Adapted from a popular Danish series, AMC’s “The Killing” earned stellar reviews and generated great buzz when it debuted in the spring of 2011. However, following the widespread backlash to its first season – which ended in a cliffhanger and another string of red herrings when viewers expected resolution – many gave up on it, including critics (from season one to two, it dropped 16 points on MetaCritic). But everybody jumped ship too soon.
The Emmys gave up on “The Killing” too. While the series earned an impressive six nominations in its first year — including Drama Actress (Mireille Enos), Drama Supporting Actress (Michelle Forbes), and writing and directing bids for its pilot episode — it was shut out across the board for its sophomore season.
But whatever your thoughts about the Rosie Larsen investigation that occupied the first two seasons, it’s time to give the series another chance. The third season, which aired last summer, featured an entirely new case with mostly new characters, and the show has never been better.
And in case you’re wondering if you’ll be left hanging again, don’t worry. We find out whodunnit at the end of its 12 episodes.
The new case involves a serial killer hunting homeless girls in Seattle. I was skeptical too; serial killer stories have been, pardon the expression, done to death in TV and movie detective stories, and you’ve already got “True Detective” and “Hannibal” to chew on this season.
What sets this story apart, and the reason I never stopped watching “The Killing” despite occasional qualms about its storytelling, are its characters. After her breakthrough first season, Enos has only gotten better. She deserved another Emmy nod for season two and could have won with the episode “72 Hours,” in which her character, Detective Sarah Linden, was temporarily committed to a psychiatric ward following erratic and insubordinate behavior.
The details that arose during that episode carry over into season three, when she discovers a connection between the current investigation and an old murder case. As the story progresses, Linden gets deeper and darker – she and Matthew McConaughey‘s Rust Cohle would get along – and I have yet to see a better lead actress performance this season than Enos’s portrayal, which shows the pain and regret driving Linden’s obsessive pursuit.
Yet critics and audiences have mostly stopped paying attention. Airing between June and August 2013, in the middle of an Emmy season it wasn’t a part of and preceding the deafening buzz for the final episodes of “Breaking Bad,” you may not have noticed it was on the air at all.
The new season introduced another of this year’s strongest performances: by Peter Sarsgaard as Ray Seward, a death-row inmate who may be exonerated by Linden’s investigation. Though he seems like a hardened criminal early on, we gradually realize his demeanor is a defense mechanism against helplessness.
Other actors worthy of consideration are Joel Kinnaman, who came into his own as a leading man this year, and Bex Taylor-Klaus, who has a parallel story arc as an androgynous street youth desperately searching for a friend who may have been one of the killer’s victims.
But okay, maybe you’re still not convinced. Either you’ve never watched the series before and don’t want to play catchup, or you’re a former viewer who was disappointed by earlier seasons and doesn’t want to get burned again.
To the first group I’ll say that season three stands alone well enough to be viewed as a self-contained story.
For the second group, which may include those TV academy members who voted it to several Emmy nominations three years ago, I’ll make it even easier for you. I’ll point you to two episodes that demonstrate the best of what the season had to offer: “Try,” in which Linden is kidnapped by a murder suspect, and “Six Minutes,” the climax of the Ray Seward storyline. Either episode would be a worthy Emmy submission for Enos, writing, and directing, and the latter would make Sarsgaard a real threat against the “Breaking Bad” boys in the Drama Supporting Actor race.
As with any serialized drama, those episodes play better in context, and both include major plot revelations in case you’d rather watch the whole story instead, but I’d rather you watch two episodes than none at all.
Maybe “The Killing” really is a lost cause, but the show has beaten the odds before. Improbably, it has been canceled and resurrected twice: AMC dropped it after season two before reversing course and bringing it back, and the network dropped it again last year only to have Netflix pick it up for a six-episode final season that will debut this August.
Season three of “The Killing” is available to stream on Netflix right now, just a click away from where you’re already binge-watching “House of Cards,” “Orange is the New Black,” and those last episodes of “Breaking Bad,” so no excuses.
So what are the chances for this Gold Derby Emmy MVP?
In terms of tone, pacing, acting, and visual style, it should appeal to the “True Detective” crowd.
Its availability on Netflix makes it easy to find and sample, and mystery series are well suited to binge-watching.
It has come back from the dead twice, so it may be foolish to underestimate it.
Its episodes originally aired almost a year ago with little or no fanfare. Is it out of sight, out of mind?
When Emmy voters give up on a show, they rarely come back.
It has been canceled twice, so it may be foolish to overestimate it.
Have you kept up with “The Killing”? Do you think it deserves to return to the Emmys? Predict Best Drama Actress and comment below: