There’s a cardinal rule in writing for television: Do not mess with the fans. If season three of AMC’s The Killing is any indication, the execs of the moody procedural have learned their lesson. Somehow, the network was able to resuscitate a drama criticized for being a twenty-hour long episode of Law & Order and transform it into one of the most compelling shows on television.
To re-cap: Season 1 of The Killing ended by infuriating viewers who were hoping for a resolution to the murder of teenager Rosie Larsen. By the time all questions were answered at the end of the second season, viewership suggested that everyone had stopped caring whodunit. AMC canceled the show, and after a year of deliberations including rumors of a Netflix re-boot, the network announced The Killing would be back, with the promise of a fresh storyline.
If you’re like me, you didn’t stick with The Killing—despite the ending of Season 1, and that rage-inducing, character-assassinating twist—for answers. (Let’s face it: After twenty-four episodes, our chances of a satisfying resolution to the Rosie Larsen murder were as good as Detective Linden cracking a smile or remembering to feed her kid.)
For me, the biggest draw of The Killing was the quiet intensity of Detective Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) and her partner, Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman). The Killing has always been a drama carried by its two complicated and troubled leads, despite weekly attempts by the writers to make us invested in the lives of the sketchily drawn victim and her family.
If The Killing’s Achilles' Heel in Seasons 1 and 2 was that viewers were never fully invested in Rosie Larsen or her killer, the re-booted show demonstrates an awareness that that its strength lays in the dynamic between Linden and Holder, and how the bleak realities of detective work affect their psyches. Season 3 is a sharp departure from the previous two seasons in that the writers seem to have tapped into the intensity Enos and Kinnaman bring to the screen separately and as a pair. Gone are the screen time-sucking subplots involving the Larsen family and councilman-turned-mayor Darren Richmond. Instead, we’re given a compelling new cast of supporting characters, and most importantly, a ticking clock.
In the months after the resolution of the Rosie Larsen murder, a case from now former-detective Linden’s past comes to haunt her. (Remember the eerie drawings of trees done by a young child who witnessed his mother’s grisly murder?) The man convicted of and sentenced to death for the crime is Ray Seward (played by the spectacular Peter Sarsgaard).
But did Seward really kill his wife? Linden is unconvinced after the Seattle PD investigates a string of murders with an identical MO to Seward’s, murders he couldn’t have committed from death row.
Linden and Holder not only have to stop a serial killer who’s targeting homeless and runaway teen girls—they have to prove Seward’s innocence before his impending execution. Sarsgaard’s performance as Seward ranges from gut-wrenching (he has a panic attack while being weighed in preparation for his hanging) to hard to watch (I’m thinking in particular of a scene involving a razor and a tattoo of his son’s name).
The nuances of the relationships—Linden and Holder; Holder and a troubled, street-smart teen; Seward and a possibly sociopathic prison guard—add color to an already compelling storyline without overwhelming it. It’s a balance Seasons 1 and 2 never successfully navigated.
That’s not to say this season is perfect. The plotting still suffers from obvious red herrings, although none are as egregious as those in the first two seasons, which often stretched across episodes. Still, the execs have done an incredible job putting Linden and Holder at the center of a subtly thrilling drama where no one is promised a happy ending.
What do you think? Does this season of The Killing deserve fan forgiveness? Will Linden stop Seward’s execution in time? And who is the “Pied Piper”?
Kara Taylor poses a completely different set of questions in her sassy mystery debut Prep School Confidential . (Unlike Rosie Larsen, teen queen Anne Dowling is never incidential to anything.) Read more about it in our Fresh Meat coverage, and to enter for your chance to win copy, make sure you're a registered member of the site, then simply leave a comment below.
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Kara Taylor is the author of Prep School Confidential, which she wrote during her first semester of graduate school, in between pulling all-nighters and listening to her dad say writing isn't a real job. Now, she lives on Long Island and writes full time. You can learn more about her by visiting her website or following her at Facebook.com/PrepSchoolConfidential or on Twitter @karataylor_.