Interview: ‘The Killing’ showrunner Veena Sud on the season finale

“The Killing” just concluded its first season and… well… I’m not a very happy camper right now. But you can go read my review for all of that.

I had the chance to speak to producer Veena Sud after I saw the finale, to discuss not only the way the episode went down, but to get her take on the season as a whole and some of the complaints people have had with it. Obviously significant spoilers for the finale and the season coming up after the jump…

First of all, at what point did you realize the season was going to end this way?

We knew from the very beginning we didn’t want to do a formula cop show. In the original Danish series, as you might be aware, the investigation lasted for 20 episodes. There are pieces of that show that I think we still need to tell and to use, and are great.

But when you started out, you didn’t know for sure if there would be a second season. Was there ever an alternate version of the ending, just in case – like, Linden and Jack just get on the plane without incident, Richmond’s the killer, The End?

There wasn’t. From the very beginning, there was a long long long discussion with all the partners in “The Killing.” Again, let’s not do a formula, let’s not do the 45 minute formula, season formula, let’s let the season be what it is organically, and this is where we see it going, and that’s great. So there was no alternate ending written or shot. 

Well, just anecdotally, I have a lot of readers who are expecting closure on Sunday, and they’re not going to get it. Is it fair for them to be expecting closure?

We never said you’ll get closure at the end of season 1. We said from the very beginning this is the anti-cop cop show. It’s a show where nothing is what it seems, so throw out expectations. We will not tie up this show in a bow. There are plenty of shows that do that, in 45 minutes or whatever amount of time, where that is expected and the audience can rest assured that at the end of blank, they will be happy and they can walk away from their TV satisfied. This is not that show.

The other thing, too, I want to remind our readers is that every episode is one day. This season 1 is 13 days in a high-profile murder investigation. And for the most part, most high-profile investigations don’t get solved in 13 days.

So if you’re trying to be the anti-formula show and mess with expectations, would we find out the result of this case in, say, episode 3 of next season? Or is this something where we’re again going to have to wait the entire season to learn more?

I can tell you there will be a resolution to this investigation in season 2 and there will also be the emergence of another case in season 2, but I can’t tell you specifically where either of those happen.

The other thing I just want to say is that the show itself is a real invitation to try something really new. And I know that some people may not be so happy that we didn’t tie it up in a bow at the end of the season, but we never promised that, and we’re trying to do something different here.

Did you know all along that Holder would have this hidden agenda?


Okay, because when we spoke before the season, you said that there might be certain parts of the story that you would figure out as you go, depending on how the work was going. But this wasn’t one of those parts.

I didn’t want to reveal too much about Holder. What we did with Holder was create a sense and a perception of he’s one thing, then the revelation, “Oh no, he’s not,” and then another twist on that idea.

Just in looking at reviews and comments on the Internet, the reaction to this show has been mixed. Some people have loved it, and others have been frustrated with it. How much, if any, of either side of that have you been aware of?

My philosophy has been not to read too much, and not to read too much into stuff. I don’t follow fan forums and don’t read a lot of stuff on the Internet. I haven’t read a lot about the show, expressly because I don’t want to know. I’ve heard anecdotally that people are excited about the show, and I think that’s great. But I also think it’s very important for writers to preserve their inner compass and not get influenced by people who may like it or may not.

So if you’ve been operating by your inner compass, then what parts of these 13 episodes did you feel worked more strongly than others? What did you find were your strengths and weaknesses and how that might inform season 2?

Hmm… That’s a good question. The great pleasure for me, and I’ll couch it in terms of that versus positives and negatives, was for the first time as a writer of this genre to invest and really get to know characters. I love that, I loved the experience of that, I loved getting to know all these people, I loved creating perceptions of them, which is very true to life. That was a great pleasure for me.

Well, in terms of getting to know the characters better, we had that episode a few weeks ago, “Missing,” where you essentially put the case on hold for an entire hour and just follow Holder and Linden around. Why did you decide to do that episode, and why place it at that specific point in the season?

I always wanted to do an episode where we would get to know our lead better, and would get to spend time, and in fact be forced to spend time in a situation with both these characters, and the sparing amounts of information we were given with Sarah, finally start to get some answers about who this woman is, why she does what she does, why she’s a cop, ultimately. Her inner nature. It was also deeply inspired by the “Mad Men” episode with Don and Peggy in one night and the “Breaking Bad” episode where Jesse and Walter are stuck in the desert and dying. It’s very much an AMC tradition, to take this rapid, unexpected detour from what we think might be a linear story, and find ourselves, as Walter and Jesse did, lost and trying to make sense. I loved that, I thought that was such a brilliant episode, and I wanted to do something like that.

How do you feel you did in terms of keeping Rosie present as a character, since she died right at the beginning of the series?

My intention was to get to know Rosie the way an investigator would get to know their victim. What I’m perpetually fascinated with, in researching cases like this, is that some cops will just become obsessed with them. These cops destroy their marriages, neglect their children and leave their families for a dead person they’ve never met, and in the course of the investigation they’re just getting pieces of a person’s life. That, to me, is fascinating, because what it really ultimately says is that Sarah Linden, like these detectives that become obsessed, are ultimately looking for something in themselves. That’s why it’s structured this way.

One of the ways in which the story progressed was that it seemed like Holder and Linden would settle in on one person at a time. This person would seem like the obvious suspect, the end of an episode would point at them as clearly the one who did it, and we’d come back at the start of the next episode, learn that it was a misunderstanding, and move on to the next one. In your research of these kinds of investigations, did you find that the cases tended to unfold in that way, or was it something that simply dramatically expedient?

We based a lot of the red herrings on what the Danes did. They did an excellent job, and we did that until they locked in on Bennet Ahmed, and he became a suspect for multiple episodes, and the suspicion deepened. I does feel like, initially, there’s a bit of juggling between the “he did it,” “she did it,” “he said,” “she said,” the natural course of an investigation, and then landing on someone who the cops think potentially did it. And then we spent a while on that, until the twist that happened.

Obviously you can’t talk about what’s going to happen to Richmond with Belko right there, but you leave the Larsens themselves kind of up in the air. Beyond the cops, what characters are going to continue into season 2?

Unfortunately, we’re not announcing any casting decisions right now for season 2.

In terms of the Larsens, is it challenging to write characters where – because this has covered only 13 days and their daughter died less than two weeks ago – they’re trapped in their own grief? Is that a difficult thing to write to keep it from being repetitive?

I find it fascinating to write. I find what happens to a family fascinating and tragic, and not something we get to spend any time on ever, in television, except for this show. Usually families are shuttled in and out, and they’re cliches. To be able to spend some time on a family and express their experience authentically, that was very important to me.

During that long stretch of the season when the cops weren’t looking at Richmond as a suspect but we were still spending a lot of time following the campaign, what did you want viewers to take out of that?

I’m interested in people like Richmond who are, in the very beginning, falsely accused, and what are the ramifications, not only in your personal life, but in your professional life – especially if you are a political figure less than three weeks away from an important election. So seeing the triumphs and defeats that happen in the election, and amongst the people in the campaign, with a day as an episode, was really really intriguing to me. And the big twist, of course, is that towards the end of this season that Richmond is not the boy scout, the man of principle and morals that either we the audience or even his lover thought he was.

You brought up the “one episode equals one consecutive day” idea again. Is that something you’re going to stick with next season?

I can’t say anything about season 2 creatively right now.

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at