SOLUTION: STOP BELIEVIN': Something has been popping up in the reviews of the finale of The Killing that echoes a complaint that came up in a similar form with the ends of Lost and The Sopranos and in a different form with the long delay between Books 4 and 5 of the Game of Thrones series. The complaint, asserted by tons of people (including some of our friends) is "Show X has broken its contract with viewers by [failing to deliver the promised resolution/leaving mysteries y and z unsolved/failing to deliver what the consumer expected]."
I stopped watching The Killing halfway through the first episode and obviously have no qualms about the complaint that the finale stunk. I disagree with critics of the Sopranos (strongly) and Lost (less strongly) finales, but their opinions are valid too. I cosign the frustration and impatience of Game of Thrones fans.
But nobody's been cheated. It's not just that there's no literal contract between viewers and content creators; there is no figurative contract either. If Veena Sud had tied together The Killing's first-season mystery with a bow, nobody currently talking about the "contract with viewers" would be criticizing the droves of viewers who deserted The Killing midway through the season for breaking their end of the figurative solution-for-viewership bargain.
To me, the people who create content have no obligations. They deliver shows (or books) how they want, when they want. They don't owe the consumers any particular content, and we, as consumers, shouldn't want them thinking they do. The fact is that the best authors/directors/showrunners are much, much better at creating content than consumers (or critics) at large. If they think that the best way to tell the story is to cut to black, or to say it was a dream, or to mock up some sort of pantheistic afterlife waiting room, or to make Sloane flip-flop between good and evil again, or just to say "to be continued," that's their prerogative. You might love it, and if you don't, then that's the price you pay for encouraging others' creativity. If Bob Dylan's early fans had a right to acoustic guitar (and they thought they did), there would be no "Like a Rolling Stone." So shut up, contractualists.
That's not to say that consumers should have no role in shaping a work of fiction. Most obviously, writers and their paymasters want to keep the consumers happy. Some of us really hate the directions that networks steer our favorite shows, but The Killing is a good example of where AMC could have stepped in and said "don't do this -- it doesn't work, and we will lose viewers." The viewers can vote with their feet. Also, critics and consumers alike can say "that sucked." Many good writers pay attention to audience reaction and can take it into account without necessarily being governed by it, and on shows like Community and Cougar Town, that's led to rewarding decisions by the showrunners.
Which, to me, is why all this talk about what viewers were led to believe about the Killing finale seems like just as much a red herring as the ones about which viewers of that show have been complaining for weeks. When an influential critic says "that's not what viewers expected," Veena Sud can be forgiven for responding, "so? It's a thriller, and my job is to surprise you." What really carries weight is when that critic, and the viewers for whom he speaks, says "that stunk, and I'm never watching again." Because no matter what she says, that's what Sud can't ignore. Veena Sud may not care about a contract with viewers, but she presumably wants to keep her job.