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In hindsight, the great "The Killing" ruckus of summer 2011 looks more than a little bit silly, as the snail's-pace police drama moved at breakneck speed by its standards to resolve the "Who killed Rosie Larsen?" question and meander across the finish line on Sunday.

Yes, AMC was way too cute and coy about promising closure after season one, then acting shocked when viewers (and especially a handful of critics) revolted. But the truth is the show was much more about mood than its mystery, and by a couple of episodes into the second season I frankly stopped giving a damn who the murderer was, and decided to simply enjoy the show — modestly, I confess — for its brooding atmosphere and the weird crap that would come out of Joel Kinnaman's mouth as Det. Holder.

As for the payoff (and SPOILER ALERT — stop reading if you don't want to know anything more), I was actually rather impressed they found a way to tie the murder into both the political story line and strike close to Rosie's family, bringing together a number of the loose ends that had been left dangling. That was also a genuinely gut-wrenching performance by Jamie Anne Allman as Rosie's aunt, who unwittingly played a pivotal part in her death.

So while who killed Rosie wasn't completely riveting, the final hour seemed to dovetail with the show's bleak assessment of the world, including the fact even the white knight politician (Billy Campbell) winds up getting his hands dirty.

The real question for AMC is "Now what?" Frankly, the best thing to do would be to end the experiment right there, instead of trying to extend it and concoct another case. The second-best alternative would be to start over with a different murder and an entirely new cast. The third choice — and most common in TV circles — would be to try replicating the show with at least several of the key players, which has the advantage of some audience equity but will also invariably strain credulity even more than season two did.

TV has already gotten away from the "100 episodes to syndication nirvana" formula. If "The Killing" has any legacy other than proving a teenage girl's mysterious death is as tantalizing a mystery as it was back when "Twin Peaks" tried it — and perhaps even more difficult to sustain — it might be to demonstrate its possible to know when to quit and still make do, if not make, er, a killing.

 

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