Now that TV is consumable in whole chunks---no waiting until next Sunday to see what Scully's having cancer means to the mythology arc---television itself has changed. Television now assumes viewers are smart, and throws a lot more at us---A, B, C and sometimes D plots abound in scripted shows from Nurse Jackie to Parks and Recreation. Knowing there is a very good chance the audience will be absorbing series in eight-hour marathons, writers waste less time explaining and reiterating--- rewarding loyal viewing, and providing a richer experience.
Characterization has changed, too---gone are the days of plunking a comic in the middle of a sitcom that's just a 22-minute stand-up extension; TV is now populated with movie stars, sketch comics and Broadway vets doing capital-A acting. Protagonists are loaded down with tics and quirks---House's limp! Dwight Schrute's beets! Meredith Grey's suicidal tendencies!---and they speak quickly and caustically; they're fuck-ups; they can't hold onto love. They stomp through their shows like dinosaurs, the supporting characters trying to hold up the edges while juggling their own zinger-filled problems. Television is deeper than it's ever been, but it's also more exhausting.
The Killing, then, is an interesting case. Thirteen weeks ago, it launched on prestige network AMC---home to Mad Men and Breaking Bad---with a Twin Peaksian campaign asking "Who killed Rosie Larsen?" The pilot was a beautifully shot set-up for the season's story, which saw Detective Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos, a Big Love unsung hero) try to solve the murder of a teenage girl, whose family we also follow in the 13 days after the body's discovery. Based on the Danish series Forbrydelsen and run by Cold Case vet Veena Sud, who knows something about emotionally charged TV murder-solving, The Killing was praised out of the gate: "powerfully evoke[s] the anomie that settles over the bereaved---the miasmic sense one has of walking through water," said Troy Patterson at Slate; "It's a story that, told with both style and restraint, feels elemental rather than cliched," wrote Meredith Blake at The AV Club.
But The Killing, of which the season finale aired last Sunday, moved glacially ---classically---following the quiet, calm Linden as she ran down every suspect, red herring and dead-end, with vigilante beatings, break-ups and FBI-raids thrown in for colour. Critics, and the internet, turned on the show's slow pace and raged at its inconclusive cliffhanger finale.
The Killing, however, merged TV of yore with that of today---on a weekly basis, it demanded patience in an era that has none, revitalizing appointment television. Now that the first season has entirely aired, viewers can get to the mystery's next cliffhanger quickly, getting the constant gratification we're used to---inside the framework of a dark, slow procedural with a real human at its centre.
This much may be disputable: That's revolutionary.