoying, but his development in episodes like “Missing” also endeared him to the audience as a man of character – or at least as a person struggling to be that (not unlike Stan). And for doing what this series didn't do nearly enough of: fleshing out a character. Though in a show as contrived as The Killing, the audience probably should have predicted the writers would use such a clichéd plot device as making one of the cops dirty.
“Who killed Rosie Larsen?” They posed one question to us from the beginning of the series, and though they might not have outright said it would be answered by the season's end, there was definitely a strong implication that it would be. Such was not the case, however, as The Killing's season finale went out the same way many of the previous episodes had, with a ridiculous cliffhanger designed to pull the audience into the next episode/season, which isn't that bad since plenty of shows have ended seasons on a cliffhanger or introduced a twist in the final minutes. But those shows are either awful themselves or found other ways to make up for their lack of plot resolution. The Killing never has, and with the same writing team being used for the second season, probably never will.