The season one finale of The Killing is tremendously problematic, but what most troubles me about "Orpheus Descending" are the assumptions it – and by association, its writer Veena Sud – makes about "quality" television. The finale is powered by confusing, illogical twists in narrative and character while it simultaneously delays any substantial resolution. The problem is not that we don’t learn who killed Rosie Larsen – though that is certainly an issue – it’s that the execution of the moments that are supposed to shock us enough into not caring about the murderer’s identity are sloppy and honestly, dumb.
And yet in post-finale interviews, showrunner Veena Sud consistently placed The Killing and its finale alongside well-respected television greats like Mad Men and The Sopranos, series that are known for much more than just shocking plot developments and cliffhangers. Sud wrongfully conflates Men’s purposeful ponderous pace to her series’ aimless plodding and apparently thinks fans and critics love The Sopranos solely for its controversial final moments. She, The Killing and its finale misguidedly worked from the assumption that if you say you’re quality television and invoke other, better representatives of quality television, people will believe it.
Interestingly, Sud's desire to cover The Killing’s faults by comparing it to better programming mirrors AMC's attempts to brand and position itself as worthy peers of cable networks like HBO, Showtime and FX without actually doing the necessary legwork to deserve placement in that echelon of modern day televisual greatness. Although AMC scored big early with Mad Men and Breaking Bad, television’s two best dramas, and reached a commercial apex with The Walking Dead, their disastrous public relations and brand management has been the story in 2011. From the too-public contract disputes with Men honcho Matt Weiner and the even-more-public battles with Dead’s Frank Darabont to the decision to eschew picking up any of their pilots and slash budgets on current productions, AMC’s decisions reflected a desire to be the new HBO but not pay the money or take the risks necessary to get there. Instead, AMC hopes the “Best Original Stories” slogan will convince enough people that those words true.
Veena Sud and AMC both want us to view their products as “quality” and “great.” However, their error is focusing too much on telling us how great they are instead of actually earning the honor.