The final season of the rain-soaked crime drama The Killing premieres this Friday, but it hasn't had the easiest time reaching the upcoming Season 4. In fact, The Killing has had perhaps one of the most circuitous and interesting stories in television history. And we don't even mean the twisted stories happening onscreen — we're talking about the multiple cancellations, the multiple resurrections, and the switch in broadcasters that have all occurred over the course of three short years.
In this day and age, with our myriad broadcasting options, fervent online fan bases, and growing irrelevancy of ratings, it's hardly unheard of for a show to be saved from cancellation. Cult shows come back after years off the air (Arrested Development); they get picked up by different networks (Cougar Town); they transfer from television to online sources (Community). But The Killing's history is more complicated than most.
Showrunner Veena Sud premiered The Killing, which she based off the Danish show Forbrydelsen, on April 3, 2011 on AMC — home to such acclaimed shows as Mad Men and Breaking Bad. The pilot received largely rapturous reviews, which focused on favorable parallels to David Lynch's Twin Peaks as well as Mireille Enos' captivating performance as Detective Sarah Linden. But public opinion quickly started to deteriorate throughout the first season, as the focus strayed from its core characters into a series of infuriating red herrings. When the season finale failed to solve the central mystery ("Who killed Rosie Larsen?"), viewers were outraged.
Season 2 finally answered that long drawn-out question, but it was too late for most. Viewership had declined drastically: the show shed a full half of its audience, from 2.7 million at the start of Season 1 to 1.4 at the end of Season 2. AMC cancelled the series on July 27, 2012... but Fox Television Studios (the production company that produces the show) refused to let go of its show without a fight.
Fox began shopping the series to different networks, with interest coming in from the likes of DirecTV and Netflix. When reports emerged in November 2012 that Fox had entered final negotiations with Netflix to revive The Killing, AMC's interest in its former show suddenly peaked again. The network partnered with the online streaming giant to share production costs, and The Killing was resurrected for the first time.
Season 3 premiered on June 2, 2013 with a clean slate: Detectives Linden and Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman) were still the stars, but the case was new and almost the entire supporting cast was swapped out. In its newest iteration, the show continued to draw both acclaim (mostly for its performances, including that of guest star Peter Sarsgaard) and criticism (for its continued soggy dreariness). But despite maintaining steady ratings — Season 3 actually ended a hair above Season 2, with 1.483 million viewers — AMC once again cancelled The Killing ... this time, for good.
And then the impossible happened: the show was resurrected a second time. Netflix, which had co-produced the third season, didn't want to see The Killing die without a proper conclusion, so the streaming service decided to finish the series itself. Since Netflix relies on total subscribers for its success (as opposed to the number of viewers for any individual show), it had no problem reviving a struggling if generally well-received series. And so gritty crime procedural The Killing joins political thriller House Of Cards and buzzy prison dramedy Orange Is The New Black in Netflix's pantheon of shows.
The fourth — and final — season will consist of only six episodes, which focus on Linden and Holder investigating a killing linked to an all-boys military boarding school. Joan Allen (pictured above) joins the cast as the academy's headmistress. In typical Netflix fashion, the entire season will be available for streaming simultaneously... and with such a short season, it's a perfectly digestible size for bingeing.
But why exactly did Netflix choose to continue the series when another network had already passed on it not once, but twice? That's an excellent question, and one that Netflix vice president Cindy Holland was more than happy to answer:
The rich, serialized storytelling in The Killing thrives on Netflix, and we believe that it is only fitting to give Sarah Linden and Stephen Holder a proper send off. We are looking forward to offering fans — both existing and new — a series that we know is perfectly suited for on-demand viewing.
Given how eagerly fans devoured the eight episodes of HBO's True Detective earlier this year, it's safe to assume that bingers love short-order mystery shows. So while Netflix has explicitly stated that this will be The Killing's last run, is there a chance there could be more if Season 4 does very well? Don't count on it. Fox Television Studios is just happy to have this chance to wrap up their series, and they won't be pushing their luck. Fox president David Madden had this to say about The Killing's final season:
It’s a true testament to Veena Sud, and the stellar cast led so compellingly by Mireille Enos and Joel Kinnaman, that fans remained so passionate about the show. We’re gratified that our partners at Netflix recognized this, and are giving us the opportunity to complete the story in a way that will be satisfying to our loyal audience.
So get ready to say goodbye to Linden and Holder, Killing fans. Looks like our beloved show won't be cheating death a third time.
Images: AMC (4); Netflix