'The Killing' Boss on Netflix Revival, F-Bombs and Ending the Story (for Real This Time)
Veena Sud tells THR the final six episodes of the Teflon-tough crime drama is an "unrelenting drum roll to the end."
As The Killing returns for the fourth and final season, the crime drama has seen its fair share of ups and downs.
First canceled by AMC in 2012 following a ratings tumble in season two and a critical beating after the season-one finale failed to answer the central "Who killed Rosie Larsen?" mystery, the hourlong series — based on the Danish format — was resurrected for a third run in a unique deal that brought Netflix in as a new partner. Though the third season proved a critical success, AMC again made the "difficult decision" to ax The Killing. It wasn't until two months later, in November 2013, that Netflix swooped in to bring Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) and Stephen Holder's (Joel Kinnaman) story to an appropriate close.
The Killing ended last season on a cliffhanger, with Linden putting a bullet in Skinner's (Elias Koteas) head and Holder as the sole witness. Executive producer Veena Sud recognized the risk of ending Linden's story in such a violent manner with no guarantee that the show would continue. It was always the plan to bring Linden down an "extraordinarily dark place," Sud tells The Hollywood Reporter.
When the last six episodes kick off Aug. 1 on Netflix, Linden and Holder find themselves in unfamiliar territory. Sud insists that the show — which averaged a steady 1.5 million viewers in its most recent run — will have the same tonal DNA but longer episodes and less restrictions on language. "Holder and Sarah have painted themselves into a terrible corner at the end of last season. As they walk through this very dark valley, will they be able to find the light? Will they be able to find redemption?" Sud asks. "What happens when the bad guy is you?"
Ahead of the premiere, Sud talks to THR about The Killing's move to Netflix, significant changes in format, staying true to her original ending and why this really is the end. (Seriously.)
At the end of last season, Mireille Enos was high on The Killing returning. When did it become a reality that Netflix would be distributing new episodes?
Netflix was our partner, along with AMC, for season three of The Killing, so the first time we came back from the dead, we did so with Netflix's help and partnership. This second time coming back from the dead is all because of Netflix. It was a fairly quick turnaround given that we were hoping to be shooting in the rainiest time in Vancouver — and granted, that's a long window but still a finite one.
Are there any inherent differences between how Netflix approaches creative versus AMC?
You have two obvious differences. On Netflix, each episode is longer because there are no commercial breaks, so the intensity of the storytelling is nonstop, which is something that every storyteller loves — not to have to go to commercial break and sell Tide to your viewers. Then the other piece that's fantastic for our show being on Netflix is we can speak in the type of language [of that world] — we can drop F-bombs; we can curse. There are no limitations the same way that there are on language in broadcast. We certainly don't do it with any gratuity, but there is an authenticity that I think merits dropping a few F-bombs, especially this season. Joel was especially happy that that could be so. And even Linden dropped an F-bomb this season given the predicament she's in.
How did going from traditional TV to a streaming service affect how this season was constructed? You mentioned language, longer episodes.
The show itself didn't change. There's a similar tone, there's still the three worlds, there's still the pace of The Killing, but the intensity grows even more so when you can't look away and when you can't cut to commercial break and when you don't have to create any sort of cliffhanger because the act break is coming. It can just be this unrelenting drum roll to the end of every episode, which, especially for this season, really serves our story well.
Netflix has cornered the binge-viewing market. Is The Killing a show that is better served under the Netflix approach to watching content?
Yeah, I think that being able to binge on Netflix is a perfect way to watch The Killing because each episode has so much richness and depth and nuance. It's like a 13-hour movie, really. Having to wait week by week is agonizing. I feel that way watching some television shows that I would much rather binge-watch and that would be much more of an experience. That's how I personally watch everything now, binge-watching off Netflix.
Did you find freedom in the way you could approach these set six episodes on Netflix?
Well, sure — certainly because this is the final season. There was a quest for all of us to answer all the unanswered questions. So creatively, there's an expansiveness in being on a platform that doesn't have commercial breaks, and you can use language that cops would really actually use on the street. But also, this being our last season is the final movement of this opera, and it's the biggest movement and the most dramatic for all the characters because, as you saw from the end of season three, Linden and Holder are in the center of this storm because of what they did in the woods. So this season is a bullet train rushing to the end.
Going back to that finale, the ending where Linden killed Skinner was a risk — ending on a cliffhanger, of sorts, without knowing whether the show was going to come back in some form. Did you feel it was a calculated risk when you decided to go that route?
That was the end of the season that I always wanted from the very beginning. So we knew from the beginning of the season that we were going to end it on a cliffhanger. And yes, every show risks the possibility of not coming back, but certainly you wanted to tell the best story you could. I felt that leaving Sarah Linden, our hero cop, in this extraordinarily dark place was the only way that season and that relationship with Skinner could end. Every show hopes that it will continue to go and that certainly was what I had hoped when I wrote that ending.
From the season-four trailer, it seems Linden struggles to keep her secret. What challenges will Linden and Holder face as they attempt to go about their lives?
There's a short story, The Telltale Heart, about a man who murders another man and buries him under the floorboards, but he can still hear the heart beating. It's all in his mind, it's all his imagination, but the guilt of having that man's body under his floorboards, he cannot escape. That's how we see this season for Linden and Holder. There's a body in the lake that they put there, and eventually their greatest fear is someone's gonna find that body. It's only a matter of time. They can't sleep, they can barely function, they can't be present in their relationships and their friendship. Their partnership starts to fray because of this horrible secret that they share.
How does Linden and Holder's partnership change as a result of this?
Linden and Holder, over time, have become closer as friends and partners. Certainly they've relied on one another in some of their darkest moments. This is a different situation. They've both done something really bad, and for the first time, they can't look in the mirror at themselves because of what happened in the woods. And having this darkness exist between them really beings to destroy their friendship and destroy their progress of who they are as people.
Will Linden inevitably break down?
There are many places Linden goes. It's true that she tries to keep her secret — and she does. Initially she is the one who can barely hold it together and Stephen Holder is the one who's putting them through their paces and making sure they cross their t's and dot their i's and making sure that they keep their shit together when things get too dramatic. Eventually he's going to start losing pace and that ability to keep their secret, especially when his former partner, Reddick, starts sniffing around. Reddick is the one person who doesn't believe them. He knows something's wrong, he knows something's not making sense and he's the one person who keeps picking at it, partially because he hates Sarah Linden so much, but also because he's a good cop. He can smell a lie, and he knows they're lying.
Will the season also dig into the legal and professional ramifications of Skinner's death?
Everything's going to hang in the balance for Linden and Holder. Whether or not they're going to go to jail for what they did is a question. Their sanity, their relationships — Sarah's relationship with her son and her mother, Holder with his girlfriend. Everything is hanging by a thread. And all of it we'll get to before the season ends. They will not be able to escape what they did in the woods.
Knowing that this would be a final arc, how did you approach the final episodes? Did you wrap it up with the original endings you had envisioned when the show first began?
From the very beginning when I created this show, there was an image and a place I wanted to end the story at. I can't go into details because it'll give away the ending. But there was a very specific image that I believed and I felt in my heart would be the final place that Sarah Linden could end her story. I'm so grateful that I didn't have to end it in the woods. I was able to bring her to this place in the final moments of the series and end her story where I had imagined from the beginning.
Why set the central mystery around a family with ties to an all-boys military academy?
I've been interested in the idea of a family murder because Truman Capote's In Cold Blood has always been a powerful book in my history as a writer and a reader. The image that has always stayed with me is a house absent of its people, and what a house that has been lived in by children and a mom and dad and this picture-perfect family looks like and feels like when a horrible thing happens in the middle of the night.
I was always interested visually in what it would feel like for our cops to walk through a white house that has blood all over the walls and have that house mirroring their own guilt and their own misdeed. The house is made out of glass and steel with white walls and nowhere to hide. There are no shadows, there are no closets. And that's Sarah Linden's mindset. She can't hide from what she did; she has to face it full-on, as much as she doesn't want to. I like the mirroring of Sarah's journey with the family's. I've always been fascinated by military academies since I was a teenager — the creation of a violent culture in youth, whether it's institutionalized or bullying in a high school or gang violence on a street corner.
If Netflix came back to you and said, "We would like to do another six episodes or another season," would you consider it? Is this something where you could tell a new story with another cast?
The way I end the season, there is no possibility of us continuing the story of Linden and Holder. This is the end game, and this is how it was envisioned from the beginning — that it will end this way. I believe there is no more story to tell after this. We truly end their story at the end of this season. So no, I don't think there's any more to tell.
The Killing returns for the final season 12:01 a.m. PT Friday on Netflix.