The unexpected third season of AMC's maligned, murdered, and revived detective series The Killing ended last night, with a final scene that served as both resolution and cliffhanger, an oddly brazen tease for a show that's already running on borrowed time. Will there be a fourth season? Hard to say. The finale ratings were good enough, and some outlets are predicting a renewal, but there is not a exactly groundswell of support for this dreary, sometimes alienating series. That said, I really hope AMC does renew the show, for two simple reasons.
The first reason has to do with specific spoilers from last night's episode, so skedaddle if you don't want to read those. Okay? Everyone here caught up? Good. So, last night's two-hour episode pulled that classic end-of-a-mystery twist where everything seemed tidied up, criminals filed away and hopeful things happening to supporting characters (I was so, so, so glad that they had that kid toss the drugs into the wind rather than relapse — the fate of his girlfriend was more bittersweetly ambiguous, but equally well-done) only to pull the rug out from under us with a sudden reversal. It was Elias Koteas all along! He was right under the detectives' noses the whole time, subtly guiding them toward patsies and false leads. Really, we should have seen this coming. Not because the show gave us clues — this is not a show built like that, we find things out when the detectives do — but because they had Elias Koteas, a pretty well-established character actor, playing this sorta random-seeming role all season. As it turns out he was just biding his time until his big season finale moment. It's like Charlize Theron in Hitchcock — you know she's not just going to be the boring wife the whole time. (Spoiler alert? For that decidedly bad movie? I don't know.)
So that was interesting, and it facilitated a mildly jaw-dropping, Se7en-style ending. Just as Koteas's character wanted, our noble if weary Det. Linden (Mireille Enos, terrific and quietly ferocious all season) put him down execution style, while a too-late Det. Holder (Joel Kinnaman, smooth and sexy and soulful as ever) watched in horror. What will become of Linden, now that she's abandoned her values so? How will the relationship between Holder and Linden — so sturdy and playful and maybe even flirtatious in this last episode, showing new but believable sides of these often morosely one-note characters — shift, now that she, the more traditionally principled of the two, has flung herself down this dark hole? These are interesting character-study questions that I'm suddenly eager to see answered. We got to know Linden and Holder much better in this odd, extra-time season. In the first two seasons, the overly long Rosie Larsen mystery took up so much of the air that all we got were flat looks at Linden the Reluctantly Negligent Mom and Holder the Lovable Recovering Drug Addict. (He used to be a jerk, but now he's not!) But in season three, those simple glimpses turned into genuine people, characters who grew consistently deeper, right up through that blunt, tantalizing ending.
The second reason I'd like the show to come back is related, but a little more superficial. Wasn't that twist fun? I know there was also a twist at the end of the Rosie Larsen case, but by that point it had been dragged out for so long, and we'd seen so very much of the parents grieving, that nothing could be deemed "fun," no matter how surprising. But this season, despite all its horrific child murder and prostitution and whatnot, felt a bit airier, didn't it? I know that's awful and weird to say, but, as a colleague said to me last night, there was something very Law & Order about the end of this season. And that's fun! And we should have more of that. Deep, probing, mystery/drama is all well and good, but maybe we could leave that to Top of the Lake and make The Killing a little juicier, sudsier, more compelling for its gotcha twists and turns than its somber meditating on the darkness of the world and of the soul. We could get to know Linden and Holder more, while around them a satisfying but slightly silly mystery knots and unknots. Something about the season three finale hinted that the show could do that with aplomb. Hopefully they'll get the chance.
All told, season three was a surprisingly successful one. I don't really get why so much time was given to the entirely exhausting Peter Sarsgaard-on-Death-Row plot, but at least it gave Enos some chances to turn the acting dial up a bit. And the mystery was, if ultimately all red herrings up to the very end, engaging and more satisfyingly sprawling than the Rosie Larsen case. AMC showed a surprising almost kindness in bringing the show back, and in its own small way, the show lived up to its miraculous second life. When The Killing tries to be "prestige" it stumbles a bit, but when it settles into the meaty murder mystery of it all, something clicks and the show hums with grim energy. You can't say that about many other crime shows on television, so here's hoping that The Killing gets another, perhaps even more unexpected, crack at a case.
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