Watching the two-hour season 3 premiere of “The Killing,” I felt a wave of forgiveness wash over me. I got back in touch with what attracted me to the AMC drama in the first place, the way the relentlessly grim murder mystery unfolded against the relentlessly rainy atmosphere of Seattle. I remembered the way the show, so bleakly unsentimental, sometimes led me to compare it favorably to the great PBS series “Prime Suspect.” And I was ready to give it a second chance.
Like so many fans of the first season of “The Killing,” I was frustrated — and then some — when the writers, led by executive producer Veena Sud, failed to solve the Rosie Larsen murder in the finale. The case just wasn’t rich enough to hold interest for a second set of episodes, and neither were the Larsen characters, and I began not to care who did it — never a good sign for a whodunit. Viewer disaffection from “The Killing” led to second-season ratings issues, AMC canceled the show, and I definitely did not grieve.
But ultimately AMC chose not to kill “The Killing,” and the channel may have made the right decision, assuming the rest of the season unfolds as compellingly as the premiere, Sunday night at 8. With a clean slate — without the Larsens — the show still has so much potential. It’s a bit of a rarity, an intimate, sprawling, and at times touching procedural that makes the networks’ versions of the genre look like simple board games. The two leading characters are back, and they continue to be interestingly flawed and conflicted. Mireille Enos’s Sarah Linden is no longer a detective, and she is pretending to be happy as a transit cop with a boyfriend and daily jogs. Joel Kinnaman’s Stephen Holder is now a respected cop who is about to take an exam to become a sergeant. Holder visits Linden with questions about how an old case of hers might connect to a recent murder, and their old partnership begins to kick in again.
This time, the murder Holder is working on — actually, it turns out, the murders — are occurring during the run of the show, rather than before it. That present tense adds a good amount of tension, so that the broodiness doesn’t threaten to subsume the drama as it did in season 1. Also adding tension: Peter Sarsgaard, who plays Ray Seward, a Death Row inmate who is scheduled to die in 30 days. In the premiere, we see Seward as an inscrutable, angry man convicted of killing his wife and not particularly interested in trying to save himself. Contempt seems to be his default state of mind. But Sarsgaard is a powerful actor who has done fine work in “An Education,” “Kinsey,” “Shattered Glass,” and other films, and he appears to have more psychological layers ready to reveal in his character as the season progresses.
The case that opens season 3 involves the killing of a homeless teen hooker, which leads Holder, and us, into the world of Seattle street kids who are always looking for food, shelter, and anything close to affection. The young actors who play these runaways and castaways are promising, particularly Bex Taylor-Klaus, who plays a girl named Bullet with a knife-sharp wit and temper. A lesbian who dresses like a guy, she is in unrequited love with a street girl named Lyric (Julia Sarah Stone) and best friends with another street girl named Kallie (Cate Sproule), and she feels very protective of them. “The Killing” portrays their daily life in the same way the 1984 documentary “Streetwise” exposed the harsh world of a group of desperate Seattle teens. The kids hustle and fight against the odds, in many ways forced to act older than their years.
Are these lost kids going to be safe? Will Holder and Linden rebuild their trust? What role will Seward play in the investigation, if any? I’m ready to find out the answers to these and other questions raised by the premiere. Now let’s hope the makers of “The Killing” get the answers right this time around.Matthew Gilbert can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.