[WARNING: The following story contains mild spoilers from the Season 3 premiere of AMC's The Killing. Read at your own risk.]
AMC's The Killing is back from the dead, but did the rain-soaked crime drama learn anything from the mistakes that sent it to an early grave in the first place?
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To recap: After debuting to much fanfare two years ago, The Killing seemingly squandered its promise — it was to re-invent the stale crime procedural genre with a deeper, character-driven exploration of a single case — by introducing numerous (and often senseless) red herrings that kept the show's not-quite-three-dimensional heroes chasing their tails. When the show's Season 1 finale failed to reveal Rosie Larsen's killer, the reaction was harsh. By the time the second season finale presented the convoluted answer to the murder mystery, most viewers had tuned out, and AMC canceled the show.
Thanks to some behind-the-scenes deal-making, the show made the rare TV resurrection on Sunday, and it's as close to a fresh start as you could expect. A little more than a year has passed since the Larsen case was closed and Detectives Linden (Mireille Enos) and Holder (Joel Kinnaman) have slapped fresh coats of paint on their lives. Linden has given up her badge as well as custody of her son and is working on a ferry boat off the coast of Seattle. She's running to stay healthy and viewers know she's happier than when we left her because she actually smiles. (Similarly, in the early going of the episode, someone turned the rain machine off.)
Holder, now wearing a suit and tie, has a steady girlfriend (Jewel Staite) and a grizzled new partner (Gregg Henry). He is climbing the ranks in the department with his hot streak of closed cases. But then Holder catches the murder case of a Jane Doe prostitute who's nearly been decapitated. And, of course, the murder has an eerie similarity to one of Linden's old cases.
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Though Linden initially rebuffs Holder's invitation to help him look for connections, we learn she's never been satisfied with how her case was wrapped up: She and her former partner James Skinner (Elias Koteas) fingered Ray Seward (Peter Sarsgaard) for the murder of his wife, and, as luck would have it, Seward is now 30 days from being executed for the crime. Is Seward wrongly convicted? Maybe not: During one of our first encounters with him, he lures the prison chaplain close enough to bash his face in on the bars of Seward's prison cell.
Seconds after that gruesome scene, as if on cue, the rain literally starts pouring again. Soon enough, Linden is knee-deep in her old case, revisiting Seward's son, whose mysterious drawings perhaps are the key to solving the case. In fact, Linden uses the drawings to lead her to a swamp where she discovers at least a dozen (or if this season's marketing campaign is to believed, 17) sets of human remains. Even if Ray Seward did kill his wife, another serial killer appears to be on the loose.
So, is The Killing 2.0 worth watching or is it the same soggy mess it's always been? For now, it seems to be more of the former. One of the most crucial things the new season gets right is its subplots. Gone is Darren Richmond (Billy Campbell) and the boring mayoral campaign that plagued the first two seasons. In his place is Sarsgaard, who is riveting as a convicted killer who'd rather be hanged than given a lethal injection. The performance is a creepy bit of scenery chewing, even if it is a bit familiar.
Meanwhile, the new season also introduces an engaging group of homeless teens who sell themselves in Seattle's "jungle" and are all possible targets for the serial killer that seems to be lurking. Whereas Rosie Larsen was a victim the audience never got to know or care about, creator Veena Sud has sketched a number of characters to feel (and fear) for: Bullet (Bex Taylor-Klaus), the tough tomboy whose been on the street since age 13; Lyric (Julia Sarah Stone), a 15-year-old prostitute and the object of Bullet's affections; Twitch (Max Fowler), Lryic's boyfriend (and pimp?) who wants to be an actor/model in Hollywood; and Kallie (Cate Sproule), Bullet's best friend who's gone missing.
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Similarly, Sud seems to be shading in the characters we already know. The case Linden is reluctantly re-opening is the same case that sent her to a psych ward. And if the season's early going is any indication, the show is wisely putting more of a spotlight on Holder. Kinnaman has always been the true breakout star of the show, so a season that relies more heavily on his competence (and his awesome one-liners) is a welcome treat.
Although the new season is a marked improvement over the second, the changes that have strengthened the show have also undercut the endeavor's original ambition. The show that once dared to subvert procedural expectations is now chasing a serial killer, one of the most familiar cop-show tropes ever. We don't need another The Following, though this is already closer to the moody, atmospheric delights of Hannibal.
Even so, we're on board — for now. The Killing has always started strong, so we won't really know for sure if the show has made a creative leap until it tries to stick another landing. (AMC has promised this case will be resolved by the end of this season.) In the meantime, we're grabbing our umbrella and cautiously wading back in.
What did you think of The Killing's Season 3 premiere? Are you going to give it another shot?