Joel Kinnaman, Mireille Enos

When Rosie Larsen's murderer was not revealed in The Killing's Season 1 finale, heads across America exploded. It was the most disparaged creative decision since Lost's purgatory series ender. Still, executive producer Veena Sud believed her gritty crime drama would survive the backlash.

She was wrong. A month after the ratings-starved second season ended, AMC canceled The Killing.

"It was heartbreaking," Sud admits, "but I knew that the network and our producer FTS [Fox Television Studios] shared a passion for the series and were working hard to bring it back." In January, after months of financial negotiations, AMC announced that The Killing would return. The future looked even brighter when Netflix signed on to stream the new episodes starting three months after the show's August 4 finale.

Season 3 opens a year after the emotionally exhausted Det. Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) quit Seattle's homicide unit. And where has TV's most tightly wound cop been? "Sarah spent that time trying to get healthy and lead a quiet life," says Enos, who stars opposite Brad Pitt in next month's World War Z. "She lost custody of her son, but her job on a Puget Sound ferry crew is un­demand­ing. She's happy. She has a boyfriend. A return to the police force would be problematic."

Problematic, yes. But inevitable. Sarah's former partner, Det. Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman) — who has ditched his trademark hoodie for a jacket and tie — needs her help with a case. A 14-year-old homeless girl has been murdered with the same grisly M.O. employed by convicted wife killer Ray Seward (Peter Sarsgaard), whom Sarah helped send to death row a few years prior. It's the case that "sent Sarah down the rabbit hole," Enos says; her character is still haunted by visions of Seward's small son sitting by his mother's corpse.

After another bloody discovery suggests there's a serial killer at large, Sarah goes back to the homicide division — temporarily, she believes. Only this time, she must work with Holder and his new partner, a cynical veteran cop named Carl Reddick (Scandal's Gregg Henry). "It becomes a funny triangle," Enos says. "But Sarah and Holder have a wonderful relationship, and the way they support each other runs very deep."

Hoping he can provide some answers, Sarah visits Seward, who has been sentenced to hang in 30 days' time. "Seward's not a Green Mile heart-of-gold con," Sud teases. "He's terrifying. Even if he's innocent of killing his wife, he's beaten her and abandoned his child."

A self-described fan of The Killing, Sarsgaard (An Education) says the complexity of the role prompted him to do his first TV stint since Cracker in 1999. "I was drawn to portraying a guy in total isolation and exploring his relationships with his guards," he says. Viewers get an indelible ­impression of Seward's violent connection with a prison chaplain early on. "He's not built like the Rock," Sarsgaard says, "so he has to look like he might bite your ear off."

The clock is ticking to save the possibly innocent Seward from his imminent execution as the detectives search for the monster who is slicing up runaways who have been forced into prostitution. Sud was inspired to write this story, she says, "by Mary Ellen Mark's amazing photos of ­Seattle street kids in the '80s. It's shocking how many kids are still in that subculture today." She also cites the investigation into Washington state's Green River Killer, a case that took 20 years to solve. Holder and Linden have less than a month.

This season's missing teen is ­Kallie Leeds (Cate Sproul). The story focuses on her tight-knit group of homeless friends, particularly the scrappy Bullet (Bex Taylor-Klaus), who tries to find Kallie while also keeping Lyric (Julia Sarah Stone), the girl she loves, safe. "It's a very dark, Oliver Twist [type] story," Enos says.

If Kallie is this season's Rosie Lar­sen, the girl's mother, Danette (Amy Seimetz), is Mitch, who was memorably played by Michelle Forbes. "Unlike Mitch," Sud points out, "she's a very bad mother, not at all sympathetic. This season is about whether seemingly irredeemable people can be redeemed. Can a guy like Seward, who's done horrible things, find redemption? Can the deeply selfish Danette transform into something better?"

The question for viewers is, can the Seattle PD redeem itself for taking such a long time to catch Rosie's killer? After two seasons of Sarah and Holder overlooking evidence, chasing false leads and trusting the wrong people, Enos promises "no more big blunders. There is no room for major mistakes. Everything has to be tight because we're solving the case in one season."

Looks as if The Killing is on the road to redemption.

The Killing premieres Sunday, June 2 at 8/7c on AMC.

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